Trusting Their Choices

I’ve been thinking about how I will allow my children to be more independent in their decision making. Since they were small, we have allowed quite a bit of freedom. Letting them jump in the puddles and then dealing with cold, wet feet has always been the best way for them to learn not to jump in puddles with tennis-shoes on. My sweet husband calls this method the “experiential” manner of parenting. I’m not sure if that’s actually a thing, but while he teases me with it from time to time, I think it is the best way to describe my overall philosophy for life. How will we learn if we do not experience?

Still, my ten-year-old is getting to a point in life where learning through doing can cost her more than just wet feet. I wonder how to provide all of the right activities for her to live her bigger-girl life without overly harsh consequences? Too much freedom given in the teen years can lead to all sorts of unchangeable life situations, choices that will need to be lived through for years to come, not just an afternoon. Yet I know that this child learns best by living, by putting her truest self out there and trying it out in the real world. I have no answers for these questions this morning, we will walk along this path together, hopefully the puddles won’t be too deep for awhile yet and we figure out the necessary boundaries as we go.

I also have been watching my littler kids, my husband and I give them a lot of space to learn by trying things out, but these two youngest kids are around a lot of other peoples parents, how do I let them think for themselves when so many other mommas don’t give their own kids the freedoms we allow? How do I respect other parents’ boundaries, while still letting my kids respect their own? I know that I need to be more vocal, explaining to my mom-friends the “why” behind the seemingly crazy things I “permit” my children to choose. I forget that our way is what has worked best for our family and, while I don’t need to force it on anyone else, I do need to respect it even in situations where other kids might not be allowed to do the things my kids choose to do.

If I don’t respect the guidelines that I show my kids one on one when we are in a group situation, it sends a mixed message and my kid may start to question her body or brain. That is something that will come back to bite me when we are climbing or on an unfamiliar trail and they suddenly question themselves in a moment of fear. I know that by letting them climb out as far as they feel safe, by letting them jump off the highest wall they are comfortable on, by simply allowing them to choose to wear a coat or not, they are learning that their choices matter. More than that they are learning that they have power over their own choice. They also see that they are capable, sometimes they fall, sometimes they flail, sometimes they come down a step first, but because we are there to bandage the scrapes and encourage the efforts, they trust themselves.

I suppose that is how I’m hoping to make it through the teen years with grace this time. We have allowed, permitted, encouraged even, this child to listen to her body. To trust her gut, to choose what is best for her through all of her “little” years. Unconsciously, by supporting her in these small things we have encouraged her to do the same with the big things to come. Hopefully she has failed enough and dealt with unpleasant consequences enough times to have those lessons to draw from as she matures. Ideally, she will have so much faith in her own body and brain that she will not fall to pressures or fail to be true to herself.

And so we continue. This day I will allow my eight-year-old to wear shorts…in January…in Minnesota…because that is his choice and he has yet to regret it, though I can’t look at him some days without shivering. I will watch my tiny stomp out into the snow wearing dress shoes and be there holding the boots I suggested before we left the house if she chooses to admit that snow is cold when it melts into your shoes! (I know that she will not admit that, she is as stubborn as I am and she will deal with wet feet for as long as she is able, but next time? She’ll choose the boots from the start because she’ll remember.) I will explain myself better to the other moms that we interact with so that I don’t have kids who second guess themselves.

This is not always easy. I often try very hard to explain my “why” to my kids when I want them to do one thing and they are certain that their own way is best. It is hard to remember that cold fingers will not kill an otherwise healthy child when my own life experiences tell me to put on mittens. It is difficult to stop and see their independence growing when the way they want to be independent causes me to need to plan ahead more. I mean, you really can’t let kids be free to explore their world without remembering to pack a spare pair of clothes and a towel or two. I’m banking on this being best though, that as they grow up they will know themselves and have a wealth of their own experiences to draw from. Not just scary words that grown ups threatened them with.

While my confidence often lags behind what I know to be true in this area, I have decided to commit to advocating for them more vocally. If your family plans to meet up with mine on one of these mild winter days please be prepared. I will not be telling my kids they can’t eat snow because they’ll get too cold, that they can’t take their coat…and hoodie…and snow-pants off (insert eye-roll here). Because I trust that when they are cold they will put them back on. I will continue to let my kids climb the trees, stand on the ledges, and jump from the rocks. Whether we are with friends or not. Because I really, really do want them to hear their own inner voice whisper and they won’t be able to do that if I’m constantly screaming at them to “not”.

Join me won’t you? It takes only a few steps. Choose a day and pack the car with all of the things you might need, take the extra time to do this. Then let your kid choose. Shorts in winter? Sure, if you want (you can pack pants). Take a few steps out onto the thin ice at the bend in the creek? Yes (you can explain currents and how far is safe, you can have spare boots and socks in the backpack). Climb on the frozen, metal playground equipment? Yep. (Maybe put dry mittens on first though?) Life should be experienced friends, even at four-years-old.

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