In my early 20’s, I was sitting in the kitchen of my future in-laws (unbeknownst to me), sharing the dilemma of my uncertain life direction, when my future mother-in-law put her hands around her coffee cup and said, “Well, I know you’ll make the right decision.”
What? How in the world could she know that? Really, she just met me, and suddenly she has all this unfounded confidence in my decision-making skills!
I think about this moment very very often, this moment of gratuitous confidence in my executive functioning skills. It felt like an unexpected announcement: “Good morning, Christen, this is YOUR life and YOU are capable of running it!”
Incredibly intimidating and incredibly powerful.
And then, well, she just went and poured herself another cup of coffee like she hadn’t just blown the top off of the little cave of self-doubt I’d been shuffling around in moaning about what to do next with my life.
Why did that mean so much to me? I’ve been smothered by love my whole life, and yet this felt different. It felt liberating.
So I ask myself, and your lovely readership, do we intentionally express such full confidence in our children? I bet we all by habit quickly and generously run to do the heavy lifting (and heavy worrying). For a good while there, our children did, in fact, need us to make all their decisions: diaper change time, nap time, meal time, extra blanket time, hold my hand there’s traffic time.
Perhaps we offered choices: “blue shirt or red shirt?” but now as they grow older, we catch ourselves saying things like: “Are you sure you want to…?” “What about... instead?” “Did you bring your jacket/papers/wallet?” “Don’t forget to…” and so on. Well, we don’t want our children to be cold, dissatisfied, or embarrassed - we don’t want them to think we don’t care! Right?
I do not for a moment doubt we all mean to say: “I love you!” while we may actually be communicating: “I don’t trust you!” (Why can’t they read our minds? Our parents must have wondered the same.)
The challenge, it seems, is to let them leave without a jacket, choose a restaurant we don’t like so much, forget their wallet... So what? We all know for ourselves that worse than goosebumps, bad food, and mild embarrassment is the feeling that you can’t figure things out for yourself and cannot learn from your own mistakes (without the “I told you so” look).
Let them flex their decision-making muscles. If we start when the stakes are low, whether or not they make the “right” decisions, maybe in their 20s (or 30s) their decision-making muscles won’t feel so flabby and foreign to them.
Let’s notice our little habits of second guessing and experiment with silence, support, or a nonjudgmental smile (pull out those theater skills!). They will only know they can do it if they believe we know they can do it, and we say that in a thousand ways. Mostly little ways.
Can we really break the second-guess-quick-reminder-are-you-sure habit? I, for one, have full confidence in you. I just do.
More to come on identifying those highly important low stakes moments. Thanks for reading.
Please comment with your own reflections, questions, and ideas.
MAIN Author: CHRISTEN PARKER-YARNAL