Most people in our culture, even kids, have an innate aversion to being controlled. There’s something in the very fabric of our psyche that longs to be free. In this country, we believe that liberty is an unalienable right of every human being.
When our children are babies, they don’t have much capacity for decision making but, as soon as they can talk, we can offer them small opportunities to make choices. Does she want to wear a skirt or shorts?
As kids grow and can make more choices, the challenge for parents is to allow kids the freedom to choose but to know when to step in and guide them. There’s a fine line between leadership and control.
The real question is: what are the boundaries? We want our kids to be safe, law abiding, honoring to the people around them and also true to their own interests and affinities. So if it’s freezing cold outside and your child does not want to wear a coat, we might insist that he does for his own protection. If the school frowns upon superhero costumes on a regular school day, we want to teach him to be law abiding and pick something else to wear. And when we are attending a wedding, we want to be honoring to the event hosts and wear our Sunday best.
But if the only reason you don’t want your daughter wearing three ponytails, mismatched socks and a clashing shirt and skirt is because you are afraid of being judged or because you’re afraid she will get picked on, you might need to relinquish control, let her be herself and see what happens.
Recently, Jenni released her 11-year-old daughter to make a tough decision. Eden had purchased some plants for a 4-H plant sale. She was supposed to care for the plants for a number of months leading up to the sale but Eden discovered that she does not have a green thumb. When she made the decision to not participate in the sale, Jenni reminded her that she would be passing up an opportunity to earn a few hundred dollars. Eden has a mother’s helper job and didn’t care about the money. So Jenni backed up and gave Eden the freedom to make her own choice.
Learning to lead and not control our kids means teaching them how to choose friends but not choosing their friends for them. It means allowing them to listen to their own bodies and stop eating when they are full instead of demanding they clean their plate. It looks like not telling kids that their goals are unrealistic but, instead, allowing them to discover for themselves that something is out of reach.
Ultimately, we the parents need to remember that our children are not an extension of us. They are their own unique people with their own perspectives, tastes and destiny. Our job is not to determine all of the outcomes for our kids but to guide them along the way so they can ultimately learn to lead themselves.
Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman are mothers with nine children between them, from an attorney to a pre-schooler, and one on the autism spectrum. Together they host a nationally syndicated radio show, “POP Parenting.” They are also freelance writers and international speakers. Get more information on their website, jenniandjody.com.