Why I Don’t Want My Son To Follow Directions

Since welcoming baby Oliver 15 months ago, one thing that doesn’t happen as often, as would be expected, is one-on-one time with my oldest, Theodore. For some time now, I’ve wanted to have a special mommy-Theo date. When my sister-in-law mentioned that our local arts center was doing an open house and that she would be there, doing pottery demonstrations with kids, I knew that would be the perfect opportunity to get some quality time alone with my boy.

The open house was amazing. We started out in Aunt Rhiannon’s room and for the next half hour, Theo was completely entranced. He sat behind the wheel, immersed his fingers in the clay, and got lost in his creation. It was a magical things to watch. As I stood back, snapping photos and feeling my heart grow with pleasure and pride, I was again struck by the patience and focus Theo exhibits when he is doing something creative. It’s an amazing thing to behold.

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Over the next few hours, Theo and I went from room to room in the arts center, exploring, creating and learning. Theo made a paper craft, listened to a local singer song writer, dressed up as Darth Vador (while wielding an ax) for a photo booth, added tape to a wall mural, joined in a drum circle and got to pick up and play several new instruments. It was so much fun.

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As we continued to explore and play, a thought started to take hold of me. Theo is a rambunctious, adventurous boy and sometimes he can go overboard with the crazy energy and curiosity part of being a little boy, but for the most part, he is actually quite obedient. Maybe not alway to me, but I’ve seen time and time again that he follows directions from other adults quite well.

My thought, though, has nothing to do with obedience, and everything to do with creativity and following directions.

In the craft room, Theo chose to not stack his paper pieces together to make a tower, he spread them out. Instead of cutting out circles to make a pig craft, he chose to make small triangles. In the drum circle, he was antsy to try out all the drums, and not simply sit and shake the small maraca that had been handed to him.

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Theo has a wonderful imagination, and sometimes his creativity and the directions given are simply at odds with each other. Today, as I stood back and watched my little artist at work, I was struck with how often we try to funnel our kids into molds to look or act a certain way. Yes, it is important to teach obedience, respect and how to follow rules. But sometimes, we also need to give them the chance to break the rules. We need to let their imaginations run wild. We need to give them space and the tools and say, “Have at it! What do you see here? How do you think these things should go together?”

I can give Theo a project, give him the directions and together, we can produce the expected outcome. OrI can give him the space and the tools and the freedom and step back, and see what he comes up with. I don’t want my sons to be limited by my own imagination or plans. I know they have bigger and better things in their future than I can even comprehend. I want them to grow up one day and say that their mom didn’t limit them based on her own perception of who they should be, or what they should do. 

I took piano lessons when I was a kid. I remember practicing one song in particular and as I was working on it, I discovered that if I played the notes staccato, then the piece took on a fun, jazzy sound. I felt so creative and was proud of myself for improvising. I couldn’t wait to share my discovery with my teacher. I’ll never forget how my teacher responded. I played my piece with as much gusto and flare as I could muster, and had so much fun with it. But then, when I turned and looked at my teacher, she had this look on her face of confusion and disapproval. She couldn’t understand why in the world I didn’t follow the directions. She simply pointed to the piece and told me that I wasn’t playing it as written, and asked me to do again. The right way. I was crushed, and never went back.

I understand that I didn’t play the piece “correctly,” but why couldn’t the teacher, instead of correcting me, recognize and embrace that i wanted to explore a style of music outside of the norm? Instead of shutting me down, why didn’t she give me a piece that satisfied my desire for something creative? Why does everything have to be so formulaic???

I know, I know, it’s important to follow rules and yes, sometimes there is a “correct” way of doing things, but good grief, I’m bored just typing this sentence. Yawn. I love this crazy little human being that looks at the world through his imagination  and sees things a little bit differently. I love that he sees triangles where there should be straight lines. I love that he sees movement where there should be stillness. I love that when someone says “try this,” he says, “but I want to try them all!”

I anticipate school is going to be a challenge for Theo, because school is about getting everyone to do the same thing and everyone being on the same page. But you know what? I know Theo won’t always be on the same page. Heck, he won’t even be in the same book sometimes. And I think that’s awesome.

He is going to do something so freaking incredible someday because of it.

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One thought on “Why I Don’t Want My Son To Follow Directions

  1. *I had a thought similar to this the other week. Jayla, for whatever reason, has been crawling around saying she is a frog but making a noise like a dinosaur & then licking things. At first I was like okay, maybe I should tell her frogs don’t do that & she is being weird, haha. But then I stopped myself and let her do her thing. It is funny and amazing to see her creatively come up with this frog/dino character that she loves being.

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