Of course no one likes it when their children misbehave. Whether it’s the defiant toddler in the grocery store or the teenager speaking to you rudely, not only do we not like these behaviors, we take them as indictments of our capacity as parents. Clearly they don’t respect us. Clearly they don’t listen. Clearly we’re failing.
But what if that’s precisely the wrong way to think about it?
In a recent New York Times piece, Melinda Wenner Moyer (author of the fantastic How To Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes) asks you to consider that very notion. Perhaps, she proposes, your kids’ misbehavior is actually a sign of how loved and safe they feel. As she writes:
Think of it this way: When kids are always respectful, complacent and obedient with adults, it is often because they are afraid of those adults. It’s not a coincidence that people who boast about how well behaved their children are may also be those who throw around phrases like, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
Again, this is not to say that chaos is a good thing, that no rules should be enforced. It’s just a reminder that before you write yourself off as a terrible parent because your kid challenged you or because they had a meltdown, consider what it means that they feel comfortable doing that in front of you.
It might actually be that they do listen to you—especially when you tell them that you’re there for them, that you love them unconditionally, that you want them to think for themselves. It’s possible they actually respect you quite deeply. But even more than that, it could be that they trust you more than anyone in the world. Trust you to understand what they’re mad about; to empathize with why they are struggling; to figure out how you might help them solve their problem so they can feel, act, and be better.
When they’re being bad, it’s a chance for you to do good. And chances are, deep down that’s what they’re hoping for.