A few nights ago, the girls and I were driving home after a long day. The nights are dark by the time we arrive home now, and we were surprised to see Christmas lights lit up on multiple houses in our neighborhood. I had already put our lights up on our house the previous weekend but hadn't been brave enough to turn them on due to the social norm of waiting until after Thanksgiving. Seeing these neighbors go rogue and disregard the unwritten rule, I turned to my girls and said, "do you want to break the rules?" My oldest daughter shook her head and gravely said "no" while my youngest's face lit up and said, "yes!" Smiling at my youngest's enthusiasm for breaking the rules, I decided we were going to go for it and turn on the lights. My youngest and I chanted "break the rules" and laughed as we rounded the corner to our house.
When we arrived home, my youngest and I went outside to plug in the lights. While I set the timer for the lights, she asked, "can I turn them on?" I stood next to her as she plugged the lights in and giggled at her enthusiasm. She squealed with delight, and we went to the front of the house to admire our work. She stood in front of the garage with her arms outstretched and the biggest, brightest smile on her face. I took a picture of her with the house in the background, and we went inside to have dinner.
That evening was eye-opening. My youngest had so much energy, giggled, and was so happy. When she went to bed, we talked about "breaking the rules," and she settled in for a great night of sleep. I realized how challenging it must be to live in her skin. She is a great kid, but she is a say "yes" kind of kid, rather than reserved and cautious like her sister and me. Life in our home is routine and consists of "coloring inside the lines" types of activities. As I looked at her sleeping peacefully, I thought to myself that we need to push the boundaries a bit more and reflect on why we do what we do. Turning on the lights before the social norm says we can doesn't hurt anyone and brings joy to some people. So why didn't we do it when I initially put the lights up? What are other social rules we follow that are unnecessary? I was basking in the glow of my youngest when I entered my oldest daughter's room to put her to bed.
As I entered her room, I heard her sniffling and blowing her nose. I was shocked to see her crying in her closet. I asked her what she was upset about, and she shared that she was afraid I was going to get a ticket or arrested for breaking the rules. I took a deep breath and shared with her the difference between breaking the law and breaking social norms. We talked about her fear of getting in trouble and her worry about me getting in trouble. I shared with her that turning the lights on was a significant experience for her sister. I told her that I think her sister feels bad about herself because she doesn't follow the rules all of the time. She likes to zigzag and lives in a house with a mother and sister who walk a straight line. My oldest agreed with this, and when she let all the tears out, she climbed into bed.
Messages to my Daughters: You have incredible hearts and strong desires to be kind and loving. There is a difference between breaking laws and making choices that hurt people and breaking socially created rules that limit people and put them in a box. I hope when faced with a decision to do something that you want to do, that brings you and others joy, you do it, even if the "rule" tells you not to. Break out of the socially-imposed box and live a life that lights up the world!