Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ah, Children and Their Choices

As parents, I think one of the things we wish for is to spare our children from making poor choices. I mean, we've made many of our own poor choices, right? So we know what to avoid. Right? So if we could just convince our children that they should avoid making all the dumb mistakes we've made, their lives would be much better, right?

Alas, one of my most important ideals of parenting has been to let my children make their own choices. Even when they were 2 1/2 years old and wanted to dress in horrendous outfits, I let them. When they chose friends who were obviously not good for them, I didn't say anything. When they want to drop three classes, spend four months sitting around, go out with a jerk, or quit baseball, I don't say anything. (Well, so maybe I say something, but I don't judge.)

It's a dichotomy of ideals. I want them to be themselves. But I want to let them learn from my mistakes. But they really have to learn from their mistakes. And really, most of those things they choose aren't mistakes, to be accurate. They're just choices that maybe didn't work out so well. Some of them actually do work out pretty well. But it's really hard to sit back and watch while the turning out happens, because as a parent, you have no idea it the final outcome will be good or not so good.

So what brings all this philosophizing on? Daughter number two, Emily, was all scheduled to spend the coming school year in Belgium on an exchange program. That was actually a pretty recent decision. I think she announced it in March or so that she'd like to take a year and do something besides head right off to college. (She just graduated from Boise High School, top 20% of her class, 4.1 something GPA, AP scholar, thank you.) You see, several years ago, Emily skipped 8th grade, so she has this sort of "free" year she can use and still come out at the end of college at the same age as her peers.

But now, Emily informs us she's changed her mind. Doesn't want to go away after all. Still doesn't want to go right off to college, either. (For the record, she is very excited about her chosen college: New Mexico Tech, where she plans to study astrophysics.) What she wants to do this coming year is finish her pilot's license, which she has been working on. Plus she wants to do some other things she's always wanted to try but never had time for, like learning to draw. She plans to get a job--thank goodness. Probably still take more piano lessons--yay. Probably write five or six novels while she's at it. I'm sure she'll keep busy. And I have no problem with this choice. I don't think it's a mistake.

But, come on. Giving up a year in Belgium? Would you? I told her the story she's heard before. (All parental stories must be retold several hundred times before a child reaches 18. It's in the Parenting Handbook.) When I was in college, I had an opportunity to go to a program in London and attend dozens of theatre performances while otherwise partying with my friends. And get credit for it. What was I thinking? Why did I not go? It's one of the great regrets of my life. What I wouldn't give to spend ten weeks in London studying theatre..... Sigh. But even after a moving rendition of that story, she still chose to spend her year her way.

It's taken me a few days to adjust. I think the main thing was I had emotionally prepared for both my daughters to be out of the house in a couple of months. Not that I'm in a big hurry, mind you, but you prepare yourself for these things. Now she will still be here. Frodo, her dog, is most happy, I think. He would sorely miss Emily, and he still will when she goes to college. In the meantime, he has another year. Peter was not so happy at the news. He wanted the Xbox to himself. Somehow he got the crazy idea that I was going to let him have it in his room. Right.

Well, this post was supposed to be about choices. Emily's graduation speakers talked about following your dreams, not necessarily doing the expected thing. I guess Emily took that to heart, because flying is one of her loves, and she hopes the possession of a pilot's license will be one step toward her ultimate dream of becoming an astronaut. Gotta love those independent thinkers. That's how I raised 'em.


  1. You're a great mom to let your kids make their own decisions. My dad always said it didn't really matter what decision you made, so long at you threw yourself into that direction and went with it. The worst thing is to have one foot on the boat and one foot on the dock.

    For what it's worth, I'm glad we'll still have Emily at book club. :)

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