Why I Stopped Telling My Kids What To Do And Let Them Call The Shots

by Jorrie Varney
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I had big plans for motherhood. Before I had kids, I knew exactly what kind of mother I would be. I would tell my kids everything they needed to know, and they would follow me blindly, because they were kids and didn’t know any better. I would be their mom, not their friend, and all those other bullshitty things people say about being a good parent.

Well, I’m a mom now, and while I have to lay down the law from time to time, I mostly let my kids call the shots.

Now, before you rally the mob, hear me out. I’m not letting my kids run wild in the streets or disrespect elders, but I let them make their own choices as often as possible.

There are a couple reasons I deviated from my original plan to rule with an iron fist. First, I realized pretty quickly that I had given birth to two miniature versions of myself. Each of my children is strong-willed and independent. Trying to get them to do what I wanted them to do was exhausting. I was constantly redirecting their behavior, and inadvertently causing them to push their boundaries even more. So, I asked myself how I would like to be treated in a similar situation, and then applied that logic to interactions with my kids.

Most kids want the answer to one question—why? You can’t just tell them no without explanation. Well, maybe you can, but my kids don’t work that way. They want to know why they can’t do something. What will happen if they do it? Who made this rule? And are there any exceptions?

This curiosity and need to be in charge led to some seriously undesirable behavior. I was already at my wit’s end trying to get my kids to behave, so I had nothing to lose the day I attempted this kid-driven model of parenting. I started giving them choices instead of just telling them no. I explained what would happen with each potential choice, then let them decide what to do. Nine times out of ten, they made a good choice. In fact, their overall behavior improved dramatically.

It makes sense, really. I mean, I hate being told what to do—most people do. We, as people, feel more respected and valued when our opinions are considered and we are part of the decision-making process. Kids are like us, just smaller, and with shittier impulse control. If they aren’t going to kill themselves or someone else, I let them call the shots. I don’t care what they wear to school, if their socks match, what they choose to be for Halloween, where or how they play. I don’t care if they get filthy playing in the mud, or dancing in a glitter rainfall. I just don’t. Don’t misunderstand me, I still hate glitter and Play-Doh, but I don’t want them to be me. I want them to be them.

I’m not here to dictate what they do and how they do it. I’m here to help them grow into good people, with respect and love for others. What better way to do that than to lead by example? This chosen parenting style isn’t always easy. I still cringe a little when they want to take everything they own in the car, or wear swim goggles to the grocery store, because WTF? But I let them, because it’s not hurting anything. What does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? It doesn’t. I save my inflexible authority for the times they want to run in busy parking lots or pet dangerous animals.

They don’t fight me as much when I have to put my foot down, because they understand if I say no, there is a damn good reason. That’s not to say we don’t have disagreements, because we do.

I don’t claim to be an expert, and I don’t really know how to be a “good parent,” but this is what works for my family. My kids feel loved and respected, and they know they are free to be who, and what, they want to be. I still tell them “no,” and they still think I’m the worst when I do it, but hopefully one day, they will understand my reasons, or at the very least they’ll have something to talk about with their therapist.