You ask your kids if they want to go to the park and they say no. But you know they’ll actually have a great time, so you force them. They say they don’t like meatloaf, but you know they love it. They say they’re not tired, but you know they need to sleep so badly. They tell you they want to quit piano, but you know they’ll regret it.
You know that your kids don’t know what they actually want, because all they can tell you is what they don’t want. You know better, you’re convinced of it. And most of the time, you’re right. But what kind of precedent are you setting when you consistently compel them to do these things against their will?
As a parent, it’s really easy to force your kids to do stuff. Whether it’s that you’re bigger or that you control the purse strings, you possess the power to make them do what you think is best. And when you wield that power without so much as a conversation, you’re teaching them that they have no power, no control, that their wishes don’t really matter in this life. You’re also setting up a bad habit for yourself. You won’t always have this power over them. You don’t want to habitualize a kind of disrespect for, or disinterest in, what they think they want.
Because one day, they’ll want to change their college major. They’ll want to move across the country. They’ll want to make some lifestyle change you disagree with. They’ll want to tweak some long standing family tradition. And you will be so used to thinking that you know better, that you are the decider, that you won’t be able to handle it. But worse than that, your relationship with your kids won’t be able to weather the fallout from your egotistical implosion.
Your kids don’t always know what they want. But guess what? Nobody does. So you have to figure out how to be in charge without being a tyrant, how to generally know better without being a know it all. You have to learn how to use the gravity of your experience to move them gently in the direction they should go, instead of using the mass of your position as parent to force them that way.
This won’t be easy…but such is the life of a parent.