When my oldest son was in middle school, I got called to speak with the teacher more times than any parent should have to endure. There was always one thing or another getting in the way of a healthy 6th or 7th grade experience (by 8th grade they didn’t want to piss off his mom anymore). None of the infractions were serious and most of them could have been prevented with an understanding of diversity and a bit of cultural awareness on the part of the teachers. My son comes from a single parent household, originally from the midwest with a bit of southern influence. My way is not the Marin County, northern California way.
Choice was something my children had little of. Primarily, their only choice was to do what I said. Occassionally, as a treat, they would be given options. And of course, as they got older, the treats came more often. When my son entered middle school he had a teacher that would allow the students to choose where they did their work: outside, at their desk, on the floor, etc.” They were given choices in the classroom that my son had not been used to having. So, he goes and gets himself in trouble for choosing to go outside (albeit not at the right time) and choosing to take his shoes off (not sure what the issue was there). Of course, when I got called away from work and to the school for that one I gave the only response a self-respecting parent could give, “You’re kidding, right?”
Other parents reveled in the fact that they gave their children choices as if to suggest that my failure to do so was detrimental to the development of mine. I was such a terrible mom. Yet, my take away was that they were the ones damaging their child by providing for them an unrealistic sense of reality.
Now, as I raise The Boy, I am faced with the “choice” to adjust my parenting style or not. I find myself giving him choice so as to circumvent any whining about what we are going to do. I can divert his attention from the fact that he has to leave if I just let him choose which shoes he is going to wear when we leave. He is empowered. But, by empowering him, I am de-powering myself. (Maybe it’s not a word, work with it anyway.) And in the end, who benefits.
Lori Gottlieb says, in her article “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy”:
“Research shows that people get more satisfaction from working hard at one thing, and that those who always need to have choices and keep their options open get left behind,” …
The message we send kids with all the choices we give them is that they are entitled to a perfect life—that, as Dan Kindlon, the psychologist from Harvard, puts it, “if they ever feel a twinge of non-euphoria, there should be another option.” Mogel puts it even more bluntly: what parents are creating with all this choice are anxious and entitled kids whom she describes as “handicapped royalty.”
(Read the full article at How to Land Your Kid in Therapy – Magazine – The Atlantic.)
There are obviously several schools of thought on this topic. At The Boy’s preschool, the children are constantly given the opportunity to make their own choices, as is the way with Montessori programs. However, at tea time, which falls right at the end of my day, after a long commute, when I am beyond ready to get home, I really wish they wouldn’t let the kids choose which cookie they want. It is so painful to watch. Just give them a damn cookie and move on to the next, PLEASE.
So, the article touched home. (in other areas too, wait for the next post) I was glad to be reminded of the value of few (or no) choices before getting out of bed one Friday. That morning, instead of offering my son breakfast options, I gave him the option that was most convenient for me. As he was used to a choice, he resisted, upset because he wanted, “eggggs, this morning.” That morning, despite his disagreement, he was given cereal for breakfast. He ate it, and with great joy, proudly proclaimed, “Mom, I ate my cereal all up.”