The Parenting Circle

by Matthew Worwood

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

George Bernard Shaw

The quote above suggests that human progress depends on an individual’s ability to challenge societal norms; nothing will change if we replicate or follow the previous generation. We want our children to be original. We hope this originality will lead them to the type of success that will fill us with pride. So, it’s not unreasonable for our children to be unreasonable when presented with a challenge that prevents them from moving toward their destiny.

However, we don’t want them to be unreasonable when enforcing rules in the house; neither do we want them to be unreasonable when asked to consider the feelings of others (e.g., siblings). We also want them to maintain a commitment to education and be reasonable for these actions. As parents, there is a fine line between being a helicopter parent, a responsible parent, a strict parent, and parenting for originality.

Originality (even if challenging)

The link between originality and creativity is evident in creativity research. Scholarly definitions of creativity include the concept of novelty, which is an individual’s ability to think and produce new and different outcomes. E. Paul Torrance, a father of creativity, presented being original as an essential creativity skill set. It is a popular topic in experimental research, with activities proven to increase an individual’s ability to produce and consider original ideas.

The late Steve Jobs narrated an Apple commercial on this topic, referring to the rebels, misfits, and troublemakers as the people who change the world. Research doesn’t necessarily support this theory but the idea that originality can challenge parents is something relatable to almost everyone. This page represents my thinking on parenting for creativity – specifically the actions we take inside the home environment that influence a child’s ability to produce and consider original ideas later in life.

Enforcing the Rules

As we enforce and promote our value systems, we must consider how they may impact the way our child engages in exploration, creativity, and ongoing curiosity of our world. If we teach children to follow our rules without question, we will negatively impact their ability to think for themselves and engage originality. However, we also need to keep them safe and moving toward success in relationships, career, financial stability, and participation in our democracy. Everything on this page, including the diagram below, is an ongoing thought experiment that keeps part of my parental brain occupied.

Some of this theme relates to another post I made that considered when is creativity appropriate? And this post came from a discussion with renown creativity scholar Ron Beghetto. You can listen to this discussion on the Fueling Creativity podcast.

Birth Order

Adam Grant touches on this topic in his book the Originals. Birth order seems to play its part in a child’s future originality and creativity. Children born later seem to produce more outcomes that challenge the norms than firstborn children, who are more likely to follow the rules and expectations of their parents (i.e., become doctors, attorneys, teachers, etc.). However, this originality can also lead to more risk-taking, which increases the chances that they will experience all the things we try to protect them from when young. You can’t take a chance. Boundaries are needed!

The Parenting Circle for Creativity

After sketching a diagram for my middle child, I decided to write this page to explain why parents enforce rules. This sketch has grown into a working prototype for The Parenting Circle for Creativity. With some light research, I’m trying to connect this visual to Galinksy’s six stages of parenthood. The prototype considers how rules impact originality and creativity. I’ve made the assumption that rules are put in place to keep our little ones safe and healthy; while upholding the values we feel will most likely bring about success in relationships, finance, career, and citizenship. Some of us may replicate the rules and value systems placed on us as children – some of us may think more original. Still, whatever happens, we must accept the world is changing, and if you’re co-parenting, you’re probably not the only decision-maker in the house.

The inner-circle represents an enclosed fence with limited freedoms during the early years of life. I suspect limited freedom may translate to less space for creativity (at least the type that challenges certain societal norms). However, I push back and inform my boys I’m not killing creativity; I’m simply challenging them to think creatively with constraints. Isn’t that life?

As the child gets older, the circle naturally expands, and the fence lowers to allow for more freedom and exploration. Later, there will be opportunities to venture outside the circle so long as the child stays close. Eventually, they will reach a stage when they leave and live life by their rules.

Galinksy’s Six Stages of Parenthood

Image Making Stage: I figured it doesn’t apply to parenting for creativity, but it’s the stage where we envision how we will raise our children before they arise. I associate it with the stage where we judge other parents for letting their kids be on iPads, giving in temper tantrums, and feeding them Chicken and Nuggets. At this stage, you’re not actively parenting and so have little wisdom to understand why parents do what they do.

Nurturing Stage: From a human development perspective – super important. It’s when we make the decisions for our children. They’re too young to say no or express their preferences. Considering the research into human development, it’s highly likely this stage is essential in influencing children’s creativity. Still, I haven’t included it because it doesn’t relate to controlling behavior inside the home environment.

Authority Stage: This is my current stage of parenting with my youngest. This stage represents rigid rules that safeguard our child’s well-being, and how we plan to enforce those rules. The latter is significant because we need our little ones to respond to our rules and are less inclined to negotiate. “Sure, I’ll let you cross the road alone so long as you promise to look both ways”

Interpretative Stage: This stage provides the premise for the Parenting Circle of Creativity. It is when we recognize our children as people who have alternative questions, preferences, and differences. These items may lead to unique paths toward creative outcomes later in life. How we negotiate and manage these items will inevitably influence how students progress on that path. We recognize we’re not the only influences in our child’s life. However, we work toward facilitating positive effects toward the values we consider essential later in life. This effort considers how we might help a child build positive relationships with others, participate as productive citizens, learn to manage finances, and work toward a successful career.

Interdependent stage: This stage represents those teen years, which I have yet to experience. It seems the interdependent stage includes an evaluation of what we can and can’t control as parents. What do we accept or challenge in our children.

Departure Stage: This is what our children depart. It hopefully represents the stage when our children are independent. We will always have an influence (at least we hope). However, we have hopefully succeeded and our children are in a position to lead themselves toward positive relationships, a successful career, financial stability, and productive citizenship.

As a reminder, this is still a working prototype. I feel there’s some future connection for those Creativity scholars with the progression of mini-c, little-c, and pro-c creativity, but my boy wasn’t interested in exploring that idea with me. I also suspect there are opportunities to think about ongoing opportunities for a child to question rules and negotiate some modifications with age. However, I would argue that this is part of straying from the fence without leaving it too far behind.

I am interested in developing this vision further, so DM me if you have any ideas or advice related to this topic.