• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


How to Toast a Bagel and Challenge Authority

Following the rules, or not.

October 2, 2013


Above is a note that I wrote to my daughter’s teacher this week. It’s not the first of these types of notes that I’ve written. A couple of years ago, I wrote one for my older daughter requesting that the teacher reassure her that she will not get sent to the principal’s office for asking to go to the bathroom during the day. Apparently, an earlier announcement from the teacher about kids who were taking too many of these “bathroom” breaks (my daughter was not among these offenders) prompted my child to be scared a bit too straight. I also had to reassure my daughter that she did not have to finish her lunch if she was full (she was getting upset stomachs because she overreacted to a teacher telling another child to finish her lunch).

I feel the need to re-evaluate my parenting approach. What am I doing to raise children that are such strict observers of rules that they follow them even when they no longer make sense? Am I raising future bureaucrats? And, why are my daughters this way and not my son?

Recently, I was with my son at a hotel’s breakfast buffet. He was insisting on putting a bagel into the toaster without first cutting it in half. He kept resisting my warning to split the bagel, until I finally said, “That’s just not the way people toast bagels!” He calmly replied, “Mom, I don’t like to do things just because other people do.” I was both frustrated by and proud of his statement. I love that he can be his own person, and I think that trait will serve him well in life, but sometimes he needs to listen to advice from those with experience, who can tell you the bagel is going to get stuck. My daughters, on the other hand, listen to authority to the point where it is nonsensical. Instinct, it seems to me, should lead you take off your coat when you are hot.

I find the same challenge balancing a respect for authority in the classroom. I encourage my students to question readings and reassure them that I won’t judge them for not agreeing with me. However, they also need to respect the rules of the classroom and the authority of the teacher. The longer I teach, the less I have to invoke this authority, as it seems to naturally emerge. At home, though, I haven’t found the balance yet. How do you strike the balance between teaching your students (or children, or both) a respect for authority and rules while also instilling in them a sense of individualism and the confidence to challenge ideas that don’t make sense?


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