During a recent discussion, the topic of allowing our daughters to choose their own path, came up. I realised that, while some people felt the same as us, not everyone understood why Husband and I feel that it is so very important for the 3 Miss’ to make their own choices. So I thought I’d talk about that a little bit.
I often wonder what the future will bring for my girls. I’m sure every mother does. I wonder who they will be, I wonder who will bring joy and love to their lives, I wonder what challenges and obstacles they will face, and I wonder what dangers lay ahead for them. I hope that they live happy, healthy, peaceful, joy filled lives. Again, I’m sure every mother does. I believe that one of the biggest gifts I can give my daughters is the ability to face their lives and make their choices with confidence, compassion and common sense. I want to raise the kind of women who can make choices with confidence, compassion and common sense. After all, that is what we are all doing. Every minute of every day. Making choices. Good, bad or indifferent, every aspect of our life reflects every choice we have made.
If you want to become accomplished at anything, you practice. There will be 100 people waiting to hand you that old chestnut “practice makes perfect”, so it makes total sense to me that if I want my daughters to grow to be the type of adults who can 1) make a choice and 2) make a good choice, then it is my job as their parent to let them practice. That is why our daughters, though they be small children, are given the autonomy to choose.
My daughters choose what they’re going to wear, they choose when they’ve had enough to eat. They choose when they want to play outside, and when they want to play inside. They choose what colour they want to paint their rooms. They make a million small choices every day, with our encouragement.
But we also give them the autonomy to make important choices. My girls make choices regarding their bodies. They choose when they want to cut their hair. They choose whether or not they want their ears pierced and they choose whether they will give someone a kiss or a cuddle. These may not sound important, but let me tell you why they are. A child, male or female, needs to have the confidence to speak up about their body and what happens to it. A child needs to know that if something is happening to them that is making them uncomfortable or that they don’t like, they are allowed to say no, and in voicing their discomfort they will be heard and validated. A parent cannot hope to teach a child that their body belongs to them, if they are insisting or forcing a child to do something with it, that they (the child) don’t want to do. Whether it is something seemingly insignificant like getting a hair cut, or something obviously damaging, like forcing them to kiss or cuddle someone they don’t want to. If I was to force any of my girls to cut their hair against their will or force them to go and cuddle a family member they’re not familiar with, all I am teaching them is that they must do as the adults in their life are telling them. Whether they like it or not. This is a hugely dangerous message to send to any child. In this regard our girls will, without exception, always make their own choices with regards to their own body.
The girls are also allowed to choose not to. Husband and I allow them to tell us when they don’t want to do something, and our girls have just as much of a right to say no, as we do. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say that we allow disrespectful or rude behaviour, because we don’t. They are also far from little wildlings that have complete run of the house. But rather than work in a militant fashion of “you will do what I say”, we offer advice, suggestions and guidance. And obviously if the situation is one where someone can get hurt, we will of course pull rank. But again, if I want to raise women who know how to use their voice to say no, I have to actually allow them to get used to using their voice to say no.
And I encourage this. I encourage it to show them that I trust them to make the right decisions.
And there, I think, is the most important thing when it comes to letting our girls decide for themselves. I want them to grow into teenagers and adults that will make good choices in life. I want them to know that if they make the wrong choice, or even a choice that I don’t necessarily agree with, that I will still love them and support them no matter what. I want them to trust that I will always be there to back them up. I want them to be able to trust me enough to come to me when they’re in trouble. That trust starts here and now. I show Miss 5, and the two little ones, that I trust them to make the right decision, by allowing them to. I show them that if they make a mistake I will still love them and support them. I do this because, really, if we can’t trust each other now, with the small and insignificant stuff, how will we ever be able to trust each other later, when it really counts? Because to them, it has always been big stuff.
And then there’s school, and the point for all this choice and trust business 🙂 Miss 5 chooses what lesson we do next. She chooses the topic we’re going to work on and she chooses when we are done for the day. She tells me if she doesn’t feel like working on her numbers or her sight words, and we switch to something else. If she’s hungry, we stop so she can eat, she drinks and uses the bathroom as she needs to and we follow her lead. I have faith in her judgement, and I trust that she will make the choice to learn, and so far she has amazed me. I think of how prepared she will be in 10-15 years time, when she has to start making decisions regarding work or uni or travel, and I’m glad we have chosen this path. I think of my own teenage years, and the friends that I had in school, and I remember how lost we seemed to be. We we’re expected to make – and teenagers now are still expected to make – life changing decisions, when the previous 12 years had been spent speaking when spoken to, eating and drinking at allocated times and asking permission to use the bathroom!
I know that some people don’t agree with anything I’ve just said, and indeed probably think – quite smugly – that I’m in for a world of hurt. All I can do is repeat something I read by Mr John Holt that resonated. “Be wary of saying or doing anything to a child, that you would not say or do to any adult whose good opinion and affection you valued.”