Friday Question: Structure or No?


So here we go, question time! As is now the tradition for a Friday at this blog, I ask about something controversial, something that hopefully takes a little thought, and you my readers, respond in kind with your answers. As always, I’m pumped!


Structure (Photo credit: p medved)

Okay so here it is, and be open-minded: which kind of lifestyle is better to live, a structured one, or an unstructured one? For example, is it better to let a kid grow up under constant watch (quite common), being guided more than not, or is it better to let a kid grow on their own, exploring as they feel the need? The choice is presented for everyone – live a life of routine, safety, or have an ever-changing schedule, one that presents a bit more risk, a bit more chance?

Many believe a rigid lifestyle instills certain valuable qualities every individual needs. Do you agree with that? What about all of those kids encouraged to be either a doctor or a lawyer? Those require fairly structured lifestyles, to say the least. So the question is, are they good? Being an artist or a comedian as an example, provides a weaker income (unless you’re well known), and the lifestyle for many of those kinds of people could be described as a bit less structured. Is that better than being a doctor/lawyer?

More importantly than anything else, what do you believe leads a better life, a happier life? Is it better to have structure or not?

I’ll be back tomorrow. Excited to read comments!



76 thoughts on “Friday Question: Structure or No?

  1. Growing up, I hated my restricted childhood. I envied other children more than I can tell. If I were to have a daughter tomorrow, I would raise them with options, constantly saying, “within this circle that we are in, I am only going to give you two choices. That’s one more choice than my mother ever gave me.” They will be fair choices, of course but there must always be a limit to the amount of freedom and options children have. There is always reason behind rigidity.

      • Yeah, I would. I hated it, as a child because I didn’t understand the need for a structured lifestyle. I would do it to a lesser extent, because too much of a controlled environment can cripple a person, yet to free an environment can raise a person with no fundamentals in life. It’s a tricky business when you have another person’s future in your hands. If you don’t find a balance you risk raising another delinquent to add to society, simply by being either too strict or too demure a parent.

      • You make a good point, and I share you sentiment that it is tricky business. You clearly know what you’re doing, so all I would say is that their values may not be completely aligned with yours. Other than that though, yes I agree structure is crucial for healthy living.

  2. I think living a certain way constantly may not yield the best result. different phases in life require different approaches. A more unstructured life is great during the early years of life when we are free from responsibilities and it is a time to explore the world and learn from nature. The next phase of life that burdens us with responsibilities requires a more structured approach. Its a cycle of structured and unstructured that will keep us happy. Matching the right approach to the right phase in life could be the key to happiness. Mixing up the two can lead to despair.

    Great thought provoking question though!

    • I like what you say quite a bit. As a followup – when someone inexplicably goes into a crisis in their life – depression, loss of interest in things, etc, would you say that has anything to do with structure?

      • I would not be able to find a correlation there.
        Ancient Vedic Astrologers had an answer to that though. They believed that a man’s life consists of 9 phases of unequal durations. Each phase is further sub-divided into 9 smaller sub-phase. Each of the 9 phases is governed by a particular planet and this will decide how that phase will pan out for the person. Each planet had a distinct effect on a person’s personality, emotions, character and being and depending on which phase of life the person is in, he will feel the corresponding effects in his life.
        This system is called “Vimshottari Dasha” system and is highly popular among Indians.
        From personal experience I have started believing in this system recently and hence tend not to relate circumstances with structure only 🙂

  3. I live a fairly unstructured lifestyle by choice. But there is structure at some levels. My work varies and is not routine, but there is always something organised so that I know I have enough money to pay my bills and do the things I want to do.
    I think children growing up need a balance of structure and freedom. They do however sometimes need to be told stuff and have boundaries set for them or they can become confused, excessively self centered, anti-social and apathetic.

      • In terms of bring up children my views are based on my own childhood and on the experience of friends who are raising families now (I am at an age where most of my friends are in that situation). To me it is clear that those children who have a fairly strict upbringing with clear rules and boundaries determined by what their parents think is acceptable, are generally much happier and better adjusted than those who don’t. I am very liberal as are most of my friends, but we value things such as education, respect and politeness and we try to emphasise those things in our care of children. Children who are allowed to go totally their own way seem to lack maturity and respect (even for their parents). I needed and valued the structures I was given by my parents. At a later age I rebelled against some of them, but it was informed rebellion and helped me to grow up and DECIDE what things were important to me. Without that initial structure I would have been without a sense of direction. A house needs foundations; you can change how it looks later and add to it but without foundations and a framework it will fall down.

      • It seems to me you have a very solid view on life and the things you value. Perhaps you’d like reading my reply piece to this question?

  4. As written your question is unanswerable, since you do not define in what way you are using “structure”.

    In the broadest possible sense, structure is vital for human life. We require regular meals, regular sleep. Structure is imposed upon us by biology.

    Learning, which is what children do, requires structure. Consider what an “unstructured” education would look like–yesterday’s right answer would earn a failing grade and detention today, today’s facts would be exposed as falsehoods tomorrow, students would study for a math exam to be suddenly handed essay questions about the classification of flowers.

    Structure is simply a way of knowing that one’s actions have consequences that are predictable in advance. A child who cannot know if his or her actions will result in praise or punishment becomes afraid to do anything.

    A better question might be, in what areas of a child’s life should structure be imposed from his or her parents and educators, and in what areas of a child’s life should the child be permitted to imposed his or her own structure?

    I believe that is a very deep question, and one that ultimately falls upon the parents and the culture in which they live. It is not an easy question, and errors are rife.

    As an example, about fifty years ago a man named Benjamin Spock (no relation to the famous Vulcan) convinced a generation of parents that they should determine their infants feeding schedules. Infants who cry from hunger should be allowed to cry, uncomforted, until such times as the parent’s schedule said the infant should be fed. The result was an explosion of eating disorders and other mental issues that continues to this day.

    • That is a very in-depth answer, and I appreciate it. Seeing how you answered, though, you never spoke of the pros of lack of structure – do you see any, other than in your example of the baby’s hunger?

      • A baby crying to be fed is not unstructured–it is the infant responding to his or her internal structure.

        In the same way, children who would rather sit and read than mow the lawn are seeking to impose their own structure on their lives.

        Personally, I believe that children (and I raised three of them) should be allowed to structure their own lives to the extent that they are able to take responsibility for them. I would dress my children when they were infants. As toddlers I would pick out their clothes and help them dress. Older children I would tell when to get dressed and make sure they were wearing something appropriate. By the time my children were teens they were able to take responsibility for being ready to go when it was time for school.

        The same applies to school work and chores around the house–I let them know that they could structure their own time when they demonstrated to me that they could do so effectively, that they could get the work done on their own schedule.

        Having been married to a musician for sixteen years, and myself seeking to make a living as a writer, I can say with authority that a career in the creative arts requires a very strict structure which the artist must adhere to in order to be productive. It is structure imposed from within–if I do not take steps to make time to write, no one else will do so.

        Furthermore my sister, who is an attorney for the City of El Paso, TX, has a very chaotic life, having to work at all hours to meet the needs of her clients and adjust to a court calender that is in constant flux. That chaos is imposed from without, left to her own devices she would much rather live an ordered life.

      • Your examples are perfect, and you’re right, my generalizations are incorrect. I clarified that in my latest post. I was simply trying to make a point for people to think about my question. Your examples are proof that generalizations should not be made.
        As an artist myself, I am coming to realize how crucial it is to have a structure you can make for yourself, although I struggle very much at it.
        Thank you for reading, I enjoyed your comments, and I even quoted you on my follow up piece!

  5. Thats a tough question to answer. It all depends on the individual. Being a psychology major, I know that the same treatment does not work for everyone. No two people are the same. As children, I believe that parents should provide some structure so they grow up with some type of rulea and morals. However, being too strict or too loose could change a child’s view on the world all together. But, as an adult, it really depends on how well that individual handles change. Some people need structure to keep from getting anxious about everything. Others despise structure and believe doing what they want when they want is best for them- to keep them sane. It is all about balancing the two and figuring out what is best for yourself!

  6. I think children need structure…but with room to be unstructured…I guess you could call it “scheduled unstructure”. This would give them a frame work of how to manage time, set goals, achieve them….qualities you’d need even if you go on to being an artist or something perceived to be “less structured”. I’m for learning all the rules, then knowing which ones to break. It’s too difficult the other way around….almost sets you up to fail.

    • I appreciate the “scheduled unstructure” concept. To learn to balance our lives so that we are able to accomplish the many things we “have to” do and still have time to engage in the many more things we “want to” do is an important life lesson. Thanks for a great new phrase to quote–“structured unstructure”. I get it!

    • I get that, and I think without structure, I wouldn’t be here blogging today. So I do agree that rules should be learned first, but I also believe, as you said, some should be broken.

  7. I definitely think children need structure growing up. Not like boot camp or anything. But structure that includes first of all the whole home environment. The only way we can raise our children in a structured way is if we provide them with the structure everyday at home. That means that mom and dad can not lead a totally unstructured life and expect Jr. to be focused. However, I think that anyone’s lives needs to include times where structure goes out the window. It also depends on which areas we are talking about. For instance, my daughter has passionately wanted to be an artist of some kind ever since she turned 10 I think. Now she is almost 26 and she still has that passion. She has done a lot of painting, making jewelry, hair bows, making clothes, ect. A parent should allow that, no matter if they are good or bad at it. But when it comes to the guidlines of the home, structure should be an absolute, consistent thing in the home itself. The key word is consistent!

    • True, but what if your daughter dropped even more of the structure she has now to really push for her career as an artist. It takes risk, but otherwise the career won’t happen… would you be okay with that then? Would it be worthwhile?

      • lol she has very little structure now lol. She is 26 and married now, if her husband would be supportive I certainly would too! I think that she has had that natural drive for a reason. She has even had paintings sold in art shows and stuff. But I gave her every bit of room I could. Now, She doesn’t have the time or money to put into it. ;-(

      • I can’t really tell. We aren’t very close anymore. But as a mom, I don’t think that she is. But I expect that she will figure that out at some point and go back to her artistic self. She is impressionable, and right now her husband decides who she is. Long story.

      • I am. I have cried a lot of tears, but I have gained my strength to handle it. We were so close before though. As for my life now that the kids are grown, I have to have some sort of routine for my mental health. I basically do the same things every day lol. But I give myself plenty of unstructured days to just do or not do anything lol I can now live a rather simple life. 😉

      • I consider myself retired lol. After the raising kids, breakdown, working my butt off to make a living. I am content as I can be lol

  8. Much like anything in life, it boils down to one simple truth: BALANCE. I think both structure and spontaneity are equally important and should be entertained when applicable. Living a balanced life is what is most fulfilling. We shouldn’t worry so much about “finding happiness.” Not all moments and experiences will be happy…but what we can do is find contentment and learn how to live in the moment. You mention the career choices of an artist, comedian, doctor, lawyer in reference to different levels of structure, but I question this. We can’t assume that to be a doctor means living a completly rigid life…perhaps some doctors out there do a lot of spontaneous/thrill-seeking adventures with the extra money they make. I don’t think it’s fair to lable people by what their career choices are. To examine our levels of structure I suppose we have to observe the totality of the circumstances-furthermore, some people enjoy structure and it creates peace with them. My closing statement: each person has to find their own “balance” of structure and chaos.

    • Ugh, that is my favorite word! You’re totally right, I think balance is everything.

      You’re right in saying I made a generalization, but I was referring to the career, and large aspects of lifestyles that go with that. Of course, if I was a graffiti artist/doctor, I wouldn’t fit in the category of rigid at all.

      • You don´t need any practice at all. If you heed these words, the understanding comes swiftly and effortlessly.

        Who can say what it is best for you other than you…? Sometimes you have to inquire, other times you have to step back from any inquiring, letting things come to you.

        Ebb and flow…we all learn to recognize the natural rhythm of life.

      • I do my best to do that. I do not believe it is effortless at all, though, or else there wouldn’t be any struggle in life. It is a challenge to let go and go with the flow and just feel life.

      • :))

        You see, society has us believe that struggle is the only way to “earn” our sense of motivation. So we see life as constant struggling, but this outlook on life is rather precarious, as at the bottom of it is fear. Fear creates conflict and shortage at all levels of being…It is quite obvious, when we struggle we resist our real nature. Ultimately, we struggle for something which we already are

        The same force which made a rose be a rose is behind our “humanness”.. As we struggle, we seem to be out of touch with this subtle but mighty force, which is far more intelligent than whatever we have invented. We can use it, or fight against it, as people usually do…

        Try to struggle against a tornado and see what happens…Instead we might use that energy and swirl into unthought of heights…
        Needless to say, but this is of course metaphorically speaking.

      • Time is the outcome of our perception. Our perception stems from fear and resistance. I am speaking about psychological time here. When we fail to see the urgency of a problem, we kind of ignore it, pushing it somewhere in the “future”.So Time means actually postponing – that is, the interval between us and the problem we want to avoid. So in the long run, time brings even more confusion to the that particular problem we avoid, it kind of enhances the gap, the ressitance within. Subsequently, whatever true realization happens now. In this insight time stops, and what is beyond time makes Itself known. True action is understanding the above.
        I am aware that this may sound a little overwhelming, but I am sure that if you read this carefully, you will know…;)

  9. This is a brilliant post and a great question! I personally think that people with structures can also live very unstructured lives: for example a doctor with exact times to be in may be unstructured in terms of finances, deadlines for cases to be filed, and be a total mess at home! I think whilst some parts of your life may be structured others could be in complete chaos. In terms of the child thing I think I am a bit of a hypocrite as I lead a rather unstructured life myself in terms of everything being a mess most of the time and me missing the structures I have; however, I could see myself eyeing my child constantly, giving them structure and generally pushing them away from professions such as football or anything else which is too risky or too free-lance! I think a life where things such as your job are structured (you know you will be receiving this amount this month etc.) whilst having things like savings, timings, deadlines and your house in a bit of a mess is the best thing. I would love a career where I knew when I’d get money and how much I would get yet I would not want to be a completely together person, that’s just not fun (in my opinion)! Great question!

    • Thank you, and I think I should’ve clarified – certain career do not necessarily mean structure. I understand that.

      And when you said your example of the best thing for a life balance struck me as something I wouldn’t particularly enjoy myself. I don’t want a “job”, I want to do what I love. If I worked in a cubicle for example, I am downright certain I would become depressed.

      • You’re welcome and I kind of meant that in I guess a very stereotypical way in that some careers are more likely to require you to be a personally structured person.
        I completely get where you’re coming from, I mean, it would be a dream to do something I really love but I wouldn’t be able to do something like freelancing as I like to know when and how much I’m getting. I guess that’s just different people though I mean others obviously wouldn’t mind it and as you said, you would hate to be working in a cubicle but I don’t think I would dislike that at all to be honest 🙂

      • See? Different people, different agendas. That’s totally fine, if you’re content with work like that, then there is no problem in pursuing that. But that’s because you know you wouldn’t mind it. For those that would, I always say to explore something else, something new.

  10. I think its less of question of structure or no-structure…but more of a question of does the child have the emotional intelligence and right support at home and at school to tackle any aspect of his/her learning process throughout their life. If he/she is depressed, has anxiety, feeling stressed, etc.. how can they learn anything or want or learn anything and carry that over to their adult life in a productive healthy way for themselves and those around them.

  11. I believe in a not so structured life….I don’t even make schedules because I hate the idea of everything being planned out. It takes the fun out of life if everything is pre-determined.
    But the doctor or lawyer thing…….I believe if the person chooses that profession its because they enjoy it, it might be seem like a structured life but it can be so much more, depending on the person in question.

  12. I think kids need to be guided by their parents cause life is full of good and bad choices so parents should be there for them to lead them! but that doesn’t mean that they should live a structured life, their parents should be fixable as well! As an example, if they want their kid to be an engineer and their kid is more into art, they can develop his/her skills in both, they let him/her choose engineering as future career and develop his/her passion for art as a hobby! I think this way kids will be satisfied. Kids should have structured rules so they don’t get lost in their way to their future! And we should let them be whoever they want to be (As long as it’s a good thing)

      • Haha, you devil! =P Well, I think then he/she should choose art cause if kids were forced on something they don’t like, they won’t be good at it! Again, parents only should guide them not force them, it is their future so they should be the one who choose as long as it’s a good choice! hehe 😉

      • Good answer, and the only thing I would add to that is that support for the child is crucial. Without support from my parents, I would be as driven as I am now.

      • It requires both. A person who is raised in a certain society will be exposed to various forms of how people identify themselves. When a person enters adolescence, puberty enduces development in hisbrain and psychological makeup that encourages the search for finding oneself in his society. During this period, all the various identities existing in the society will be analyzed by the adolescent and the one most suitable to his pre-adolescent sense of self will be adopted or at the least explicitly realized. Structure is required since all the various identities present in society didn’t randomly appear but evolved and were maintaind. But, non structure is neeed since through it the development and acceptance of exceptions to mainstream identites. The thing is that both structure and non structure need to be present in society since without netiher progres or long-term stability can exist

  13. Idont think it’s a question with a black or white answer. When raising kids they definitely need structure, at least in the early years. Lack of structure can make some kids very anxious, but then others may thrive in that environment, especially as they get older. So I think you have to decide about structured environments based on what the kid seems to need. And that requires the ability to properly “read” your kid and then allow for the environment they need. As I write I guess I am concluding this holds true for adults too. We need to know ourselves and our partners and let each have the environment that is best for them and ourselves. If that can be negotiated without strife then I think the relationship has a good chance of succeeding.

    Those are my initial thoughts. I’m sure you will challenge me here or there, Prose, and I look forward to “dialoging” (hehe) with you.

    • You better bet I will challenge you, although your answer is quite solid, and I do like it. Firstly, I have to ask how one would properly read a child of their needs, when a common challenge is that the child is a different person than you or I are, and many kids cannot articulate their feelings. Which brings me to my next question – how can you prevent yourself from imposing your wants/needs on the child? Of course, a parent wants the best for their child, but what if they think that means imposing a safe, painless, structured life that turns out to be more monotonous and depressing than helpful? Is it not worth the time to even worry about that, as it is inevitable?

      I guess I am just wondering how you can be sure you’re doing the right thing for someone that cannot really state how they feel.

  14. Your question is certainly valid & an important one. but, IMO, it is just a tad off the mark… It is not an either or thing… It is a matter of an appropriate moment-to-moment balance of freedom (non-structure) within a supporting framework (structure). As human beings, we have been given freedom but we live in a structured environment (nature) which supports us. Another way to look it this is: imagine you are a tree… you grow in a free and unstructured way, like no other tree – different branches, leaves, etc… yet there is an underlying structure or framework that determines and supports that growth (using a certain set of rules) – roots, trunk, branches, leaves, fruit. Same applies to children, they need a framwork (structure) within which to grow… food, shelter, etc. provide the physical structure… rules are the same thing but they provide structure for the child’s internal (emotional, spritual, mental) development. Art is unstructured (free) expression within a structure (the medium is the framework). We all need both – an infinite number of variations moment to moment… without both, in a proper/healthy mix, we are incomplete or stifled…
    …just a thought.

    • My response is dependent upon the individual. Some humans thrive on structure, especially those who haven’t had the opportunity (i.e., modeling, explicit direction, observation, etc.) to learn about what structure can do in their lives. Once they discover how structure improves and empowers their lives, they can eagerly become more structured individuals. Additionally, whether it’s due to genetics, personality, or specific needs (i.e., job, career, hobby, etc.), schedules, routines, procedures, and structure are valued. They get the job done well.

      On the other hand, some creative, free-thinking beings may feel stifled when structure (that is not of their own making) is suggested, requested, or required. Also, people who are raised in very structured or extremely rigid environments often tend to rebel once they discover the freeing aspects of an unstructured existence. Being unstructured can be liberating.

      Like many things in life, choosing to be structured or unstructured depends upon each individual’s personality, preferences, experiences, talents, desires, dreams, and so much more.

      I think that both can contribute to a balanced, whole, authentic life.

      I lean toward structure due to my career and raising two children, but I can easily imagine a life of far less structure when the nest is empty and my time is truly my own.

    • My question is to provoke thought only. Which means that I most definitely do not see it as an either/or circumstances. I’m just trying to get people to think about the subject. Perhaps I succeeded, as you gave me quite a powerful, comprehensive answer.

  15. I grew up in a fairly structured household. In my younger years, I was carted around from sunup to sundown, to horseback riding lessons to swimming to soccer to girlscouts, not to mention school. I ate only a small amount of regulated sweets, cleaned my room regularly, and didn’t watch much TV. And who set all these rules? That would be my mother, who was always a well organized, for the best sort of parent. As a young, introverted child, obviously I had complaints, but not many.

    See, I’ve always been one for /loose/ structures and dictated activities. But as I grew older, I must have subconsciously realized that I didn’t like so many extracurricular events dominating my life. Gradually, I began to rebel, against starting soccer again, against the one piece swim uniform, against anything that took up time I could be using to have fun.

    I can’t be sure how that made my mother feel, because when I was old enough to think of her feelings as well, it was too late to ask. Maybe she resented me for the fact that I struck out against her good intentions. After all, she wanted me to go to college and get a good job and have a good life abiding by good ethics. Basically what every parent wants for their child. Maybe she saw that for what it really was, a blooming in my own individual personality. By then I wanted to live my own life, to find my own activities through my own interaction and interests.

    By any means, I was left well enough alone through my junior high and high school years, with just enough, and occasionally too much prompting from my mother. But while I was making my steadily independent trek, my younger, hotheaded brother by three years had replaced me in my mother’s attentions. While he didn’t participate in as wide a range as my own had been, boyscout activities littered his calendar, and swimming after school kept him active. There was another difference however. Where I wilted, angered, and struck out, he thrived happily.

    Where I simply made my breakfast, he asked for toast, when I snagged an apple, he asked for a granola bar. I realized that he was completely dependent on our mother. While it may not have been the right thing to do, I began to push him. Being the independently minded teenager, I thought he didn’t do enough for himself.

    Maybe he did, or maybe he didn’t, but however you look at it, we had two very different childhoods. Despite being passive, shy, and introverted, so structured a lifestyle hadn’t worked for me, while my quick to anger sibling worked quite well. You talk about two different parenting styles, I see a crash course in parenting. You can never truly know how to parent. It’s like writing, or drawing, or swimming, or sports. You can be taught, but the only way you can truly succeed and improve, is to try, fail, try, and succeed.

    • That was an enthralling story, and I felt your pain through your struggles. What you say proves my point, though – you cannot impose your own beliefs on your child and always expect success.

  16. Structure is also an abstract concept, I try and attemt to explore it visually by painting. I felt that at its extreme there are physical and mental Prisons. The physical prison is a structure sometimes used when there has been a complete loss of structure within a persons life. But Also we all have our own mental prisons. Structure and loss of structure is something that the language of painting helps me express.

  17. Great idea!
    I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.It’s best to mix both of them together.Every person has to find the “ppercentage” of those stiles in his life, that is best for him/her.
    Like this everyone can live his life their way.
    Of course it also depends on the situation!
    If you are raising kids it’s good to be open minded, to teach them how to choose what’s best for them.But since they are still childeren you have to limit this fridom, because they don’t know what’s best for them in everything yet.
    As they grow up you have to change this limit.Kids can experience new stuff, but it has to be for their age.And they can explore THEIR world.Since their world is changing there is no limited fridom.
    That’s just my opinion. 🙂
    Great pictures by the way!!

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