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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Choosing to parent with the end in mind

I have choices.

That has been my mantra all week.

I have choices about what I eat, what I wear, when I sleep, where I go, what I spend my money on, who I hang out with, what I read, how I live my life.

The first several are no big deal, but that last one, well, that's the doozy.

Since becoming a parent I have realized sooooo sooooo much about why I think the way I do and why I live the way I do has so very much to do with the way I was parented.

This is not a parent-bashing post. My parents did lots of things wrong but they did lots of stuff right too.

They are not/were not perfect. My siblings and I have spent a lot of years being mad at them for all the stuff they did wrong. I think that is pretty common, although, we always thought we were the weird ones.

One thing my parents did wrong was not give enough choices. I think that is also very common. I don't blame them for it. My mom and I have had lots of talks about our childhood and her early days of parenting. As she puts it, "By the time you (me) came along, I was just trying to get through the day."

I have one kid and I feel that way a lot. There were/are four of us.

Mainstream parenting says that children should do what their parents say. I know plenty of people who think their children should just obey them. I know people who teach their kids not to touch their stuff, to eat what is put in front of them, to go to bed because "I say so," to hurry up, get to school, do your homework, eat your dinner, go to sleep. They punish, give rewards, spank, yell, blame, time-out, control, force, and just generally reckon with. And the next day it starts all over again.

It's how most people think parenting is supposed to go.

I was telling Toyin the other day that I hoped by the time Annika is a teenager I hope and pray (and I ain't a religious woman) that we do enough stuff right so that we are close. I hope she doesn't hate us and rebel in ways that would do long-term damage.

I don't think that's "normal."

Imagine a world where you start it out as an infant, and your cries go unanswered a lot of the time. Then you begin to explore the world and you are constantly told no. Don't do this. Don't do that. Don't touch this. Don't touch that.

Then the punishments start.

Your life is structured for you. You have very few choices about what you do on a day-to-day basis.

Then you finally hit an age where you begin to have a little independence.

No wonder teens are rebellious and angry!

I think it's a sad state of affairs in this world where "normal" means that teenagers spend all their time with their friends, feel alienated from their parents and avoid talking to them.

The teen years are a time when kids should be looking to their parents for guidance on a lot of things that are going to affect the beginnings of their adult life. That's a time when I hope and pray that Annika will feel close enough to me to discuss with me and Toyin things like sex and drugs and college and career.

So, anyway, I have choices. Yeah, I digressed the hell out of this post. But that kind of stuff has been on my mind lately and it all ties together. Watch me now.

I have choices.

I spent the first part of my life being told what to do all the time. Then I spent the first part of my adulthood parroting back what I thought I was supposed to do.

It would have worked if I had liked it.

I got married. I got a job. I bought a house.

I have none of those things anymore.

I hated it. It sucked. I remember thinking, "Is this it? Is this what life is supposed to be?"

I got rid of all that stuff and now I am not married. I have a kid. I don't have a job (that pays). I don't own a house.

I like my life so much better.

But I am still working on making choices to make my life better. I still struggle daily with the idea that I *should* be doing things a certain way. I struggle with the idea that I should eat a certain way, dress a certain way and behave a certain way. My inner voices fight all the time. It's fucking exhausting.

My point, and I do have one, or do I? Is this.

Giving a child choices teaches them how to live and how to ensure they are living the way they want to. I recently saw this quote somewhere online. It's from Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: "Start with the end in mind." I haven't read this book, but now I'm thinking about reading it.

I like the idea of parenting with the end in mind. When I was pregnant I used to imagine Annika as an adult. I imagined her to be tall and beautiful. I imagined her to be strong, independent, happy, courageous, curious, friendly, intelligent, and loving.

I imagine her this way because this is the way I hope she turns out. I am curious about the semantics. What will her humor be like? What will her fashion (or lack of) sense be? What kind of work will she want to do? What kind of music will she like? Will she travel? What hobbies will she take up?

These are the kind of things I will leave up to her. But I think the other stuff is up to me and Toyin.

So, I parent with the end in mind. I want Annika to know that her choices will define her life.

Somehow, I got through a lot of life before I figured that out. I thought my life was being controlled by some outside force. Then one day I woke up and realized that my life had turned out exactly the way it had because of all the choices I made. I made a lot of good choices. But I made a lot of bad choices too.

So, I have choices.

I have choices.


  1. I also think "Is this it?" quite a lot. Your posts always make me think about things in a different way. I have choices too. Most of the time I try to avoid making choices, but that's not a good way to live.

  2. Thank you for this! We need to be respectful of these little people. Let them be curious, happy children whose spirits aren't crushed and who aren't rushed into adulthood. It's crazy to think that that is the norm!
    Every moment is an adventure and what a gift it is to open your eyes and be present in each amazing moment!

  3. Here here! Well said!

  4. I think I'm at the beginning of the "Is this is?" part of my life. I have my dream job, the house, the husband, the baby, but I'm not happy. So, what now? I think you're right...I don't need all of that to be happy. I need my family. What is the point of the house, the car, the amenities if I don't get to enjoy them with my family? I'm so glad I read your post about being the happiest with less. It gives me hope that I CAN give up things to feel more centered and be a better mama.


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