There are plenty of things we parents wish we owned when it came to parenting. But here are several things we do not own. This list may evoke emotions from inside of you and if they do, I ask that you question your emotions. Are you feeling fear? Do you feel out of control? Do you feel like you would be embarrassed? Did your parents parent your life with force or control? If so, was that right? Even though you "turned out fine" was it correct to be treated in those ways? We are looking to create a world for our children where they feel heard and where they feel powerful to create their own lives. I hope they turn out to be just as they want to be.
Children are complete humans. They have needs, wants, desires, and opinions about themselves and the world they live in. Sure, those ideas may not be well thought out or be well-rounded. But, are all of your thoughts as an adult well thought out and well-rounded? Probably not. We should give children the same amount of respect for their ideas and their bodies that we give other adults. Giving them the time and space to experience life allows for natural consequences to flow (rather than punishment). So, here are eight things I do not own as their parent:
1. I do not own their time.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to parenting. I do not have the right to tell my children they have to be involved in things that take their time that they do not want to be involved in. I think this spans from sports, to music, to friends, to school. They have the right to pursue their interests and spend their time as they see fit. "But they'll only play video games." "But how will they ever learn?" The fact is, unless you are in a box all day, you are learning all day. You are taking in sights, sounds, social cues, and more from all that happens around you. Sometimes we have things that we have agreed to do as a family and that provides a learning opportunity in compromise. But, any time a child can choose how they would like to spend their time, I allow it. Do you allow your children the right to choose how they spend their days? Do you trust them? If you do not trust them with their time, what message are they learning for the future? If you do not trust them, how can they learn to trust themselves?
2. I do not own their space.
I will admit this one is really tricky for me. We do own the house we live in and so I do believe there is ownership in that. But do I really own their bed? Their clothes? Our main living spaces we keep pretty tidy most of the time and we all work together to keep those areas clean. They are in charge of their other spaces and there are times that things do just need to be cleaned (for sanitary and mental reasons!). However, when they are little, we can work with them to keep their spaces nice while still noticing and allowing them to keep their space as they want it. Are they less tidy than you? Is that bad? Even though it makes you uncomfortable, does that mean it is wrong?
3. I do not own their bodies.
They are able to draw on themselves. They are able to cut their own hair. They are able to eat what they would like. They are able to sleep when their body says its tired. They are able to understand and go with their own body flow and rhythm, just like any adult is. From what we've noticed, they understand and flow with their body's desires and needs more easily than most adults these days! They know when to sleep and how long to sleep. They know when their body wants cucumbers, strawberries, or cake. Giving them freedom to explore these things allows for discussion and a natural way to learn what their body desires instead of learning from a forced or controlled environment (which brings up so many more emotional and energetic consequences).
4. I do not own their presents.
When they receive a gift, from us or from other people, they own it. They get to play with it, throw it, break it, coddle it, and do just about anything with it. They do not, however, get to hurt someone with their gift. No throwing a kindle at someone else's head. Most parents want to put restrictions on their children's gifts. They want to "help" the child keep the gift safe so that they can use it for a long time. I see the good intention. There is always room for discussion about how we treat our things. There is always time to model good behavior ourselves with how we treat our gifts and things. Ultimately, though, the choice to treat their gifts as they want to is their choice. Let go of what the grandparents will think if the kid breaks the gift two days later. It is not your fault. It does not mean the child was malicious. It does mean they learned from a natural consequence. It does mean you recognized the gift was theirs to own.
5. I do not own their faith.
This should seem obvious but it isn't for some people. Since they are in our home, we do have the opportunity to discuss our faith and teach them what we believe (and hope they believe it too!). We do not, however, get to force them to believe what we believe. We do not have the right to force them to understand our way of thinking about God. They deserve the opportunity to form their own beliefs and relationship with God in their own time and in their own way.
6. I do not own their future careers.
Leave the decision of their future lives to the future. You do not know what they will choose and it isn't your decision. Choose instead to focus on the present moment and support them where they are today. Then, when they do decide which career to have, they will still want you to be involved in their life because they know you'll be supporting them wherever they end up.
7. I do not own their likes, dislikes, and passions.
I do not have the right to dictate a love for reading. I do not have the right to dictate that they take piano lessons. I do not have the right to dictate that they love art. I do have the opportunity to open them up to the wide world around us. I can introduce them to different activities, art forms, ideas, worldviews, sports, and musical instruments. What they choose to do with those different things is up to them. Maybe they discover after one and half years of piano (like Rico did) that piano is not for them. Did we waste money during that year and a half? We don't think so. We allowed him to explore an interest for awhile and he chose to move on. He also formed a friendship with his piano teacher. Maybe he'll come back to it, maybe he won't. BUT he has his whole life to learn to play the piano. We do not need to waste our time worrying that it is not happening when he's eight. Give up the notion that you get to decide what they'll like to do. Instead, connect with them. Observe what they like to do. ASK them what they would like to do, and if you have the money (if money is needed), let them do it.
8. I do not own their opinions.
...about anything. I do not own their opinions about anything. They have a right to their own mind. They have a right to form opinions even if those opinions are not in line with my own opinions. As they are little, they are still forming those opinions and I can be open and honest about what I think about things while still allowing for their thoughts and opinions to be completely valid. They are creating their views of the world today and yes, parents can help shape that. BUT we cannot dictate those opinions. We've all watched enough cult documentaries to see how controlling beliefs, ideals, and opinions turn out for adults later on. (No, you are probably not raising your child with cult tactics, but raising them to believe your opinions about life by force is still not correct. Force is force.)
Did I leave anything off of this list? Have you experimented in letting go of control? What's keeping you from allowing your child to use their agency and create their own life?
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