When I was growing up, I was taught to respect my elders. It wasn't acceptable for a child to argue or speak rudely to an adult. I can see where that school of thought comes from, and as a parent, I'd love it if my kids listened to, and did, everything I said. But not speaking up got me into trouble as a child, and I don't want that to happen to my kids.
I ended up in a situation where an adult I didn't know well took advantage of my inability to speak up. This incident affected me for a long time and impacted my relationships, my friendships, and my ability to trust people.
It took me a long time after that to find my voice and learn to have challenging or difficult discussions. I was always worried about what people might think of me, or about the discomfort of pushing back against people. But eventually I did learn that skill, and it might have lost me a few friends over the years, but it's made me a much happier and more confident person. And those friends I lost weren't worth keeping anyway.
Now I have kids of my own and while I know I'm letting my own experience inform my parenting choices (but don't we all?), I have to think that's not a bad thing. I can see in my teenage daughter an inability to stand up for herself, just like me at her age. She's reluctant to speak up when she's upset, and she doesn't like to hurt anyone's feelings.
That's exactly what I was like, and it's what got me into trouble. So I'm encouraging my children to speak up, even if it means sometimes being rude.
Home is the perfect practice ground for this. I want my kids to push back against me sometimes because home is a safe practice ground for them to flex their muscles and say "no" when they disagree with something or they're uncomfortable.
It might be about what we're doing for the weekend. It might be about eating their greens. It might be about what we're going to watch on TV. The subject matter isn't important, what's important is that they don't just go along with things because they don't want to experience conflict or discomfort.
I'm encouraging this by asking a lot of questions, by leading by example, and encouraging my children to tell me what they really think, not what they think I want to hear.
Sure, it's irritating – oh my goodness, so irritating at times! – but I'm also mindful that I can't shut disagreements down straight away. My children deserve to be heard, and I want them to know that they will be listened to and taken seriously.
And I want them to understand that it's okay to piss off an adult sometimes.
Yes, I'm making my own life harder, but my hope is that by teaching my children to be rude occasionally and speak up when they are uncomfortable, I am giving them the tools they need to protect themselves from those that would prey on polite and agreeable children.