I’ve always known that the ability to control my children’s behavior lasts for a relatively short time. I can make my children brush their teeth, but at some point, they will have to decide whether they will continue to brush their teeth each day.
I’d like my children to practice making wise choices while they are still in my home, but that skill demands that I allow them to make unwise choices while they are still in my home.
What choices will I allow? My friends know my girls rarely keep their shoes on. We’ve lived in warm climates for most of their lives, but even so, they wear sandals or go without shoes when other normal people have shoes on. Same goes for jackets. For some reason, they don’t like long sleeved shirts, and are often coat-less when others around them are bundled up.
I’ve let them shirk their piano and trumpet practicing for a time. I do ask them about their goals for learning piano, and sometimes I make them practice, but I don’t do that every day, weeks on end. I acknowledge that I am forcing lessons on them for a time, but I’ve also been honest that without their personal investment, they are largely wasting their own time. I hope they will trust me that they may be glad in the future that they pursued musical knowledge.
I don’t make them fold their clothes neatly in their drawers.
I let them waste time on the computer.
I let them buy way too much candy (with their hard earned money) at the grocery store.
I don’t make them read their Bibles every day.
I don’t always make them share! With three children that can cause problems because my children will sometimes come to me and ask why I’m allowing someone to be selfish! I explain that in order to teach a child to choose rightly, I sometimes allow them to choose wrongly. In these cases, I’m reminded that the Holy Spirit continues to work in the hearts of my children, even when I’m not forcing an external action.
What are the choices that you allow your children to make? I’ve found this a helpful exercise for me, as I’ve had my thinking stretched as my children grow older. I would have been a terrible mother of teenagers when my children were under four! Truly, God gives wisdom for each season, when we ask.
Sometimes I’m recognizing that my child is choosing between two good choices: Should they talk with their friends at church (building Christian friendships is a good thing) or talk with a visiting teen (loving the outsider is also a good thing). I might not know which area the Holy Spirit is touching in my child’s life, and I need to be cautious not to make assumptions.
Some choices I don’t allow. Some choices I’ll allow for a time and then intervene. Sometimes I’ll talk about choices and see what my children are thinking, express my concerns, and then back off. Sometimes I’ve determined not to intervene at all, even for a choice I wish they would make differently.
Part of allowing choices is something we learn practically as parents. We are working ourselves out of a job, as my mom says. We HAVE to let them start making choices on their own; otherwise they will be stunted when do finally leave our homes. Allowing choices is important for spiritual decisions as well. Notice how Paul describes God’s dealing with the Corinthian church. There is a period of time that God allows for them to deal with their own sin. But God will eventually intervene. (For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:31-32)
The very idea of wisdom cannot be separated from the freedom of choices, and learning by doing. As much as we think we would like directives, God’s ways are much better. God allows us the space to risk making mistakes as we try to live in a way that pleases him. Making errors may be less a failure than simply part of growing! Learning to live the Christian walk wisely, including learning to parent, by trial and error is challenging but satisfying.
I also like the Bible idea that the word of God exposes our motives and plans. Perhaps part of our discipleship is allowing the choices, but then helping our children evaluate those choices afterward. (For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12)
What biblical principles do you see regarding choices we make?