I distinctly remember being asked when my son was around three why I gave him a choice about what he wanted to do for the afternoon. It struck me as an odd question to ask. Why wouldn’t I ask my son what he wanted to do? It was just as much his time as it was mine. Just because he was three didn’t mean he didn’t deserve to have a say. Especially when it comes to how he’s going to be spending his time. Kids are living their lives every day. And I believe that they deserve to make decisions about certain aspects of their life.
Giving your kid the freedom to make decisions for themselves isn’t an easy thing to do. We parents more often than not have to be the ones in control. If we gave our kids too much power, they’d have candy for breakfast, take a bath once a week, and never go to bed. That kind of freedom would result in anarchy. Or at the very least, sticky kids who were punchy due to lack of sleep. But these aren’t the kind of things I’m talking about when I say I let my son make his own decisions.
One of the most important ways I do so is letting him control his time outside of school. When he was younger, I would pack him up and tote him to the playground or the library to play every day without fail. Sometimes he would fuss and fight me the whole time he was getting ready, or the entire walk there. “He’ll have fun when he gets there,” I’d tell myself. And usually he did, but I should have read his cues more closely. If he was fighting with me, that didn’t mean he was misbehaving. He was trying to tell me he didn’t want to go, but he didn’t have the language to do that so he behaved in the way he knew would get my attention. But I saw it as defiance, not him trying to assert himself. As soon as I shifted the way I was thinking, it felt like less of a power struggle.
There are days when I don’t want to do shit. If we’re not starving and I don’t need to go to the grocery store, I won’t fucking go. So, if my kid isn’t obligated to go to the playground, then why should he have to if he doesn’t want to? He’s around other kids at school, so if he wants to just chill at home and play with his toys in the comfort of his own home without a bunch of other kids around, then please, let’s do that instead.
As he’s gotten older, I have also given him some say in what he wears. It’s such a small thing, but it means a lot to him to have that kind of say. When I’m buying his clothes, I will show him a few shirts and ask which ones he likes. It makes him a little more proud of his appearance when he’s had a hand in choosing what he gets to wear. For his birthday this year, he picked out a pair of sparkly light up shoes with the characters from Frozen on them. He was adamant that those were the ones he wanted, and every day he happily puts his shoes on because they are the shoes that he wanted to wear every day. Were they the shoes I would have picked? Definitely not, but they aren’t my shoes and I don’t have to wear them everyday, so letting him choose makes sense.
I’m not trying to win a medal for mom of the year or anything. I’ve just realized that these are small ways I can give him autonomy in his day to day life. There are plenty of times where this blows up in my face and I regret the day I decided to let him have a say in anything. I mean, he’s a five-year-old; I’m pretty convinced he gets his jollies by seeing how loud I can scream before my head explodes. That being said, I’m no pushover.
Giving kids space to make their own decisions isn’t giving them freedom to do whatever they want. I’ve still created boundaries and non-negotiables. You can have a say in what you eat for dinner, but then you’re going to eat that meal before you get dessert. And if you don’t eat, no dessert. Unless you’re dying or losing a limb, you’re going to school. When I say you need a bath, get your ass in the tub.
My son isn’t going to be five forever (sob!) and it’s my responsibility to give him all the tools he needs to be a secure adult. No one wants to deal with a grown ass man who can’t make a decision for himself because his mommy coddled him and told him what to do until he moved out. I don’t need to get a million phone calls from him like, “Mom, what should I have for dinner?”
Basically, I don’t want to be raising a child who is co-dependent and needs me for everything. Adulthood would be a real reality check for him if I do that, and then I’ll have a bunch of strangers talking shit about me because he can’t make any decisions for himself. Hardest of passes, thank you very much.
Giving your kid the space to be able to make their own decisions from a young age is a choice. For some, it may not be an easy choice to make. It can be frustrating at times, and you might have to compromise your own wants. But you have to think big picture here. You may have a kid who will argue with you about everything right now. But, you won’t have to worry about them being able to advocate for themselves as they get older. And that’s the most important thing.