Are you pro-choice? No, I don't mean it like that.
Do you let your kids choose - and, if so, how much?
A post at Privilege of Parenting and a comment on a post of mine have me thinking about the choices our kids make and the choices we make for them.
On Sunday, Bruce warned us against scripting career choices for our children. He eloquently mused about his own professional path and the off-ramps he took and missed along the way, cautioning us to safeguard the realm of possibility for our kids:
So, let’s dedicate today to honoring our own dreams, as well as those of all our collective children—neither chickening out from what we want to do, nor projecting our unrequited fears and desires onto our kids. In the end, it probably matters much less what we do, and how much we make, than the attitude we bring to it and the love we put into it.As I read Bruce's post and formulated my comment, I heard the words of Linda echoing in my head. In my post "Missing the Mouse," I asked whether, through nature or nurture, I had made Big Boy neurotic. In her comment Linda noted, "I realized I just had to stop having a secret agenda for [my daughter's] childhood...Turns out she had her own little plan for herself that was different than mine."
These wise words from my blogging buddies made me wonder just what choices we should and should not be making for our kids: When should we set the agenda and when should we give them the freedom to set their own?
To me, some choices are not actually choices. Any "choice" that involves a threat to safety or health falls to the mandate of the parent. As much as a toddler may like to walk on the glass coffee table (not that Big Boy would ever do such a thing, no, no, no), or a teenager may like to text message while driving, a parent has the right - and even the responsibility - to stop them.
But what about when kids choose friends we don't like? Or when they want to start dating? At what point is it our job - or even our right? - to intervene?
After my junior year in high school, a big group of my friends went to Martha's Vineyard for a week to stay at one of the boy's homes. The boy's parents would be in sporadic attendance. When I asked my parents if I could join my friends (my boyfriend included), they refused. At the time, I was furious at them; now that I am a parent - and one who has taught high school for many years - I know they made the right choice for me - or, at least, the same one I would now make - by not allowing me to choose.
And how about when our children make aesthetic choices that irk us or might get them teased? When your son wants to take up the drums instead of the flute, or your daughter wants to wear a too-short skirt to school?
I remember the story of a friend's four-year-old son who desperately wanted to wear glittery Dora jeans to preschool. The parents were torn: should they let him express himself by wearing clothes from the girls' department or should they have a teetering talk with him about gender identity and its social construction? (I wish I could remember what choice they made.)
Ultimately, the answers vary, depending on the parent, the kid, and the circumstance. But I'm left wishing for a rubric, some sort of scale to indicate when choice is a freedom we must allow and when freedom is a choice we are responsible for limiting.
Did your parents make the right choices for you? Did they give you a healthy balance of freedom and responsibility? What choices should we make for our kids?
Image: Ask Answer Choice by FotoRita [Allstar maniac] via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.