We moms all pretty much have the same goal. We want to raise smart, independent, well-mannered and good-hearted children. We want them to grow up in loving households feeling empowered and ready for all the world has for them later in life. Within all of this lies the concept of child autonomy and its role in children’s development. Should children be given choices early on in life? How much is too much choice? These are all questions parents mull over as they attempt to raise healthy kids with ambition and drive.
Before you became a mom, it’s likely that you had more than a few expectations about the way you would parent. Think about all of the things you said you’d never do. Now compare that list to the more realistic version of your current parenting style. You never know how you’ll respond to things until you’re faced with them. I would love to believe that giving my children choices about everything in life would lead to well-adjusted, self-sufficient humans ready to take on the world; but that isn’t sensible, and sensible is mandatory when you’re a mom!
Here is perhaps an unpopular opinion in the mommy world: I think most kids are given too many choices at too young an age. I honestly do. I think you set the kids up to rule the house and take over in ways they’re simply not prepared for when there aren’t clear parameters for what they can and cannot decide. An author by the name of Dr. Harvey Karp is well known for his “Happiest Baby” series of books and DVDs. In them, he suggests thinking of babies and toddlers as little “cavemen.” (The image that conjures up in my head is hilarious.) While I don’t literally see my kids that way, Dr. Karp’s take on boundaries offers some gems.
The fact is, young children aren’t equipped with the knowledge to select perfectly balanced meals or seasonally appropriate clothing each day. They depend on their parents and guardians to help them with basic survival needs and skills. So, because I realize that having a choice in matters gives my sons the feeling that they are in control of certain things, I offer them the “right to select.” For an example, I put bowls in front of them, each with a different fruit, and I give them the right to select which they’d prefer to eat with dinner. I choose beautiful clothing, assembled into a few different outfits and give them the right to select which they want to wear that day. Now, do they get to put on shorts and a tank in super cold weather? Absolutely not. I recognize that this is where my role as their mother comes into play, and I exercise my right to overrule things that won’t be good for them.
It is important to note that there are instances in my household when “because I said so” is applicable. In some mommy circles this is almost a cardinal sin, but in mine, it depends on what’s taking place in that particular moment. I have two boys, and when I’m helping one and see the other doing something that could be dangerous, I’m not offering him a choice to cease—I’m demanding it. In that moment, he doesn’t have to understand why; he just has to obey so that he lives to see the next moment! “Because I said so” in my household looks like 1-2-3-Magic. It may look different in yours. I realize that this doesn’t always work for every 2017 mom, but I find that establishing respect is important. My sons know without question that I love them, and that comes with understanding mommy makes decisions that keep them safe because I know best. Chaos isn’t a regular occurrence in our lifestyle, and I think this is a big reason why.
Maintaining an amount of order and authority in my home is important, but it isn’t because I seek to rule over my children. I want to keep them safe and be a guiding force. It is important to be as soft as you are hard. Providing my children the opportunities to make decisions regarding their lives is significant in many areas. I want them to choose the creative elements that speak to them: the books, the colors they choose to paint with, even the kiddie shows they’re interested in. I respect that they’re little people with opinions and tastes. I am just careful never to forget that their growth and development has to be nurtured by me. So for now, their choices are a bit more controlled than they realize, and we’re all happy with that.