“Mommy, can dolly come too?”
“Honey, it’s your decision…but, just know I’m not going to carry her and you don’t want to lose her.”
(It’s your decision, but I’ve let you know my opinion; don’t bring her.)
“Mom, should I wear my red sweater or the blue one?”
“Honey, it’s your decision…but didn’t the red one have a stain? The blue one looks nice with those pants.”
(And since we are going out in public, I don’t want you wearing something that has a stain on it. What would other people think?)
“Mom, I’m going shopping with a friend, do you think it’s OK to take some money from savings?”
“Honey, it’s your decision…but don’t forget you have some bills coming due and you don’t want to start that bad habit.”
(So, NO, don’t move any (of YOUR) money out of savings! Really, you even had to ask?)
I can’t count the number of times I’ve said, “Honey, it’s your decision” over the last (almost) 19 years. I’ve tried to raise empowered daughters that felt they could come to me for guidance and wisdom but also knew that, ultimately, their decisions were/are theirs. I always wanted them to be both comfortable in making decisions and in taking responsibility for them. But, it all began long ago, when they were so, so… malleable. My manipulations weren’t conscious, but they were there, gently nudging them to make the decision I wanted them to make.
Yes, I’ve just admitted to being a mom who has manipulated her children into making the decisions she wanted them to make. It started out small. (“Try some peas, honey, they are soooo yummy! Just one, pleeeaaaase.”)
As the stakes grew, so did my persuasive skills. And as a former sales manager and trainer, let me tell you, I’ve got some very persuasive skills!
However, I’ll admit I’ve been more successful at guiding my older daughter who, though very independent, likes to please and has always been more open to my manipulation guidance than her sister. My second born, my adamas, has rarely been more concerned about pleasing me than she has been about following her own gut, and I have a huge amount of respect for that spirit. (Kind of. Sort of. Maybe.)
Last Sunday, as I was driving my younger one, A, home from her confirmation class, we discussed her fast approaching confirmation ceremony. “Oh, so you’ll make your own sashes to wear at the confirmation ceremony? Have you decided to be confirmed?” I asked. Though resistant to even taking the confirmation class, she agreed when I told her I needed and wanted her to take it for her “Religion” credit for school, but that the final decision to be confirmed was hers. (My husband and I agreed early on that, regardless of giving the girls a foundation in our faith, the decision to join any church or commit to a faith would theirs and theirs alone. Until last Sunday, that is.)
She sat silent in the car. She avoided my question. She pointed out the large Wolfhound being walked along the side of the road. I modified my approach and asked solely about the sash.
She talked a bit about the symbolism of the sashes before adding that she wasn’t sure she would be joining her 4 classmates on the day of confirmation; she just wasn’t sure she wanted or was ready to be confirmed.
“Really?” I asked, trying to sound casual, “I guess I’m surprised. Do you really understand what it means to be confirmed?” (She’s bright and not easily played.)
“Yes, Mom, Pastor Greg covered it on Day 1.” I could tell by the tone in her voice battle lines had already been drawn, and experience told me I was not likely to win this war if I waged a “persuasive attack” then-and-there. I tried to change the subject, but my need to push her into the “right decision” was too strong to let it sit.
I approached again, “Tell me about the sash.”
Her lips closed tighter than brand new Tupperware ® and my hands gripped the steering wheel even tighter. We sat in silence for the next 5 minutes. My thoughts searched for an argument persuasive enough to squelch a teen’s defiance. I had nothing but irrational fears bouncing around my head: What if she never finds a relationship with God? What will her classmates think? What if she never learns to trust God when she feels lonely, sad, or scared? What will Pastor Greg think? What will the other moms think?
My thoughts were interrupted by her soft spoken admissions, her reasons for being where she was on the “confirmation journey” and I found myself at a loss for words. I had no argument lying in wait to set a trap, nothing ready to jump from my tongue and tell her why her decision was wrong. As we pulled into the driveway, I thanked her for her honesty. Then, I walked silently into the house and straight up the stairs to my bedroom.
As I folded clothes, my thoughts raced again; Why? How do I persuade her? What will __________ think? And then, it hit me. I wasn’t really making this about her or her decision, I was making it about me.
Yes, I want her to feel and experience a loving relationship with God; the kind of relationship I know well but didn’t discover until I was almost 30 and undergoing fertility treatment. And yes, I was concerned about the opinions of others. But, embarrassingly, it was the latter that was driving me to convince her to make the decision I wanted.
I sat down on the bed and grabbed my knotted stomach. I thought about all the times I had pushed her or her sister to make the decision I wanted. I prayed and then, I called her upstairs.
She appeared at the door and before her foot crossed the threshold I was saying familiar words with a new, foreign meaning, “Honey, I’m sorry. It is your decision.”
That was it. No qualifiers. No sales pitch. No threats. No persuasion.
It was, and is, her decision. At almost 16, she has the maturity, the wisdom and, now, the freedom to make this decision, just as her older sister was free to decide where she will attend college. Do I still hope she’ll choose to be confirmed. In all honesty, yes. But more importantly, I hope she stays authentic to herself.
Now, I’m not, in any way, apologizing for influencing some of the choices my children have made. It’s my job, as a parent, to guide them, to share my experience and wisdom, and even to set boundaries and house rules that may further direct their decisions. However, it is also my job to gradually release them to make their own decisions, even if/when I disagree with their choice, encouraging them to trust their own voice. (Which is, perhaps, one of the toughest aspects of transitioning to the empty nest years.) And, it’s both my job and joy to celebrate their courage to forge their own paths.
In the last few years, I’ve watched both girls independently make big decisions. Sometimes, they’ve slipped but, more often, they’ve proven they know how to make good decisions and land on their feet. I’ll need to remember that next time I see them heading to church with a stain on their shirt.
Do you allow your children to make their own decisions, even if/when it differs from what you want or think is best?