As parents, we’ve always tried to maintain what we felt was a good balance of gentle guidance and egalitarianism in the household. Sausage is a bright child and we’ve tried to allow her the freedom to make choices for herself, in the hope that this would both encourage her to learn how to make good decisions, as well as make her feel respected, and like her voice is heard as an equal member of the family. In a lot of ways, it’s worked really well and she can be assertive when she needs to be, without the need for foot-stamping and demanding behaviour, which is something she has never done.
However, I’m starting to wonder if, by giving her too much choice, we’re overwhelming her and putting too much pressure on her?
We’re not the sort of household which is very regimental; dinner is ready when it’s ready and more often than not we wait until after the school run to even work out what we’re having, which usually means a quick trip to the shops of an afternoon. Most days, I’ll ask Sausage what she wants for dinner, applying a little of the gentle guidance mentioned above when she requests things like Supanoodles or Coco Pops, but largely we work together to work out what our family dinner will be.
We do it with other things, too; on our walk to school in the mornings, there are two routes we can take and most days I’ll ask if she has a preference over which way we walk. I let her choose her own clothes when she’s not in uniform and she has freedom over what books she reads (although Husband and I both took a sharp intake of breath when she eyed a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover last week!), TV she watches and what games she plays.
Just lately though, I’ve been noticing a pretty dispassionate response to my questions. She’ll often answer “surprise me”, which I think is a way of removing the pressure on her to make a decision, and just this morning, I asked what she wanted on her toast and she answered “I don’t know, Mummy. You decide”. Is she shying away from making decisions because she’s feeling the weight of expectation on herself too heavily?
Husband came from a household where dinner was on the table at roughly the same time every night, everyone ate the same thing and there was no discussion about what it would be, by and large, it was simply prepared and served by his Mum. My upbringing wasn’t quite as regimented, but there certainly wasn’t anywhere near as much autonomy Sausage is afforded and, while I always thought this was a good thing, I’m unsure now.
Parenting means doing things in the way that you think is right for both yourself and your kids, but sometimes the way you do things can end up being the exact OPPOSITE of what your kids need and I’m really keen to identify issues like this and change them before they become too much of a problem. Husband has been telling me for months that we should just give Sausage her meals rather than asking her what she wants all the time, because of the stress she’s started to show and I’m starting to think I should have listened to him long ago.
Are we, in giving her so much choice, ladling too much pressure on her? Do you give your kids a say in every day decisions or do you make the majority of their choices for them? Do your kids ever show signs of being overwhelmed by too many options? Leave me a comment below.