When I was a young parent, which seems like just yesterday, my 3-year-old Meghan had a play date with one of her friends. The plan was for the mother of her friend to pick her up after they had ran some errands. Meghan had toys to pick up and I told her that if she didn’t pick them up by the time her friend arrived, she would not be allowed to go with them. I reminded her a few times, but to no avail. The friend arrived and I had to tell her that Meghan could not go as previously planned.
Meghan was devastated. Somehow she didn’t feel that I would follow through with my “threat”. When the realization finally hit her, she yelled out, “You should have forced me!” This gave me the opportunity to sit down with Meghan and explain to her how each individual has the opportunity to make choices in her own life, but with that ability one must also be willing to accept the responsibility for those choices. I shared with her some of our religious beliefs that God values agency (the right for individual choice), while Satan desires to take our agency away. Meghan was a very smart child and very intent on my words as I shared these principles with her. A few days later, I took my parental prerogative and did, in fact, make her do something. Her response, “You’re following Satan’s plan!”
Well, that invited the next teaching moment. Yes, Meghan, God does give us agency, but he doesn’t give it to us all at once. When a new life comes into this world, they have no agency–they don’t have the ability to make choices. Their parents make all of their choices for them. That’s why children are not just placed on this earth. Rather, they are given parents to teach them so that they, line upon line, receive more agency as they are ready. One doesn’t have one-hundred percent agency until they are out on their own, completely able to support themselves independently of their parents.
As for us parents, the tricky part is to know when our children should have the right to choose for themselves, and when we have the responsibility to choose for them. If we don’t allow them to use their agency at appropriate times, we are cheating them from learning that choices have consequences, but when we let them make choices that they are not ready for, we put them in grave danger. Would you let a two-year-old cross a busy street just because she wanted to and she felt she was ready? Unfortunately, we see parents at both extremes–those who want to make all of their children’s choices and those who want their child to be able to express themselves as an individual and therefore be free to choose for themselves. Yet, in all fairness, I have to admit that as a parent, finding the balance is one of the hardest things we do and to make it even harder that balance is usually different for each child/parent relationship even within the same family. Furthermore, sometimes when we make choices for our children we are truly making them for their best interest, but sometimes I think we have our own best interest at heart. For instance, will my child’s choices bring me embarrassment? Will my child’s choice cause me to have to let them suffer consequences that may also be inconvenient for me?
I know that being a parent is not one of the hardest things we do in life, it IS the hardest thing we do in life. Luckily, there are rewards along the way, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) there is also heartache and pain along the way. That is the subject of my next blog.
Remember that 2 Plus 2 Doesn’t Always Equal 4 [And please take time to read my original post to understand Why the Title of this Blog? (Feb. 17, 2011)]