A couple of days ago someone was visiting my home when they commented that my daughter had a mind of her own. I am trying to remember their exact words after that, but something to effect that she didn’t have a problem speaking her mind. I was confused for a second, wondering if this was supposed to be an insult or compliment. Before I even thought, I said, rather emphatically, “Well, I certainly hope she can speak her mind! I’m not raising some ninny that can’t use the brain in her own head to make her own decisions! If she grows up to be someone that can’t stand up for what she believes than I haven’t done a very good job of parenting.” My rather startled houseguest smiled and said, “You’re doing a wonderful job.” I figured they meant it was a good thing that she knew her own mind. A little while later this same person, who is related to my daughter and loves her very much, was watching her jump on the trampoline and again she commented, “She’s such a good girl, but once she makes up her mind about something, you can’t change it.” I was again confused. I realized they might not mean this as a compliment to my daughter’s intelligence and trust of her beliefs. I didn’t want to cause a stir, so I simply said that I was glad. I said that my daughter’s moral compass was straight as an arrow, and I never had to wonder about her choosing to do the right thing. She doesn’t weigh whether or not a choice is going to benefit her, she simply chooses the way that she feels is right, even if it means she gets the short end of the stick sometimes. I said that I am proud of her for sticking to what she believes in when others try to sway her.
This got me to thinking. Why do we feel the need to change the mind of others? Why do we think everyone should think just as we do? We are nothing if not for our convictions. The truths in our souls that make us who we are are vital to our very existence. Instead of trying to sway someone to our way of thinking, why not embrace the difference? Why can’t we let well enough alone and relish the beliefs that make us unique individuals?
In my daughter’s case, I have a pretty good idea of the general thoughts that people would like to change. I wish them the best of luck with that, because they will never change her. My daughter is a rugged individualist, who, at eleven years old, is wiser than her years, and not afraid of her thoughts. She knows far more than I ever did at her age. When I was eleven I am sure my opinions masked the opinions of those around me, because well, if my parents thought it, then it must be true. My daughter questions everything. She asks me my opinion on everything from middle school drama to politics to religion. We discuss racism, multiculturalism, ethics, and morals. She asks about laws, belief systems, literature and poetry. No topic is off limits and she is curious about everything. She listens to what I have to say, and often goes to books or the computer to look up information for herself. When she has gathered information, she forms an opinion. Sometimes it is not the same as mine. I am okay with that. I am proud of her for not only making informed opinions, but being willing to stand by these opinions when others try to sway her. She knows what she thinks and why she thinks it. Someone was silly enough to tell me, about a year ago, that children need to be told what to think, that they cannot think for themselves. Really? I had no idea. Yes, a child needs rules and guidelines, and yes, they need to be pointed in the right direction, but to actually believe that it is my job to think for them? Why on earth would I do that when she can think for herself?
Maybe I’m too liberal in this area. Maybe I don’t live in the real word. The way I see it, if her actions are not dangerous to herself or to others, and she is well behaved and mannerly, and she is not setting the house on fire, well, then, what difference does it make if she has a different opinion on a world leader than I do? I am trying to raise a child that will have a positive impact on society. A child that becomes an adult that can contribute something to this world instead of sucking it dry. A child that will grow up to be independent, and willing to fight for a cause that she feels in her heart to be right.
I’m probably over thinking things. I’m sure that I am, I know I’m taking the comments a step further than they were intended, but I just couldn’t help rolling it around in my head wondering how it could be a bad thing to have a child whose mind could not be changed. Is she strong willed? Yes. Is she stubborn? Yes. Does that make her hard to deal with sometimes? Yes and no. She is never defiant, and never purposefully oppositional. She can be a bit too outspoken sometimes. I have to remind her that not everyone relishes hearing such strong opinions from a middle schooler. I do not want her to be rude or impertinent, but I do not want her to be afraid to have ideas or strong beliefs. She knows the difference. She is a pleasant, friendly child and a joy to be around. (most of the time)
I’m not saying we should all just go around spouting our ideas and beliefs without thought to how others feel and without apology, but I am saying that we should not be afraid to raise our children to be confident in their ability to think for themselves. We shouldn’t always be trying to change the mind of others. So we don’t agree on something, so what? I have faith in my child that she will do the right thing. To me, wanting to change how she thinks would be a sign of my own insecurity and need for control. I don’t want to control her, I want to teach her to be the best person she can be. I want her to go out into the world armed with knowledge and confidence, wisdom and kindness. I would rather have that than someone who didn’t know how to speak except to mimic my own thoughts. That could only be described as a waste.