The following excerpt is from the book Stories of the Spirit, by Jack Kornfield & Christina Feldman.
A family went out to a restaurant for dinner. When the waitress arrived, the parents gave their orders. Immediately, their five-year-old daughter piped up with her own: “I’ll have a hot dog, French fries an a Coke.”
“Oh no you won’t,” interjected the dad, and turning to the waitress he said, “She’ll have meatloaf, mashed potatoes, milk.” Looking at the child with a smile, the waitress said, “So, hon, what do you want on that hot dog?”
When she left, the family sat stunned and silent. A few moments later the little girl, eyes shining, said, “She thinks I’m real.”
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I find this story incredibly powerful. It got me wondering: am I treating my boys in a way that is beneficial to them — both for the short term AND the long term? Do I respect their opinions, and foster their independence and decision-making ability? Or am I TELLING them what’s best for them?
Am I helping them build self worth, or am I deconstructing it?
Overall, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of building their sense of self worth. Most of the time.
Sometimes I falter and slip into “telling mode.” This usually happens when I hit the dreaded wall of exhaustion (which is always lurking nearby these days). When I feel completely burnt out, I just want them to stop and listen. I’m not really hearing them. This always feels wrong — and I always regret it.
Like the dad in the story, there are times when I try to “help” my boys because it appears beneficial to them, at least in the short-term. But what about the long term? When something seems so important NOW, I don’t always consider the long-term benefit, or the potential damage I might be causing — damage that might completely outweigh any short-term benefit.
(Taking a look at the long term, or long view, is something I wrote about in The Magic Quarter — Creating your own reality. It’s a topic I wish I’d thought more about when I was younger.)
I have relatives and friends who believe kids should be told what to do and when to do it. There’s no explanation needed, because they’re kids. These people seem to think that because a child has only existed on this earth for a short time, somehow this invalidates their right to have an opinion.
I beg to differ.
My kids were picking their own breakfasts when they were 6 months old! Healthy choices of course. I’d give them two options and they’d point (and occasionally grunt) towards what they preferred. I believe letting my kids make decisions will help them become adults that are able to fulfill their potential. They’re learning to trust themselves, and to be decisive.
Otherwise, what happens? What kind of adults are created if a child is never given a choice? If they grow up feeling like they have no voice and their opinion doesn’t count?
I’m not saying to let our kids run rampant, or control the household (more than they already do). Far from it. They need rules and boundaries. They need guidance. But their opinion counts and we need to let them know that by respecting them. It’s a matter of finding a balance, which is an ongoing challenge.
And remember, you are not alone…
Equal Rights for Kids. Part 2: Don’t Hit!