I Empower My Kids To Make Their Own Choices — But Not About The Pandemic

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Young girl wearing mask looking through car window
Scary Mommy and Justin Paget/Getty

I believe that children have autonomy and rights, and that’s reflected in our everyday lifestyle. We homeschool, and most of what we do is a relaxed version of that called unschooling. Basically, our kids make their own choices about what to read, what science to learn, what social studies to engage with— and if they want to engage with the last two at all (they always do, trust me). We might learn fractions by playing coding games and chemistry through card games like Valence. Some days math for the youngest is Monopoly and other board games. We believe that, left to make choices for themselves, children will by and large pick what’s best for them.

These things are their choices.

But when it comes to the pandemic, any notion of choice flies out the window.

Bodily Autonomy Only Goes So Far

We believe that children have the right to bodily autonomy. For example: when Aunt Mabel swoops in and says, “Come give Aunt Mabel a big ol’ kiss,” they have the right to duck out of the way and say, “No, thank you, I prefer a handshake, a high-five, etc.,” or simply hide behind me, if you’re the six-year-old. We emphasize that they have choices when it comes to how they are touched, where they are touched, and when they are touched. Frequently, they’ll say to one another, “I don’t like the way you’re touching me!” instead of “move” or “stop hitting me!”

They know they have choices about their body and are making them known.

Bodily autonomy stretches into several areas. We believe that children should not be force-fed food (if you’re not hungry, you shouldn’t be made to eat, but there will be nothing offered later but a simple snack you prepare yourself). We believe kids should, by and large, get to pick what they wear (my 10-year-old’s favorite color is amethyst. You want amethyst sneakers, kid? Unicorn shirt? Sure. Colors are for everyone).

But they don’t have choices about vaccines, and my 10-year-old is the hide-under-the-table-and-scream kid (trauma from anaphylactic shock as a two-year-old). Nevertheless, he gets a flu shot, despite the ensuing drama, trauma, tears, and misery. My two others are up-to-date on their vaccines, and they’re jabbed yearly for the flu as well. Their bodily autonomy stops where their health begins, because let’s face it — there aren’t many kids who would request a vaccination, so that’s a choice I have to make on their behalf.

These Choices Require Informed Decisions

My kids’ choices about what to read or study are intuitive, and based on their own interest and internal logic. The decision to wear a mask or not is emphatically not based on how you happen to feel that day. It’s based on a slew of facts, figures, numbers, and science which my kids do not have the capacity to understand right now.

Scratch that. They can understand them. But they’re immature enough to be swayed by “this mask feels scratchy and uncomfortable.”

We see teenagers every day making poor decisions about COVID-19: kids traveling to Myrtle Beach in large groups, for example. Hell, in my state, I see adults making poor decisions about masking whenever I venture out of the house. My kids can’t make decisions like that.

Cavan Images/Getty

In the same way, they can’t make decisions about seeing other kids. They’re desperate to see other kids, and that desperation may outweigh their ability to make good choices about safety. For example: one of our local co-ops had a group meeting with “proper social distancing in place.”

I do not believe it is possible to properly socially distance small children and keep them that way. Therefore, I made the decision that we would not be attending. Mama Bear’s information, Mama Bear’s choices, thanks.

My Way or the Highway, Kid

That’s what my Gram used to say when I was little. When it comes to the pandemic, Mama Bear makes the rules. My kids can have their autonomy when it comes to wearing their Ninja Turtle costume for our walk around the block, or snacking on a banana instead of having dinner, or messaging their friends all day because it helps my 10-year-old’s learning disability to spell out words constantly. They have the choices that we can give them during the pandemic— and we try to give them as many as possible. Choices and personal freedoms are precious when you’re stuck in isolation like this.

But when it comes to the pandemic, mama bear makes the rules. They stay six feet (at least) from other humans; they do not see relatives who fail to socially distance to our satisfaction. They wear masks during their ventures into the wide world. Those ventures have only, for the six- and eight-year-old, taken place outdoors, in the sunshine, away from other people. I took the oldest on my own first trip to a non-pharmacy store very recently. Neither of us had been inside one since February.

I Know My Choices Are Overly Cautious

I homeschooled before the pandemic. And what I’m choosing some people would probably call paranoia. That’s okay. I have people in my family who would end up on ventilators if they caught COVID-19, so I feel like I have to be incredibly cautious. My choices don’t have to be your choices, and I can support your choices (as long as you’re wearing a damn mask).

But as for my kids: I make the choices. I call the shots (sometimes literally). Their autonomy stops where the pandemic starts.

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