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Chaos is Bliss


Photo credit: Bernard Ward


This is unconfirmed, but I heard through the grapevine that that Duggar family is preparing for their twentieth.  I watched their reality show once after hearing so much about it, and they scare me.  All those orderly, well behaved kids and teens that act like parents themselves was just downright spooky.  I suspect abuse of the highest order.  I am not making any accusations here, just raising my haunches in suspicion. 

What’s with the fantasy that so many parents have about having children that don’t talk back, don’t rebel, do as they’re told, eat the food on their plates and play nicely with their siblings?  Ok, I admit these things are nice and were welcome in my house any time when I was raising my kids.  They were never requirements for living however and I would never have dreamed of coercing, bribing, threatening, scaring or punishing them into behaving in these culturally approved ways.  I certainly would never reward them for such behavior.

I know I don’t like it one bit when someone tries to get me to do something I don’t want to do or don’t feel comfortable doing.  I would probably even get quite angry if someone tried to tell me that I had to live a certain way or think certain thoughts or fear particular outcomes if I did not act in certain ways.  Why do we as a culture of people expect our children to behave in such unnatural, unpleasant ways?  Yes, they are unnatural and unpleasant.  No one except the most highly conditioned of us acts in such ways and when we do it’s only because we’ve never had the freedom of expression to voice our preferences, opinions, likes and dislikes.  We’ve never been comfortable moving in the direction of what feels right and true for ourselves, choosing instead to be guided by the dictates of others, thinking it somehow easier that way or calling it cooperative.

I think children are born with personalities, natural drives and inclinations, tastes and desires for things like food, color, smells, activities, social needs.  Even toddlers show wide ranging natural interest and ability in things like artistic expression, scientific experimentation, mathematical ability, an ear for music, physical ability, etc.  Young children naturally express their needs for sleep, activity, cuddling, play, conversation, privacy, etc. in ways that dramatically differ from their siblings’ needs or those of all the other kids.  I am so befuddled about how we have managed to create a society of people that wish to see us as all the same?  Don’t deny it, you know it’s true.  How does it come to make one iota of sense that we all need the same educations, in classrooms no less, having stuff done to us and force fed to us … and maybe only one of a thousand of us claims it was a positive experience?  And we keep doing it!!  Why do we ask or require our children to adopt our worldviews instead of trusting their own abilities to thoughtfully make their own decisions?  And why are we so afraid of what will happen to us, to them, if we don’t submit to all this nonsense?  Why is all this conditioning necessary?

In my perfect world it is not.  My children have taught me that even in infancy they are capable of self directing.  With freedom of expression and action, a child wants to discover, experiment, manipulate and take on the world.  Their world, the world each one of us creates for ourself.  My perfect world is one of chaos – magical, multi-faceted, multi-dimensional chaos.  Chaos is this wonderful, glorious environment that can exist anywhere that is identified by the presence of people, it doesn’t matter how many, who are each living life on their own terms – in search of information, resources, people, places and things that are of interest to them.  Who says we should all eat dinner together?  Bah, humbug.  Who says we should all be eating the same things?  Nutty!  Who says we should all be sleeping at the same time or wanting the same vacations or dressing in the same fashions or choosing similar friends or, or, or.  We are born as individuals.  We are meant to thrive in this lifetime.  We can only thrive when we are joyful and fully alive and moving in the directions that allow us to feel exuberant and hopeful and good… or great… or powerful.  We can only feel that way when we have the freedom to do so.  There is no other way.


I agree!  What comes to mind for me as I ask the questions you’re asking is…. FEAR.  I feel it coming to us in many comments to our posts about child rearing- fear that children will be way ‘out of control’, unable or unwilling to get a job or get along with others, and, possibly worst of all, their actions will cast shame upon their parents who were, upon their birth, bequeathed with the task of forming these children into good citizens of their family, church, community, country, world- whatever the parents’ primary affiliation.

Chaos is a loaded word when we talk about children because there is so much negativity associated with it.  And yet, I have found chaos to be a very comfortable way to live with children.  It is the constant planning, expectations, and external pressures to conform that create most of the exact behaviors that parents are attempting to modify.  So what does chaos mean?  I can tell you that it does not equal the mayhem that most are envisioning.  To me, chaos means that everyone follows their own direction.  Because we live in a family in which we care deeply for one another, everyone’s needs are met without infringing on the needs and desires of others.  Overlap or cases of conflict are opportunities for growth and we attempt to meet them with conscious regard rather than coercive tactics.  As such, they do not happen nearly as often as I see in other families that squash arguments and use behavior modification as a means of controlling the symptoms rather than addressing the situation and feelings and working toward solutions.  Control begets control.  We published a powerful story in Rethinking Everything Magazine’s Issue Eight by Lisa Russell about bullying in which she unequivocally made the point that bullying begins at home.  Adults call it discipline. 

Do we feel so little power ourselves as adults that we flail in the face of untidy homes and relationships, unable to work together to create an atmosphere in which we all feel loved and respected?  Do we bully our children because it is culturally expected or because we, ourselves, feel bullied in our relationships or workplace?  Do we manipulate our children out of fear of the future when, in reality, it is momentary love and respect that will achieve our ultimate goal of having loving and respectful children?

I am amazed at our cultural desire for uniformity while we partake in television, movies, music, books, therapy, etc. that prescribe individuality.  Is this a pleasure reserved for the adult that no longer has the perspective to identify their own individual identity?  No.  Peeling down the layers of our parenting that are laden with fear of inadequate production of well mannered children is the key.  Humans are social beings that have an innate desire for a certain level of conformity to belong.  It doesn’t need to be beaten into us.  Sitting in the corner does not help us to understand how we fit in.  And, while ‘fitting in’ is not the desired goal of parenting without fear in favor of supporting individuality, it does seem to be a positive side effect because of the conflict resolution skills that are modeled and the positive regard for individuality that is perpetuated. 

Parents almost always love dissecting the interesting aspects of their children’s personalities, how their children differ from each other, their children’s interesting hobbies, quirks, and ideas.  Why not take it one step further?  Rather than seeing these as quirks that make them different, recognize them as the things that make that child unique and wonderful.  A homogenous society lacks inspiration and, as such, lacks growth.  It starts with the children.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Right on as usual (and it’s confirmed, I read it in People magazine lol).
    The thing is, I am in total agreement, right? But to many in the mainstream, your perfectly valid, logical argument would seem insane. I say this because I’ve talked about these topics to family and friends who aren’t coming from the same place of respect for everyone in the family. They would argue that yes, it’s important to “train” (force) kids to be polite, eat everything on their plate, etc etc, otherwise, how will they learn? If you don’t believe in natural/life learning, why would you think your kids will become successful adults if you don’t force-feed them every life lesson? It can be painful to dine with extended family or friends who are very controlling of their kids’ eating habits and table manners. Takes all the joy out of eating together (but see, they’d say my kids coming/going and giving their opinion on what they see fit to eat or not ruins THEIR experience. Oh, yeah, this isn’t a hypothetical over here :-). And I love kids (I have 4 and if it were up to me and unlimited cash, I’d be having more), but i wouldn’t keep sacrificing one kid for the next, ie, quit breastfeeding to get pregnant again, make the kids be my live-in nannies, etc. It takes about a year to get back to normal after adding a new person to your family, and 20 kids in 20 years is not the kind of chaos you are talking about, IMO.-

    December 13, 2011
    • It is that fundamental difference in whether we believe our kids come to us whole and need only guidance/support or that they come to us blank and need to be molded. Actually, even if they came blank, wouldn’t they just need guidance? 🙂

      December 13, 2011
  2. Dena #

    I feel like I need to speak up for the Duggars. I have been around this family a couple of times in the past. (before the television show). Not many times, but a few times. While I have nothing in common with them or share their views, I wouldn’t say their kids are being abused. Their children actually seemed pretty normal. Some of the kids were outgoing, shy, pushy, loud, quiet, mischievious, etc. They each had individual personalities. Yes, Michelle was more structured than I am, but I wouldn’t say she was anymore structured than a lot of other parents out there. And I am not sure what it takes to raise that amount of children, so I hate to pass judgement. There seemed to be a lot of love in their family and I never witness her being verbally or physically abusive, only patient when dealing with them. She even sat around talking with other home school mom’s about how she had a schedule, but rarely kept it because it was unrealistic and usually went with the flow schooling her kids. The older kids never seemed irritated about helping the younger ones. If any thing they seemed enthusiastic about helping. They have definitely chosen to live their lives different from the norm, but most of my friends say the same thing about my family who unschools and thinks outside the box. I have never watch the show, but I would imagine it is like most reality shows in that they edit scenes to up ratings. We have all complained about how television has taken homeschoolers or unschoolers and protrayed us in a way that was unfair due to editing.

    Now that I have that out of the way, I must say I love my chaos. I have a new friend who has taken her kids out of school has chosen to unschool. She is in constant panic mode. I see this a lot with his new unschoolers and homeschoolers. Especially people who take their kids out of public school. It is like they have been brainwashed that there is no other way to do something and the only way to function is with control. I really want to tell them all to just relax. If you are a honest, loving, fair person, generally your kids will follow in that example because that is how they have been treated. There is still the stigma that if their child doesn’t respond in a certain way it reflects on them. But when I see a parent being verbally or physically abusive all I can think of is this is how this child will probably act with others. Not a very free loving enviroment. The idea that a child is an individual person and not an extension of them is hard to comprehend. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could be their true authentic selves instead of being manipulated by adults until they don’t know who they and are struggling to fit the mold that most people find normal?

    December 13, 2011
    • Thank you for speaking up for the Duggars, Dena! I know only hearsay as I haven’t watched more than a few minutes of the show. My family’s 15 minutes of ‘fame’ did enlighten me of how much impact the editing room has on the finished product. How am I to know what it’s like to have a family so large? I don’t. I only know what it’s like to live in my life and that in order for us to function so that everyone is happy, respectful, and loving, we all have to be happy, respectful, and loving. Any derailment in behavior can be sourced back to that. Reacting with a punishment or criticism just creates a cyclical pattern of bad behavior and abusive response. As my kids say, “There are no bad kids. There are sad kids and mad kids but there are no bad kids.” These sad and mad kids? They control wherever they can through bullying, manipulating, sneaking, lying, etc. And when they’re caught and punished (rather than connected and communicated with…), they get better at not getting caught and the gap between parent and child grows. Communication is everything.

      December 13, 2011
      • Amy #

        Love this, Sarah. -As my kids say, “There are no bad kids. There are sad kids and mad kids but there are no bad kids.”-

        December 14, 2011
  3. Osie #

    Sarah, I am not sure if they believe the blank slate agenda, but they see power and control and behavior mod techniques as necessary. They think I am a loving but misguided mom who doesnt “know how to say no” to my kid’s. Well, ask the kids, I say no without any problem. But I often choose to say yes, at the inconvenience of adults (who frankly don’t think children should inconvenience adult lives and schedules). They have gotten upset when I didn’t want to break promises THEY had made to the kid’s ie, “I’ll take you o the park later,” because it’s expected to put Adult needs/wants before kids. So it’s like they only see my life through their lens, and the points you make here to them are only proof tat I don’t kno how to control the kids, or I would be doing it. That’s mainstream perspective. Deviation can’t be seen as freedom and joy in chaos but as my inability to ennforce order.

    December 14, 2011

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