My post about answering a question from Pinkie Pie "Daddy, why do we clean up so much for guests?" got an interesting response on Facebook. Someone I don't know waded in and opined that mine was an example of the disaster that is permissive parenting. His basis thesis was that children raised in permissive households do terribly in school, both having emotional problems and testing poorly. I want to break this down into parts to address each of them separately because I think that will be most revealing.
The assumption is that permissive parenting creates huge problems in school, and the conclusion is that children should be raised to be obedient in a more authoritarian style in order to avoid this.
I don't actually buy the assumption but the person writing it claims many years of experience teaching children, so I would be pitting my opinion against the opinion of a presumably better informed person. I would greatly appreciate it if any of my teacher friends or family members could shed light on this issue from a more informed or even scientific standpoint. Does permissive parenting truly make school much more difficult for children?
Let us allow the assumption to hold for a moment. Assume that children raised in permissive households where they are allowed to ask questions and their opinions are given substantial weight have a difficult time in school and make it hard on themselves and their teachers. Does it then follow that I should raise my child in a more authoritarian fashion?
It does not.
The problem is that the conclusion rests on an unstated assumption that the most important thing I can do is raise a child that will fit into a structured, hierarchical system like our schools are. Not only do I completely reject that assumption, in fact I think I should be doing the opposite. I don't want teachers to have a difficult time but beating my child into being the round peg that the system demands is exactly what I don't want.
I want my child to be curious. I want her to feel that she has the right to guide her own life. I want her to feel that she can and should confidently ask for reasons for the things she is asked to do. I want her to be independent in action and thought and to question the dogma and common assumptions that are made all around her all the time.
When the school asks her to stand and sing the national anthem I want her to question why we sing a song that references God in a country that should respect all religions and those who do not subscribe to one. I want her to have the courage to say no if she wants to, and know that I will back her up all the way.
I want a child who knows that when an elderly relative demands physical affection that she can say no, and that her decision will be supported and respected. I want her to push past the boundaries of what everyone expects to find her own path.
And none of that comes from teaching her to obey without question. My job isn't to raise a person who does what she is told. My job is to raise a person who forges paths nobody else even thought of, who does things people say you can't do, and who builds things that were thought impossible. I don't get to that point by telling her that she has to obey because I said so and I pay the bills.
I don't subscribe to some Permissive Parent Philsophy, if there even is such a thing. Children are almost universally given more responsibility and autonomy as they grow, and I know I give her more autonomy at a given age than most parents do their own children. I tailor her freedom to her abilities and desires as well as my own sense of safety.
I don't want to create difficulties in school for my child, but if raising her to think, to question, to seek to understand, and to resist orders that she thinks are wrong makes school difficult... then school is going to be difficult. That is a price worth paying.