As our kids grow older our parenting role is more about guiding than instructing. When we were instructing our kids, if they didn’t follow through we’d call that disobedience and deal with it. But what happens when they are older and don’t take our guidance? Is it disobedience? This is where parents need to have a different perspective. No, it isn’t disobedience – it is making an informed decision (or it should be). It may well be a decision you disagree with, but it is their decision.
In our family we’ve tried to slowly ease into giving more and more decisions to the kids themselves. Our whole focus when they were younger was to help them see God’s wisdom; to help them choose between wisdom or foolishness.
When does this happen? Legally this happens at 18. This is when society sees they are adults and the law supports that. But since parenting is all about preparing our children I don’t think it is healthy to arrive at 18 with no experience of making decisions, walking in the consequences, and knowing there is older and wiser advice around if you want to listen to it. This is why we need to transition our kids from making no decisions (as a very young child) to being able to make decisions – good choices – by the time they are 18 (not that they’ll never make a mistake after that!)
- A child at 5 for example, is able to decide what to wear for the day – if they understand certain clothes are for certain purposes.
- A child at 10 for example, is able to decide what to buy for a gift – if they consider the recipient (not their own desires) and they understand the value of money.
- A child at 16 for example, is able to decide when to go to bed – if they have learnt that they need a certain amount of sleep to function well, and they know what responsibilities they need to carry out the next day.
You see, it isn’t so much about the age, but about the maturity in understanding what makes a wise choice and recognising the flow on effect of their decision. The problem is often our kids aren’t aware of the consequences and this is why a parent, with all the good intentions in the world, steps in so their kid doesn’t get hurt by making a mistake. We have to step back. We have to let them make decisions along the way – even wrong ones, even ones that scream out to us as obviously wrong!
But not without our wise counsel. As our kids grow older we need to move away from giving directions and instructions and expecting obedience and move towards giving guidance and encouragement making room for them to make decisions.
We had a conversation with one of our kids one day which put us right in the middle of this idea. They wanted to do something – we didn’t think it was a good idea. We explained why we didn’t think it was a good idea. They disagreed with us – couldn’t see the problem, couldn’t agree with us. Some of the things we discussed were:
- Because we were older, we had experience in things that they had yet to experience
- We wanted to protect them from a potential hurt (there was no guarantee we were right, but we saw potential pitfalls ahead)
- They couldn’t yet see those potential pitfalls, because they hadn’t been there yet
- But it was their choice – we could not make them do what we wanted
- It came down to an issue of trust – we asked them to trust us in this area. Trust is the right word too, because they couldn’t see what was ahead, and neither could we, but we had some experience that waved a red flag.
In the end, they chose against our guidance!
Oh that is hard! First of all we have to let go of the authority idea, we are the Parents after all (capital P). Secondly it dints the pride. We gave such good counsel…only to be ignored. At this point we must, we must, hold onto our own self-control and see the bigger picture.
They made their own choice – and we told them they could – they needed to really, afterall they are a teen with the ability both cognitively and morally to do so.
When we told them that the choice was theirs, we made an internal commitment, which we also verbalised, that we would accept their decision, and that we would walk with them through any consequences of their decision.
And to date – there have been no consequence. Were we right or wrong? I don’t think it matters. It was an opportunity we had with one of our older children that imparted to them our heart for them, our understanding of a situation, and yet gave them the opportunity to make a decision – the outworking of that decision may well be the next opportunity we have to walk along side of our teen and help them live their life.
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