Why I will never tell my kids to be good.


And why being well behaved is overrated.

On my wedding day my parents both, at different times and completely separately to each other, happened to give me the same advice as I prepared to leave their home, become someone’s wife, eventually someone’s mother, and generally begin life as a grown up.

“Be good, and be happy.”

At the time I just smiled and nodded and didn’t even really think about their words, because it was just the kind of thing I expected to hear.

But years later, and it did take me a while, I stopped and thought, wtf? Be good? And THEN be happy?

Fifteen years after hearing those words it finally struck me how ridiculous they were. But maybe not so surprising when you understand that I was basically raised to be good. All the messages, advice, and words of guidance throughout my childhood and teens revolved around being good. I was raised to be good and to go out into the world displaying how good, i.e., well behaved, I was and to therefore be a reflection of the good job my parents had done in raising me.

I was that placid, easygoing kid who never made waves or gave anyone any grief. The parts of me that questioned every status quo and said fuck that {a lot} was still nowhere to be seen. And while I never completely bought their notion that being good was the be all end all, I was never as bad as I dreamed about being. Even at my naughtiest or most rebellious I was still pretty tame. I do remember thinking that surely teenagers were meant to take risks, to defy their parents, to sneak around with secret boyfriends and get drunk on a Saturday night. That was what you did as a teenager, good was for later when you were older and saddled with responsibility and jobs and mortgages and the like.

It was only as my own children approached their teens that I gave the idea some serious thought. I went in search of research and it took no time at all to read that normal psychological development during the teen years involved rejecting one’s parents in order to figure out who you are in your own right. Rebelling against what they had taught you and trying to form your own opinions and beliefs was an important process during this particular time of life.

It made perfect sense to me.

I shared it with my husband, who had very much done the whole teenage-angst-rebellion-fuck-the-parents-fuck-the-world thing, and naturally he got it too. I vowed to myself to never tell my teenage kids, as they headed out the door, to be good. Have fun, be safe? Yes. Look out for each other, stay away from trouble (especially regarding the volatile combination of young men in groups and too much alcohol)? Yes.

Be good?

Not even once.

Because what I’ve learned is that being good got me absolutely nowhere. I barely ever did anything I shouldn’t have while I was young. I got drunk a few times, smoked a few times, kissed a couple of boys. I watched Nightmare on Elm Street when I was supposed to be watching Young Guns 2. I listened to Prince’s Erotic City repeatedly on my Walkman. Some friends and I drank the teachers wine coolers on a school camp one time.

Hardly badass behaviour by any stretch.

No matter how much I thought about what it would be like to be a bad girl, I never actually did anything about it. I was too good, and too scared of the consequences, to even try.

And ironically it was marrying young and having my own children at a young age that seemed to unearth the rebellion in me.

I have always loved books and after finding my nearest public library just after having my second baby I began to explore topics I had never known existed. Funnily enough the process of finally shaking off the last of the good girl in me began with the pregnancy and childcare section of the library.

In short, I went from the standard what to expect type books to the natural birth books, then the home birth books, then books discussing the lack of real choices in labour which led to books about the politics of birth and motherhood, leading to books on motherhood and feminism, and finally books about feminism itself. And what do you know, it all served to wake up that part of my brain that had always quietly taken note of the hypocrisy around me.

For while I had followed the path in life that my parents would have chosen had they been able to {marriage/lots of kids/pets/4WD/suburbia}, I still wasn’t quite good enough.

As the years went by and my opinions seemed more out there to them, the tensions grew. With every infinitesimal change in me there came a bit more distance. I found it amusing most of the time, that I had sprung from these people, that I loved them, but that I had ended up with such different ideas. I admit that sometimes I enjoyed saying something just for the reaction. I mean, seriously: I was almost forty with four kids, had been married almost twenty years, and being able to shock my parents so easily was a bit of harmless fun. I hadn’t given them any heart palpitations growing up so I thought it was only fair to freak them out now.

I was my usual chilled out self, okay with the fact that, shock horror, people in the same family might actually think differently.

Today as I write this I haven’t seen or spoken to my sister in almost three years, and my father in over two years. I have spoken to my mum once in all that time and that was only because she called from a new number and I answered not knowing who it was.

Being good got me nowhere. A lifetime of being everything they wanted me to be wasn’t enough.

When push came to shove I refused to make the choices they wanted me to make, because I didn’t want the puppet they seemingly needed me to be. I stood up to them, I spoke up, I fought back to defend my choices. And for that I was thrown away, rejected, and completely shunned.

I tell my own children, mostly adults now, to think for themselves. To get out, see the world, meet people, explore, travel, wander, wonder, read, think, listen, make their own decisions and opinions. I don’t want or need them to be good, to be well behaved so that I feel like a good parent. I want them to be good people, yes. But not good in the sense that it was drilled into me.

Once you discard the notion that your children have to be a better, more perfect reflection of you, you free your kids to discover their own mind. And if they mess up sometimes, if they make the wrong choice or the wrong friends or go down the wrong path, isn’t being a good parent about loving and supporting them through it? Giving them a safe haven free of judgement and disappointment?

Sounds about right to me.

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