Just WHO Is In Control?
Raising kids is the hardest job I have ever had. When I look back at the 21 years of raising my three kids I am amazed how hard it was at times and how delicate some situations were to their well being. Three kids, three different personalities, three different journeys. Girl things, boy things, baby challenges, teenager challenges, friend issues, allergies, wants, needs, expenses, good choices, bad choices, good attitudes, bad attitudes, disciplining, rewarding, supporting, loving and all the millions of other things we deal with when we raise a child.
I am passionate in my quest to share with other parents, new parents especially, the importance of raising a child who owns their own journey. I think allowing kids choices is necessary in their developmental growth toward independence. So when do we decide for our kids and when do we let them decide for themselves. Decision making looks different at different stages of their growing up years. When they’re babies, not a whole lot is within their control. Well, except controlling you: If I cry a certain way I get food, or get my diaper changed, or am picked up and rocked, but they really aren’t in charge of their destiny at this age. Slowly as they learn to crawl, and walk and run and feed themselves they are taking control of their own journey. We parents exist to guide them in this journey, making sure that they are continually moving forward and learning. And then they hit the age where we need to let go and let them fly. I’m talking solo, people, leaving us parents empty nesters.
I have so many examples of letting go. But, first let me tell you that letting go starts early on in your child’s life without you even knowing that it’s all part of the letting go process! Like, when your child wants to walk without holding your hand at age 5 into his classroom. It’s a literal example of letting go, but also it’s a fine example of having to let go of being in control. How about when your child is 8 years old and wants to help chop the veggies for dinner with a sharp knife? Will you let go? How about when your daughter is 10 and wants to go to the mall and walk around with a couple of friends…without you? Will you let go? How about at age 16 when she wants to jump in a car with a boy to go on a date? Will you let go? There comes that time where we need to give them a chance to make some decisions to try on independence.
Warning: One size does not fit all when it comes to trying on independence.
Each kid learns and grows differently. One child may use his $20 chore cash for a silly foam airplane that will surely break within the first 10 tosses, thus wasting the $20. But, is that experience a waste? No way, not if they were the ones who made the decision to buy the toy. It helps them to practice making choices and see the benefits to a good choice or consequences of a bad one. You may know that the airplane is going to bust shortly after the purchase, but your child is dead set on buying it. Time for them to experience making a money decision. Time for them to try on independence. Time for you to talk through the disappointment, and tell them how much you love them despite the failure to buy a worth while $20 toy. Or maybe, it’s time to pull your hair out because they don’t care because it was the best 10 tosses of an expensive foam toy they have ever had! Yes, all lessons don’t end up sticking the first time they experience one. It may take buying a second expensive foam toy for it to crash and burn after the 2nd toss for your child to learn the value of that buy. Patience, dear one! Don’t fix it for them, just love them through it. Talk it out with them. Letting them understand and feel the consequence seems harsh maybe, but you are doing them a huge favor if, while the consequences are small and insignificant, you follow through with the consequences. Small consequences paid along the way pay big dividends later in life in decision making. As your child gets bigger, so will the decisions and subsequently the reward for the good choices or consequence for the bad ones.
Kids have to face big decisions. After 8 years of gymnastics training and competitions at the age of 12 I decided I was going to quit. I was a level-1 elite gymnast , practicing 6 days a week. I left school an hour early to get an extra 1 1/2 hours of private lessons with the coach to then eat dinner at the gym and finish the night with 2 hours of practice with the team. Saturday was two hours of dance class then lunch with the team and then 2 hours of gymnastics practice. I was a state champ and made it to regionals one year. I was at least a college hopeful and everyone at my level had the Olympic dream on their mind. I just had had enough. I was seeing all of the sports my sister was involved in and was missing out on middle school fun because of my commitment to gymnastics. I was tired of that lifestyle, yes at age 12 I was living a very intense lifestyle. When I shared my feelings with my parents they were shocked at first, but they were parents who allowed me to be in charge of my journey. The way my parents handle this sensitive situation will stay with me for the rest of my life. My dad talked through the why of my feelings then said, “it is up to you, but I think you owe it to yourself to give such a big decision some time. I want you to continue with practice for one month noting anything that may be holding you back and talking about it with us. In one month if you want to quit, you quit and we all move on to the next thing in your life.” My dad’s guidance was so wise! After a month of practice and reflection I quit and never looked back with regret or sadness. I think of my gymnastic years as some of my most favorite times in my life! So many good friends, so many life lessons, and so many fond memories. That was a hard decision to make, but the guidance from my parents made it a positive experience and a well thought out decision leaving me with no regret.
Now as a parent, I sit here watching and guiding my own child in the throws of a big decision to make! Maria, 21, is in her last semester of college. She will have earned a dual major in Business and Communications with a minor in Marketing come May. Ever since she was young her dad, a lawyer, has told her she’s going to law school so she can take over his practice. She has slowly bought into that plan, but has had many reservations about it. Throughout high school and college her dad told her all the perfect reasons why this plan to go to law school was perfect for her. “You like marketing instead? Well, a law degree will get you the best marketing job”. “You want to stay at home with your kids someday? Well, you can do law work from home”. Every reservation she had he had a reasonable answer why law school was the fail-safe plan for her life. And I quite agree with him. We both believe that law school is a great plan. A law degree supports a family, a law degree gets the better marketing job, and with the law degree she’s guaranteed a job with her dad! But, her heart is wavering. Her passion for the marketing world is taking root. Her confidence in being able to endure law school has her overwhelmed despite the confidence her dad, who has been through it, has in her. On March 30th she is signed up to take the LSAT (law school admittance test). It is one more step to prove to herself that she can do it. Her dad would love to MAKE her go to law school, but he knows better than that. He has not backed down and has insisted she take that LSAT, but the time will come for her to ultimately decide if she will go to law school. It is painful for me to watch the agony in both her and her dad in this decision. He wants so bad for her to go he is almost pushy about it. She’s freaking out! I’m trying to talk to both of them about the process. Screeeeeeech! Noteworthy at this intense moment: there is no bad decision that will be made, unless Maria makes the decision to go against her heart, her head, and her gut! What are you passionate about pursuing, what are you informed about in each choice you have, and what does your gut feel when you consider all this, Miss Maria? And really folks, this is not an end of the world kind of decision. She can decide to go to law school later in life, or decide that she is not going to finish law school a year into it. Patience is required for the right decision to be made. I have all the confidence in the world that Maria will make the right decision even if it’s the wrong decision. I don’t mean to be confusing but, hear me out. We have taught her to make decisions along the way. We have held her feet to the fire when she made a bad decision and we have praised her for her good decisions. We have seen her learn from her mistakes and grow. We have watched her fight through hard times before, and she is a fighter. She will fight for what is right for her because she knows this is her journey to own! Hello empty nesting, I hate not having control. Hello free bird, I trust you! Two very hard sentences to say together.
So much of a child’s journey depends on who is in charge of it. If you’re too in charge of your child’s journey you risk them having lots of regret and bitterness that they didn’t have a say. Start when they are young with giving them responsibility.
Not all decisions are life threatening but some decisions can change the course of their life. Be patient when they are figuring out who they are and what their passions are. It may look like they are well on their way to a college scholarship or the Olympics, like I was, but it’s really not your decision on whether or not they have the heart and drive to achieve it. They may have all the credentials to go to law school and you may have all the right reason why they should, but it’s not the end of the world if they decide not to go.