Pick One

My teacher explained to us that when we are trying to make a decision between two choices, we must realize that there is always another option.  It’s taken me thirty-one years to realize something so simple and when he put it into words it hit me:  I am teaching my three-year-old son that he usually only has two choices.  “Do you want to shut the TV off or do you want me to do it?”  And that’s how I usually get him to shut the TV off, for example.  He wants to do it and he does it with the threat that I would be the one to “press the button,” but I know he didn’t want the fun to end.  He must decide between one of the choices that I give him, and if he picks a third choice I didn’t offer which doesn’t accomplish my goal, I was taught that this is the moment where I am supposed to get frustrated.

I am passing onto him an understanding of limited choices, choices that originate from authority figures.  This is a technique to get little ones to comply, as in the TV example.  It works often and I have used it in desperate measures, like getting him to stop throwing a tantrum that he doesn’t want to hold my hand while we’re crossing the street, and not so desperate ones, like deterring Spiderman cartoons meant for 7-year-olds.  This is also a sales technique as my teacher pointed out, one that I’m sure I’ve used.  His example:  “Would you like to meet at 1 p.m. tomorrow or 5:30 this evening?”  Only two choices – pick one.  And when it happens, ring the bell, we just made a sale!

I didn’t come from a free-spirited home where we were encouraged to be wildly imaginative.  We learned, like most people, rules.  When we abided by the rules we got positive reinforcement.  That’s why I washed the dishes and pushed a massive vacuum twice the size of me at four-years-old.  Not because I wanted to clean.  It was the reward after cleaning; the pat on the back, the “thank you” for helping, the labeling of me as a “helper” and the “clean one” in the family.  After recently reading “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, I felt this enormous sense of confusion:  How am I going to raise a human being to not follow these rigid rules, or accept the “agreements” that I’ve followed all these years?  How am I going to teach him that he doesn’t need anyone’s acceptance but his own and there are always creative solutions to problems,  when here I am relying on giving limited choices and leaning on positive reinforcement to get the behavior want as a mother.  How selfish of me to feel the need to control his behavior to my liking so I can accomplish daily chores and get some “me time” in during his nap.  But then again, how else will I teach him to eat healthy or socialize him to go to school if I weren’t controlling his behavior?   It’s a dilemma I haven’t solved.  But next on my reading list is the topic of mindful parenting.  I’m sure to find answers there.

Life Lesson #8:  If there is a world of choices, there are other alternatives to raising an obedient and rigid child.  When my son takes choice number three that I didn’t offer to begin with, I should celebrate his creative problem solving (I think) and realize he’s giving me the opportunity to rethink the limitations I place on myself and those around me.

Life Lesson #9:  One Choice, Two Choices, Three Choiceseses.  If I choose to see my child as my teacher, possibilities become infinite.

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