As a mom, I often make the common mistake of assuming that every choice my child makes is either a positive or negative reflection of me. As a homeschooling mom, it’s been easy to get caught up in the idea that I am in not only control on my child’s future, I’m 100% responsible for it. Another mistake. I’m not. And, regardless of how rational my thinking may be (at times), I have to remind myself of this, regularly. This morning was no different.
This morning, I sat down with my soon-to-be high school graduate for a one-on-one. We have long used one-on-one’s to review best practices and successes, identify areas for improvement and set semester goals. (Yep, you can take the girl out of the corporate world, but she didn’t leave everything behind.) It’s a useful tool for both my girls and myself because I often find areas that I can improve as a mother and a teacher while discussing the areas I feel they need to work on to prepare for college and “the real world.” As was usually the case with my employees, some one-on-ones are easier than others, but this morning’s was not one of them, for either of us.
As I sat with C, we reviewed her progress. She was ahead in some subjects and had slipped behind schedule in others. I took a deep breath. We talked about her volunteer commitments, her free-time, her self-discipline and reviewed goals for her second semester. We talked about her transition to college and her preparations. There have been decisions she has been procrastinating on and some she has simply ignored. I took another deep breath. Then, we talked about responsibility, choices, and fear.
I believe every child really wants to please their parents. I also believe every child is afraid they’ll disappoint their parents, even if they don’t show it. And, every child wants to do “it” their own way, even when they don’t know which way that is. Mine is no different. She has been paralyzed by fear. Fear of disappointing me. Fear of failure. Fear of making a bad choice. She is my “pleaser”, in addition to being my highly imaginative, easily distracted, generous, literature-loving, political, bouncy ball. She likes to lead, but can become frustrated by the expectations that come with leading. She likes to give and help, but likes to “unplug” and be left alone. She has a gift for writing, is curious about anatomy and forensic science, likes art and old myths, and is a strong advocate for justice. And, as of this writing, she has considered no fewer than 2,134 different careers, but has yet to commit to one. OK, I exaggerate, though it’s certainly felt that way on some days, for me and for her.
There are times I’ve wanted to scream “Just make a decision!”, but I’ve held my tongue because I believe there is value in squirming. If children are handed every answer or are never given the opportunity to make mistakes, they won’t be prepared to fly when the time comes. They’ll never know they have the skills to soar if they’ve never had to rely on their own abilities. My daughter squirmed this morning. As her teacher, I praised her for the work she was doing well, and I was candid about the areas she needed to improve. As her mother, I pushed her to make the academic decisions she had been procrastinating on. I was prepared to give her a deadline, but I didn’t need to. All she needed to hear was that I was proud of her, regardless of which college or major she chose. She had been afraid of disappointing me. She thought she knew what she wanted to do but felt lost in the dark woods of insecurity and uncertainty. She was afraid she was supposed to “know it all;” what she wanted to do with her life and how to get there. I reminded her that she’s only 17 and that there are plenty older than 47 still trying to figure that out. A college choice, however, I could help with. I pointed her to some online tools, reminded her that I am here to support her, and that her choice is not about me. It’s her future.
She got to work, used the tools offered and made a decision. There is work yet to be done, and I will help her, if she asks. This is an important part of her journey in discovering who she is and what she wants her life to look like beyond my nest. In the next several months and years, she’ll be taking critical steps, her first steps in her own transition, away from me and my skirt hem towards her adult world. And I have no doubts, she’ll soar!
I often compare making life choices to selecting dinner from a Chinese menu. There are pages and pages of delectable choices and sorting through 20 different chicken choices alone can seem daunting, let alone the beef, pork, duck, vegetarian, and fish offerings. The choices are often overwhelming and paralyzing. And still, a choice has to be made if food is to be delivered and you don’t want to be kicked out for loitering. Life is no different. Sometimes, we all need a little help narrowing down the choices, but no one likes to be told which choice is “best for us” or the “right one” based on someone else’s taste buds. Therein lies the greatest challenge in parenting: staying out of the way as our children decide the choices that are right for them and their lives. I’ve squirmed often watching my children make choices that I don’t agree with. It’s been one of my toughest parenting dilemmas, but I’ve grown along the way. I have learned that making choices empowers a child, and empowered children become adults that can take care of themselves. I’ve also learned that a choice different from my choice doesn’t make it wrong; it makes it theirs. This morning, I watched C squirm as she sifted through the choices presented to her and she made her decisions. I watched the relief wash across her face when she learned she wouldn’t disappoint me by making a choice that made her happy. My girls both have to choose the paths that are right for them, and I need to allow them that freedom if we are to make this transition smoothly. After all, their choices shouldn’t be about me.
Do you struggle staying out of your child’s way as he/she makes “life decisions”?