Parenting is filled with moments of judgment calls based upon seemingly contradictory goals. We want our children and teens to be independent and to be able to make decisions; yet, we have to protect them from harm. Sometimes, it is hard to know if we are giving them too much autonomy. We also need to be careful not to be those “helicopter parents” who do so much for our children that they don’t know how to function without us when they become adults. Where is the line between autonomy and obedience? When should parents take charge of decision making and have an active part in the process? When is it best to say, “Okay – whatever you think” to our children and teens?
While every situation should be evaluated independently, I do believe there is a guiding principle that parents can use when deciding whether to say, “This is how it will be” or not. Parents need to ask themselves, “Is this a big picture decision?”
A “Big Picture Decision” is one that lays a foundation for the future. Most parents already make many “Big Picture Decisions.” We know, for example, that our children have to be educated so schooling is not optional. When our 7th grader comes home and says, “I hate school,” we tell them that they have to have an education. A child may be given a voice in the decision to attend one private school or another. The child may be asked an opinion about public vs. the private school that you visit together. School attendance itself, however, is not optional. I do want to acknowledge that homeschooling is an option selected by some families and that children do go from quality homeschooling environments to college or to gainful employment. In a school setting or by homeschooling, a vast majority of parents ensure that their children have a foundation of knowledge.
In my household, having a religious foundation was an important “Big Picture Decision.” My children grew up knowing that religious instruction was not optional. There was no moment of “Do you want to attend?” for religious school and they both continued religious school through the 12th grade program (which by then was palatable as it took place only one evening per month). As adults, they can now make their own religious decisions and I know they do so with a foundation of learning, attending worship services, participating in traditions and seeing the adults model the importance of community. The foundation is there and now they can make intelligent decisions having had years of immersion.
Your “Big Picture Decisions” maybe the same or different than those of other people. You have to decide upon the foundation that you want your children to have when they are adults. They cannot. They do not have the wisdom to know that at age 40 or 50, they will be so glad that they have a certain educational level. Children and teens do not understand how difficult life can be and how much they may depend on knowledge, traditions, faith, closeness to family or other lessons that you insist upon.
Insist. Don’t be afraid to say, “This is not negotiable.” There are decisions that you can negotiate or simply hand over to them. At a certain age, let them pick their hair color if they want to dye it. Hair grows back. They can negotiate a curfew time within reason. They can decide which electives to take in school, which clubs to join or which sports to try. Those decisions are about the here and now. They do not have an impact that will resonate when your children are 30, 40 or 50 years old.
Ask yourself, “Is this a ‘Big Picture Decision?’ Is this part of the foundation that I want my child to have when he/she is an adult? What are the experiences that are the basis for who I want my child to become?”
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