What about When Kids Make Choices You Don’t Like?

Today it’s time to get back to your great questions.  Here’s a second one a group of moms asked me recently. “How do you respond when kids make choices of which you don’t approve or which you feel are not in their best interests?”   A few examples came with the question: body piercing, smoking, drinking, clothing choices, spiritual choices, dating.

As you can see, there is quite a range of issues (or potential issues) in the examples given.  Which brings me to the first thing I have to say in responding to this question.  It depends a lot on what the specific choice is.  And it depends a lot on the age of the child—pre-adolescent, teen, young adult?   Living at home with you or being supported by you?

It’s also important to say that, as is the case for so many parenting questions, for some of these issues there may not necessarily be one good answer for all parents—and all kids. But there are some very basic questions to ask, I think, before you respond:

  1. Is this choice dangerous?  (e.g., drugs, drunk driving, sex, etc)
  2. Might this choice have life-long consequences?
  3. Is it a moral/ Biblical issue?
  4. Is it a health issue?

If one of the above is true (and assuming this child, if a young adult, still lives with you and is subject to your “house rules”), then it is vitally important to draw boundaries, establish consequences, and practice “tough love” if you need to.

If, however, the choice truly is a matter of taste, personal preference, or a WWPT (“What will people think?”) issue, then I think a parent needs to decide what is worth going to the wall for.   If we think clearly and are honest with ourselves, there may be some issues which may be more a matter of personal preference (ours) than of principle.

Two quick examples: Each of our sons had chapters in their lives when their preference in the area of “hair issues” differed from ours.  At one point Lars, now our Marine C-130 Aircraft Commander, sported a blonde pony tail.  Actually, to my surprise, Woody kind of liked it.  He said he liked seeing it bounce around the soccer field as Lars played with all-out passion for his favorite sport.  I have to admit I didn’t share his enthusiasm—for the pony tail, not the sport.

One Sunday morning during this Lars-chapter, a woman who was in Mom to Mom approached me after church.  “Oh, Linda,” she said.  “I was so glad to see you with your son in church today.  His hair makes my son’s hair look tame!”

I honestly don’t remember how long the “pony tail” chapter lasted.  But I don’t think that we ever said anything about it.  And I have always suspected that a certain young woman in his life (now his wife) had something to do with the disappearance of the pony tail.

When Bjorn came home at Christmas of his freshman year of college, he looked like a homeless person—oversized flannel shirt, scruffy hair, and a scraggly beard.  Since we were paying a sizable college bill, I knew he was not, in fact, homeless.  However, we greeted him with open arms at the airport, made no comment about appearances, and enjoyed his spirited report of college life on the drive home.  Later that night I asked Woody, “What do you think of the facial hair?”  “What I think,” he responded,” is that the less we say about it the shorter it will last.”  It all disappeared by the end of the break.  Woody and I never said a word.

Now I realize in using these examples that they may sound minor—even ridiculous—to some of you with much bigger issues with your kids.  I simply include them because I think sometimes we pick the wrong battles with our children, especially when they are teens.  All too often we may “win” a particular little skirmish but risk losing the bigger “battle” (and sometimes it feels like a battle!)  of relationship. There are no easy answers to this question.  But I encourage you to do three things before just “reacting” to a particular behavior: 1) Ask good questions about the seriousness of the issue; 2) Engage your child in dialogue about issues which may be negotiable; and if non-negotiable, give good reasons about why you feel the way you do 3) Be courageous (“Be the parent!”) in following through with the non-negotiables.

Above all, PRAY.  Pray before you ask any questions.  Pray as you ask the questions.  Pray as you talk with your child.  Pray as you follow through.  And always, always, always let your child know he/she is loved no matter what.  Remember from Mom to Mom?  “I love you too much to let you . . .”