And the invaluable gifts that arrive when we do
One of my kids is struggling. Struggling to make a decision. Afraid to make the wrong one.
The decision will effect the rest of his life. No one else’s. Not mine. Not his father’s. His life.
Fortunately, the decision is not life threatening.
“What do I do?” he asks me.
Finding Your Voice
We humans learn best through action. Sure, we can preach about what matters, the lessons we’ve learned from life, but ultimately, none of it sticks and penetrates the heart and mind like experiencing it (whatever “it” is) for ourselves.
We find our voice, our inner compass through trial and error.
My son wants me to tell him what to do, to take the stress over making a decision off of his shoulders.
But removing the burden of responsibility and choice from his psyche would thwart his growth in the long run.
The Gift of Biting Your Tongue
Do I have a strong opinion? Absolutely. And when he asks for this, I share it with him. But to advise him is to remove an opportunity for his self-awareness; to shove my opinion as fact upon him is to deprive him of self-discovery.
Much better for me to bite my tongue until I taste blood than navigate and discern the world for my teen.
So instead, I listen.
My son struggled with the “what if” of his decision. I listened as he played out each scenario.
By the time he was finished, he looked like a balloon that had lost all of its air.
“We can’t control the actions of others or life’s outcomes. We can only control our choices, moment by moment.”
Needless to say, he didn’t like my answer.
Yet, he did make a decision. From my vantage point, the decision is based in fear and steeped in a need for survival.
But it is not my place as a parent of a teenager to tell him what to do. Again, the decision he is making affects him alone and is not life threatening.
Regardless of his decision and my opinion of it, he has taken a closer step in his autonomy.
There are already consequences of his choice out of fear. It is downright painful to watch.
But when a toddler falls and cries, we kiss the boo-boo and remind them they can just “get back up.”
When there’s salt in my son’s wound, I comfort him, reminding him that he did the best he could based on what he thought at that time.
Humans are self-correcting creatures. When we allow our kids to self-correct, making adjustments based on new information, independence is fostered.
The consequences of my son’s decision is offering opportunities for him to make new decisions. Those decisions are continuing to be fear-based.
“I’m in survival mode,” he says.
Okay then. He’s doing what he thinks he has to do. I remind him there’s always another way.
(Again: No one is in danger, nothing is life threatening and the consequences of his actions affect him alone.)
I can see the self-proclaimed “survival mode” in the tightness of his jaw, the rolling of his eyes if I even hint at broaching the subject. Translation: I know what I’m doing here.
There’s a confidence brimming inside of my son now. He knows he’s supported — simultaneously knowing I’m not in favor of his decision yet respect his choice.
When we surrender to what we can’t control, (i.e. another’s decision), a bridge of trust is built:
- The trust you foster for your child is returned to you.
- The trust your child feels from you bolsters inner trust in themselves.
I am not promoting trusting your teen to take illegal drugs until they “figure it out” nor am I suggesting a child decide on whether or not to treat a life-threatening condition.
Giving our children a chance to explore what works and doesn’t — while under our guidance — offers them the gift of self-awareness.
Encouraging autonomy when the stakes are small, allowing them space to “fail” will offer first-hand experience in getting back up on their figurative (or literal) feet.