Making Choices

I had a conversation recently with a long-time friend who I hadn’t seen in quite a while and inquired of her family.  She mentioned that one of her sisters, who has five children, has quite the diverse family in that one of the children is a Quaker, one is a Catholic, one is an Atheist, one is married to a Hasidic Jew, and one just married a Muslim girl.  My first thought was, “Wow, that must make for an interesting Thanksgiving dinner!”  Then, when I stopped to think about how each child had chosen their own unique path, I had to give credit to those parents who raised their children to think for themselves.  The combination of faiths (and non-faiths) that form that family certainly puts my “Coexist” bumper sticker to shame!

Obviously, we all try to pass down our beliefs and values to our children and hope they will make choices based on what they’ve been taught or have observed growing up.  Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t.  However, as parents we have to realize that our children are not just little carbon copies of us.  If we’ve done our job, they are able to form their own beliefs and value system as they age and, as long as it’s not harmful to themselves or others, we should probably encourage that.  After all, being an adult and being independent means making up your own mind about issues that impact you.

I remember a conversation my husband and I had with our son many years ago when he was only about 10.  It was about an upcoming election, and we told him who we were voting for.  To our surprise, he came out for the opposite candidate!  He was very vehement about it too!  I suspect they were discussing it at school and he discovered something about this person that appealed to him.  No matter how we tried to dissuade him, he stuck to his guns.  I have to say, I was proud of him for that, for making a decision that was not what his mom and dad would expect.

Through the years we’ve tried to encourage that independent thinking, whether it be in politics, religion, choosing friends, etc.  We still have discussions about these topics and try to make sure he is up-to-date on national and local events.  We want him to have all the facts so he can make an intelligent decision, and usually he does.

When he was 12 he flat out told me that I was not to schedule any more “events” for him (which meant he was done with the speech, OT, PT, and social skills therapies we had participated in for years).  I could see he was no longer getting much out of them and resented having to adhere to the complicated scheduling around them, so I acquiesced.  When he was 16 he told me he was no longer a baby and didn’t want to go to his pediatrician anymore, so we changed over to our family doctor, and now he goes willingly.  Same thing with his dentist.  He didn’t like ours for some reason, so he found his own nearby, and now he makes his own appointments and goes without my prodding.  I would not have thought this possible when he fought me tooth and nail just a few years previously over any dental procedure!

He has also periodically asked his psychiatrist to allow him to back down on his medications, which we’ve done. We’ve not always been on total agreement with that decision, but sometimes it’s the only way he realizes just what the meds do for him.  As he discovers that his medications have a purpose and actually help him feel better, he will ask me if I think he needs to get back on it.  Giving him autonomy over his medical decisions has actually made all our lives much easier.  Now I realize that some choices are not able to be granted, such as when Josh declared he was no longer taking any medication and wanted to stop all his pills in one fell swoop.  We and his doctor explained to him that would be extremely dangerous, but we did allow him to back down gradually on one medication at a time.

My point in writing this is to encourage parents to give their children choices and not to always make the choice for them, especially as they start entering young adulthood.  We all want our kids to be as independent as possible, but how can they be when we are micro-managing their lives?  Everyone needs to know that their opinion counts and listening to complaints and concerns with an open mind is sometimes all that is needed, even when a situation cannot be changed.  When it is something that can be changed, consider doing it, if for no other reason than using it as a learning experience.  No one grows up without making some mistakes.  Let’s allow our kids that freedom too.



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