I often act as a short order cook for my children. Your first assumption there may be that clearly I have spoiled brats, but hear me out. Provided I didn’t have something planned, I’ll often ask the kids what they want to eat, and 99% of the time actually make what they request. Occasionally, I even make each kid something different—as long as it’s quick and easily made in one portion such as cinnamon toast vs cereal. The way I look at it, I could make them whatever strikes my fancy, and if they didn’t want it I could sit there are deal with the whining and complaining until they ate it—and they would, they have many a time before—but if it isn’t a huge deal to make what they want, why not?
I think the short-order-cook-parent situation is the ultimate example of picking your battles, but only one example of many. The fact is you will go bat-shit, two-sheets insane if you try to be the ultimate commander of your child’s life. It isn’t spoiling a kid to give them some power in their own existence. There are measures to that power, yes, if they requested pie, cookies, and soda for breakfast for example they’d naturally get a “try again,” or if they wanted to go to school in nothing but underwear and a cape, we’d have to have a talk about acceptable choices, but allowing them power in such small decisions not only saves me a headache, it teaches them some very important concepts in life.
Too many of the more recent generations have fallen into this victim-of-circumstance mindset. They don’t make things happen, things happen to them, and those things are not their fault at all. They have no concept of action-reaction. If my kids pick a meal, they know once the decision is made and the cooking has begun, they are eating what they chose. They are presented with the reality that their actions have outcomes that they create. And they do think more about the things they do before they do them as a result. If they choose to wear insufficient clothing for the weather, they get cold. If they choose to not put the caps back on their markers, they go markerless for a few months. Their power of choice extends well beyond meals, and so does the learning that power forces, because experience is the only teacher you can’t argue with.
A child who knows in life you always a choice, whether it is simply in how you react to situations beyond your control or an actual choice in action is also more empowered. My kids aren’t afraid to make decisions. They aren’t fence sitters. This isn’t to say they never lament—and loudly—a choice they have made or that they are given a choice in every instance, but those moments too are realistic to what they’ll face in the real world where mommy or daddy will not always be there to tell them what to do, what to eat, or how to react. If you’re always steering your children to your desired direction, someday when they’re adults they may not know how to steer, that’s why I give mine test drives now while the consequences are less severe.
What’s on the menu or what to wear today may seem a simple choices to teach such lofty concepts, but often our simple everyday choices have the power to change our lives.