Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Disapproval is such a waste of energy

I was thinking this morning. Idle time in the car does that. Gets me thinking on all kinds of random topics. Today something on the radio triggered the thoughts about what an approval-seeking child I was. I didn't want to disappoint. Didn't want to let anyone down. I wanted to please and do what was expected and do what was good. It was more my own doing, I guess. My parents didn't express disapproval too much. They weren't strict. They didn't have big expectations. But I wanted to please them and my teachers and other adults. I just didn't want to have to face disapproval. And that was behind a lot of the decisions I made as I grew up.

Had I not been that way or thought that way, I'd probably be much different now. If I didn't really care if people approved of what I did, I might have gotten in more trouble. I probably would have made more poor decisions. But, I may have been a little more me. So much of what I did was driven by what other people would think. It feels so suffocating sometimes to feel that way. So restricting. So limiting. Under the surface, you feel like there's more you want to do and be, but it's scary to think that others may not approve of it.

Sometimes I catch myself expressing disapproval to my kids. Sometimes in that moment it seems like the right thing to do and the right way to be. Later on, I think back and realize what a small deal it really is. In the overall scheme of things, does it really matter if one of the kids leaves the house in an outfit that doesn't match? Or that he decides to draw Sonic the Hedgehog in the corner of all his homework sheets? Sure, there are some things you simply can't approve of (or at least not all the time) -- like chocolate for breakfast -- but sometimes when it's something that really ISN'T a big deal, why make it a big deal?

I think about all the time I wasted disapproving of something they wore or how they wanted their hair cut. I guess it's a fine line...between expressing your opinion and making it a confrontation. Kids need guidance and need to be told what to do/how to do it in certain situations. In others, is it really worth it to show disapproval? Is it really going to change the outcome? Is it going to make a bad situation worse? Is it time to give your child the freedom to make a decision?

I guess with age and experience comes wisdom. It takes time to figure some things out. This past Easter I was reminded of one about 13 years ago where my oldest didn't want to wear his "fancy" shoes with his dress outfit. I insisted. He refused. I wouldn't budge. He didn't want to either. Once you dig your heels in as a parent, it's hard to give in. Which message is most important? The original argument? Or letting them have control? At a certain point, the original topic isn't relevant and it's all about who wins. Now...as I look back...I really wish I would have let him wear the shoes he wanted to wear. I wanted a nice family picture of us all dressed up...that was my big hang up with the shoes. We sat in the car and I wouldn't leave 'til he changed shoes. It took forever, but he finally changed them. You know what? The family picture from that Easter didn't even show his legs below the knee. The shoes weren't in the picture. And I was disapproving and making a mountain out of a molehill and making Easter a very unpleasant day. Over shoes. Now Easter reminds me of that incident and how unimportant something like shoes are in the overall scheme of things. Parents have to choose their battles and some things just aren't worth a battle. And as kids turn into teens, there are a lot of things for parents to disapprove of. But it's also a time that they need to be able to make decisions on their own.

But, it took a long time to get here and get to that way of thinking. Letting kids be themselves and make some decisions - even if you don't approve of them - is part of life. Part of parenthood.

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