The other day the phone rang, it was the mother of a good friend of my twelve-year-old son. She was calling to invite my son into a group of five boys, all of whom my son was friends with, to take part in a science-based program which would meet once a week throughout the school year.
Knowing how much my son likes science, that he is good friends with most of the boys mentioned, he has the free time to spare, and I know this mom well enough to believe she’ll make the group both low-key and fun, I told her to count my son in.
A short while later, I told my son about the phone call. Surprisingly, he wasn’t as excited as I anticipated he’d be. In fact, he wasn’t at all enthused. I explained to my son the best I could all of the “pros” I’d learned about being part of this science group. Still no real interest.
So, I “suggested” (actually, I didn’t give him a choice in the matter) he attend the first meeting and keep his mind open to the program and we’d revisit the commitment once he’d had time to learn more.
When I picked him up after the first meeting, he still wasn’t on board. He said not only did the activities not appeal to him, he would eventually have to speak in front of a group of people and he didn’t like that idea at all.
Not knowing quite how to handle the situation, I reached out to my friend and parenting coach Sandra Fazio in an effort to gain some insight.
Sandra was great at asking me the questions I needed to better understand the deeper issues of what was going on below the surface with my son. You see, to me it appeared as though he was being difficult, uncooperative, and maybe even lazy. However, the reality was that his lack of desire to be part of this program, even after he’d investigated it, was in part because I had taken it upon myself to make a decision for him to be part of something without ever discussing it with him.
As a result, part of my anxiety about calling the mom back to let her know my son wanted to pull out of the program was how I might look to her. This was about how I wanted to save face, not about my child at all. In addition, just because it met all the criteria I felt made a great fit for my son, I didn’t look at the picture from his point of view. The uneasy feeling in my gut was what led me to ask for Sandra’s help. And while she was able to point me in the right direction, it was up to me to figure it out and take action.
After talking about the situation with my husband, and further pondering for a day or two, I spoke with my son one more time. We again discussed his reservations. Speaking in front of others wasn’t his main objection, though it did factor into his wanting to bow out. However, the main issue was while he liked all of the kids involved, he truly did not find the program itself interesting.
So, honoring my son’s voice, and my gut instinct, I apologized to my son for making a commitment on his behalf before discussing it with him. Then, I called the mom and told her my son would not be continuing in the group.
When our children are very young, part of our role as a parent is to make decisions about what activities we will expose them to, but as they get older it is important to allow our kids to take the lead and honor their own voice about things such as extra-curricular activities, birthday party invitations, and even how much time they’ll devote to practice or study.
I realized, with the help of Sandra, my twelve-year-old should be given the latitude to decide whether or not he wanted to be part of this program. Deep down I actually knew it all along, but it was definitely helpful to have some guidance in this situation.
How often do we commit our kids to things and the agenda we’re serving isn’t theirs, but our own? If we want them to develop and trust their inner voice and instincts, we’ve got to show them how, by trusting them with an increasing number of decisions and accountability when we hand over the reins as they mature and gain independence through the different developmental stages of their lives.
Guest blog written by: Kimberly Muench
Kimberly Muench is a freelance writer who published her autobiography My Mothers Footprints: A Story of Faith, Calm, Courage, Patience and Grace in 2011. She has been a regular contributor to Suburban Parent Magazine in Dallas/Fort Worth, crafts a newspaper column entitled Something to Muench on, has been published through a number of parenting sites including Huffington Post, 10 to 20 Parenting, Mamapedia. University of Moms and A Fine Parent. In addition, Kimberly writes weekly on her own website www.mymothersfootprints.com about faith, family, marriage and personal growth. Kimberly is a wife and mother to five children who hails from Wisconsin, but now makes her home in Texas.