Today we are welcoming guest author, Susan McCoy, an East coast mom, who asks an important question. When should parents push and when should they let their children have free will?
I am faced with this dilemma on a daily basis: Is it better to push my children into things, or to let them be to find their own path? I am discovering that the answer is, frustratingly, a little of each, depending on the circumstances of the moment. As a teacher, I’ve been able to observe a lot of learning situations and see what works in the classroom. But as a mother, with my own children, the answer is rarely obvious in the cloud of emotions between parent and child.
Reflecting on my own childhood, I wish I had been pushed to do more. So many times in my adult life I have discovered a new activity that I love and wondered why I wasn’t aware of it when I was growing up. If only I had known about it when I was young! My parents believed in children having free will and the power to choose their own path. They had grown up in authoritarian households and forced to learn skills that they ended up never needing or using as adults. Being pushed into things had been a source of stress for them. They never forced or pushed us to try anything unless we had the desire and requested to try it. This did give us a sense of power, but we also did not have a sense of all that was possible to try. Children simply don’t know what is out there in the world.
I am in favor of exposing my children to the world of activities available to them, or as the authoritarian grandparents sometimes say, “dragging them all over town wasting time and money”. For example, my child loves Legos, but was resistant to the idea of joining a Lego club, as she did not know anyone in the group. Do I push or accept her inclination? This was an easy one. We all get cold feet when we meet new people, I reasoned. So I pushed. “Try it for a few meetings, if it doesn’t work you can quit”, I told her. This has become my mantra. Three months later, she has made a new friend and learned a lot about working with others. Here’s where the grandparents’ wisdom comes into play, though. Lego club didn’t stick. She was not passionate about the club and I stopped pushing. She has moved on to other things, but she experienced getting past her apprehension and learned to be open to new things, which is priceless.
Another no-brainer decision involved my son’s poor attention to homework. He is a quick learner. He got high grades in elementary school without having to work at it at all. However, the work got more complex as he got older, and he started to let it slide. Why bother? Was his attitude. He understood the concepts behind the worksheets. Why do all that homework just for show? I could empathize. Life is short, maybe it was a waste of his time? Do I push? I pushed. This one is about responsibility and maturity. As adults we all have things that we don’t want to do, but are responsible for. It is a skill that we must learn. So like it or not, even though he can do all the math in his head, I make him write out the multiplication and long division on the worksheet. I make him fill in the outlines for social studies.
I’m sometimes right, sometimes wrong, but balance is what I strive for. My goal is to widen my children’s boundaries, not to break them.