Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hazy Shade of Winter

I'm preparing for the texts and calls so I thought it best to just answer them proactively and a little more publicly:
  • Yes, the windchill is 28 degrees and my son is in shorts and a sweatshirt. 
  • Yes, I let him out of the house like that.  
  • Yes, he will probably be dressed like that through the winter.
Much to my grandmother's chagrin, this didn't start as Middle School rebellion.
Honestly, it didn't start in Elementary School.  I've let our son decide the level of clothing he should wear since before he could talk (Feel free to forlornly shake your head in my direction, and maybe even wag a finger... it won't be the first time).  The jury is still out on whether or not my method works or if I should have done more "parenting".

Basically, if there are natural consequences, I choose to rarely fight the battle.  This started young because my DS hated wearing a coat or hat.  He would squirm and rip them off and scream like he was in a straight-jacket but be comparatively rather content even if he was cold.  As a young parent, I had to think this through:  Was I doing him a disservice by not forcing him to wear a coat just because it was easier for me?  I eventually came to the conclusion that if the only person effected is themselves, I generally let them choose, even if I know better.  I advise.  I educate.  I counsel.  I suggest, but in the end, it is their choice and I should relax and bask in the break from doling out consequences.  For example, "dressing appropriately for the weather."

I could beg and plead and chide and bribe and force my son to wear pants / coat / hat / gloves but the immediate natural consequences of not dressing for the weather is that he will be cold.  I am not cold.  I am wearing a warm fuzzy coat (which I don't plan to share).  It is an old-wives tale (no offense GG) that he will get sick from being cold; I know this because he plays soccer in the rain and cold and is rarely sick.  He needs to learn to problem solve on his own and the easiest way teach something like that, is by personal experience.  I can tell him all I want that he will be cold, but until he recognizes that himself, it will never fully sink in.*

The theory extends because I fear that with all of this "help" that parents (including teachers & myself) are giving kids, our kids will have a hard learning curve come college and the real world, when they must make decisions on their own, decisions that have far-reaching and life-long consequences.  If they haven't successfully learned how to make small, easy, immediate consequence decisions on their own, how will they ever know how to make big, life-direction decisions?  This time, when they are living in our homes, is the time to give them a safety net, to watch how they react and give them a safe place to land when they try and fail; to help them problem solve when their choice didn't go so well.  We can advise and encourage and support them to do the best thing, but in the end, if it is our decision and not theirs, will they be equipped to make their own decisions?

As our kids grow closer to tumultuous youth, this becomes even more important.  Growing-up, I was not allowed to watch movies, but especially scary or tragic movies.  In retrospect, perfect advice for me.  But because this was just a rule in my house, I found myself sneaking forbidden movies (and books). At one point I watched Silence of the Lambs and literally had nightmares for years but it was finally when that lesson was learned, on my own; I can't watch or read troubling tales.  I am not that person.  I was (and still am) a person who's compassion runs far too deep.  I am unable to separate myself from another's tragedy, even when not real.  As I'm raising my daughter, who has a compassionate spirit like no other, I'm trying out my parenting method by letting her experience (when she asks) small bits of all kinds of movies and books (even when I'm pretty sure she won't like them).  I'm trying to keep the dialogue open, so that at this point, even at only 9, she says, "No thank you, I don't like to watch scary movies.  Coroline was just awful.  It made me sad and gave me bad dreams."

Now honestly, the downside and the manipulative part of this method of parenting is that I end up giving a lot of "non-choices" (my DH privately and teasingly coined that phrase because it happens with such regularity - even accidentally using it on him).  I limit the options:
  • For exercise, would you rather go run a mile or shoot hoops or rake leaves?
  • Broccoli or Green Beans or Peas?
  • Dust or Vacuum or Clean the Toilets or Collect Garbage?
  • Play a game as a family or read a book alone or quietly get along in the playroom? 

Notice the temp!  My DD did decide to change before school
In reality, there are many more options (including sitting on the couch, potato chips, living in squalor, and running insanely around the house naked and breaking things) but I limit them to a couple of choices that are acceptable, although one is usually considerably more attractive to my child (or DH), hence I tend to manipulate the situation for the intended result.

My goal is to love, guide, nurture, and protect my children, allowing them to become adults with purpose and integrity.  Sometimes, I need to protect them from themselves.  As in, skin cancer runs in their family.  Other children may be able to run around the pool with only sunscreen, but my children MUST wear swim shirts. The immediate discomfort of sunburn is not the only consequence for them.  As they get older, I will loosen those restrictions, but as of right now, they are a non-negotiable, and my children honor that without complaint, or they don't go to the pool during daylight.  Basically, they are kids.  I don't let them make all of their own choices, only the ones that don't have far reaching consequences.

In conclusion, as with anything, who knows if this will work?  Who knows if making them do their own homework without help is going to put them behind the kids who get everything correct because their parents go through, problem by problem with them.  Maybe my kids will be unequipped to know what the "right decision" is.  All I know, is that for now, this is the route we are taking and so far, 11 years in, it seems to be working for our family.  That said, I'll never judge you or your child for a required coat when it is chilly, especially if you avoid judging me or my DS for his winter shorts :0)

*As a rule, he can't complain about his choices, they are his and he needs to take responsibility for them; often I make him be prepared (leave a coat in his locker, the car, his soccer bag, etc) but I don't generally force him to dress more warmly.  I do try to help him problem solve when he made a choice that didn't go so well... I even mostly try avoid saying, "I told you so."


  1. So insightful and wise. I wish I would have read this about 30 years ago. You are a very intentional Mom, SS, and this will ripple through generations.

  2. As a Mom who once allowed her son out in -2° temps, I salute you! Natural consequences rule!

    1. Totally! Such a relief not to be the bad guy all the time!!

  3. My son simply asks what the temp is going to be first thing when he wakes up and I tell him as well as if rain/snow is expected and he makes his choice from there. Too many parents now a days coddle their children and do not give them the life skills they need to be functioning adults, it really is a shame. Good for you!

    1. Thanks! My daughter is the same way, and actually likes/listens to advice... I love that quote by Heinlein, "Do not handicap your children by making their lives too easy."

  4. Love it! I always ask "Is this hurting you or Future You?" If not, I tend to let it slide. Peter is still wearing shorts and flip flops to our church (that is held in a drafty rehabbed garage) every week. Me, in my flipflops, rarely demurs.

    1. What a perfect way to phrase the quandry!! I am going to use that (and always give you credit)! Brilliant! I love having such fantastic parents as friends ;0)