Parenting a free spirit isn’t for wimps

There are as many different styles of parenting as there are parents. Growing up I was forced into different boxes, so I knew when I became a parent I wanted to provide my child with the space to be an individual rather than just a mini-me. Some kids come into this world preprogrammed to be compliant and fit in while others are, for all intents and purposes, complete wild cards. While parenting isn’t for wimps, it’s even a greater challenge to support a free spirit.

Regular cardiac stress tests

When Tigger first moved in with me, he was pretty much afraid of his own shadow. One day we were in the local public pool, which had a waterslide. He wasn’t keen on going down it. I knew he would love it if he tried it, so when nothing else would convince him to go down the slide, I decided to bribe him.

Yes, I bribed my child to do something fun.

I offered him $5 if he went down the waterslide. He did, and it unleashed his dormant inner adrenaline junkie. There are so many things I can’t enjoy because of my fear of falling I didn’t want him to be held back by fear. While on the one hand I’m very happy to say pretty much nothing holds him back anymore, I often can’t look when he’s doing things.

In Lyon, he scared people when he decided walking on the edge of the bridge would be great fun. It got worse when wasn’t content with merely walking along the stone barrier, he also had to skip.

Lyon bridge

In Morocco, we were walking the dog in the oasis. He skipped ahead as he often does, and I was treated to this sight after turning a corner.

Parenting isn't for wimps

Sometimes he doesn’t pick the most. . . shall we say “convenient” places either. Some passersby became quite irritated when they spotted him climbing the remnants of a medieval wall in Prague.

Parenting isn't for wimps

When he isn’t allowed to climb, such as at Urquhart Castle at Loch Ness, he can become quite downtrodden. “So, in other words, I can’t be myself.” We had to have a discussion about the difference between quashing individuality and being respectful of someone else’s property.

It’s hard to see your child feel so dejected and burdened. But these situations are also a fact of life.

Dealing with spirituality

I’m personally not a fan of raising a child in any one specific religion. It feels to me like brainwashing, and I’d rather my child discover what resonates for himself as he grows and matures. We discuss spirituality, religion, and different belief systems, and I try very hard to present these things in a very open fashion, encouraging him to process them and come to his own conclusions.

My own spiritual path was quite convoluted in my younger years, and there were many times when I didn’t feel like I was free to believe what really touched me. Naturally, I don’t want that for him.

Making sand angels

Sexuality and gender

When Tigger was 6, he was very firmly rooted in the notion that certain toys were for boys and certain ones were for girls. This included “boy colors” and “girl colors.” Through the years I’ve worked hard to eradicate that notion. One day in Malaysia we were walking through a market, and he identified a watch he really liked. Without thinking I mentioned that it was a woman’s watch, and he asked “Does that really matter?” Naturally, I replied that it didn’t.

I sure felt a big “mission accomplished” that day.

As part of our open communication policy, and with him becoming an official teenager in less than 3 months, the topic of sexuality sometimes comes up. I don’t know why this can feel so uncomfortable when speaking with our kids, but I never let that show. We have frank discussions, and I continue to use terms that are not confined to one specific sexuality.

I don’t want him to feel influenced in any one specific direction. I’d rather he let that unfold as it will and according to his own timetable. It isn’t always easy, of course. We live in a very heteronormative culture, and I want him to feel free to be whoever he is.  I want him to be able embrace it and know that I will support him no matter what.

Parenting isn't for wimps

Why? Why? Why?

Every parent has been asked this question at least a zillion times. Probably within the space of an hour. “Because I said so” is the old faithful among parents. Honestly, sometimes it is an appropriate response. However, how do children learn how to make decisions if they’re never exposed to the process?

When I can identify the question isn’t arising out of a power struggle, I explain why. Occasionally, he comes up with a different point of view, and we’ll discuss the merits, etc. When it’s a battle of wills, then sometimes I do pull an “I asked you to do it, and you need to do it.” Afterward, however, I will explain to him the reason.

Sometimes a parent has a request that is based on a safety issue. You don’t always have time to have a nice discussion about something in the middle of the moment. If I say “This is a safety issue,” he moves to follow the instruction right away. He also knows that we’ll chat about it when the moment presents itself.

Sometimes, though. . .

There can be a challenge with some things. Because of his anxiety issues (which are under rather good control now), there are sometimes when I do have to step in and take control. If he watches a lot of videos with creepy and scary themes, it triggers his anxiety. Initially, I tried discussing the situation with him and giving him space to make his own choices from there. However, when things continued to worsen, I finally had to step in as a parent and say no more.

I hate those moments to be honest. I much prefer when he processes both sides, makes his own decisions, and works through the outcome.

Family team vs parent/child

One type of parenting is very hierarchical: I’m the parent, you’re the child, what I say goes. I don’t personally care for that style, and when you have a free-spirited child it just creates more grief anyway. I prefer it when we work together as a team. Yeah, sometimes I’m making a decision because, well, I’m the one paying the bills and the one who is legally responsible, but I try to play that card as little as possible.

Parenting isn't for wimps

Pick your battles

When it comes to things like hair and clothes, that isn’t the hill I wish to die on. Don’t want to comb your hair? Fine. Don’t want people staring at you? Comb your hair. Simple.

Outfit doesn’t match or looks ridiculous? Okay, fine with me.

It took me quite a bit of effort to get to that point, though. The parental figures I was surrounded by while growing up were very concerned about what the neighbors thought. Sometimes Tigger’s choices make him appear like he’s a homeless child without anyone in his life who cares about him. It’s hard for me to not care about the condescending looks I will inevitably get that day, but ultimately I want him to be his own individual, a free-thinking person; not a sheep.

So I suck it up and move forward.

There are times when you doubt yourself as a parent. I go through that almost daily. But then you get rewarded by moments that show you that you’re making the right choices, and those times make it all worth it.

If only it was easier to remember those moments when the self-doubt kicks in, eh? Like I said, parenting isn’t for wimps.

How do you handle your free-spirited children or embrace your own individuality (if you don’t have kids)?

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  1. I can definitely sympathize with having to put aside our feelings about how something will look to give our kids some freedom to express themselves. This morning my lovely little five year old girl decided to dress her self. She was incredibly proud when she showed me her outfit – hot pink leggings, a bright paisley T-shirt, all under a striped sundress, and topped off with her brother’s hand me down Ben 10 running shoes and pink socks. So she went to school dressed that way, proud as anything.

    I’m going to shamelessly steal your “This is a safety issue” shortcut. Brilliant.

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    • That sounds like quite the outfit. Did you get a picture?

      The safety issue thing has really helped. I haven’t had to use it too often, but there have been a few times, and it’s been great. He knows I’ll explain things as soon as we have the luxury of time.

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  2. Oh, my son Makai is such a free spirit. He has always been so and I love that. I want to preserve his freedom to be him but I need to get over my own limitations to do so.

    I have been experiencing his outward vagabond behavior in a foreign country for 36 days now and in the beginning it was quite stressful. We are in a country where we all, especially Mak(because he is blond and blue eyed)are looked at because we simply look different.
    I had to give myself a kick. We chose to travel with our son to affirm freedom to choose and to be free to just be,really.

    I can totally identify with your struggles, they are mine too.For me, success comes down to not caring what others think of Makai’s behavior but focusing on what his opinion or feeling is on his experiences or actions on a particular day. If he had a great day and was safe and respectful(as much as his age allows without direction from me) it was a great day no matter the opinions of others.

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    • It’s so great you’re creating so much space for him to be able to be himself. It can be so difficult to not be concerned about what other people think about our children’s choices and actions. So much more important to focus on the big things like respect, as you mentioned.

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  3. My parents weren’t TOO concerned about what others thought, but plenty of my friends’ parents were. Do you think it’s just part of their generation? I try to be a bit more open-minded with my children but pressure from societal “norms” causes me great anxiety. That being said, I doubt myself as a parent daily, as well. I guess it’s normal for any conscientious, responsible adult with children to have such thoughts. At the same time, I attempt to foster my daughter’s creativity and ideas (my son is not even 1 yet) that she often exhibits when we’re traveling. More inspiration for me to hit the road with the family as often as possible 🙂

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    • I definitely think a lot of it is generational. My grandparents were even worse about it. They were always so very concerned about what the neighbors might think. It sometimes is difficult to ignore those other voices, but it’s so important we do.

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  4. It’s certainly a fine balance between developing their individuality and guiding them into decisions that won’t carry negative consequences… We try to allow natural consequences to teach, but I think communication with children is severely underrated or utilised. When we take the time to talk to and listen to our 10.5 yo son we are always amazed at his clarity and wisdom. Well done on not letting your ego parent. 🙂

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    • Natural consequences are a much better teacher than a nagging parent for sure. And you are so right. So many issues can be avoided or weakened if people will just communicate with their kids. Their insight is so valuable.

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  5. Most wise and thoughtful, Talon. And to be sure: “There are times when you doubt yourself as a parent.”

    But the bottom line is – no matter how hard we try to be the very best parent, we’re only human after all, and my parents, and your parents, and you, and I – we’ll most certainly make mistakes. We can never possibly be “perfect”. We all just do “the best we can”.

    Not an excuse for irresponsible parenting, but it seems a lot of kids have a hard time realizing that their parents aren’t/weren’t perfect, and they truly are doing/did the very best they could.

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    • I think one of the things that helps with it is being willing to recognize your shortcomings to your child. Since I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong and apologize, he knows quite well how imperfect I really am. LOL

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  6. Well said. It’s so easy to criticize other parenting styles. But from the outside, the observations are just little snapshots with no regard to how that moment or that day fits into the larger picture. Sounds like you manage an even keel.

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  7. Wow man! I’m really impressed by your parenting style, I don’t have kids myself but I think you’ve just about nailed it. Where can I vote for you as Father of Year!

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