It is easy to issue commands to our children and assert our authority, but it is more challenging to deliberate the decision with them. The more we involve our children in the process towards a decision, the more we gain their trust.
Girls, I am not comfortable allowing you out today,” my wife, in her mild-mannered voice, directed her concerns to our two daughters, aged 13 and 9.
This was the day after I read in the newspaper that the Nepal Armed Police Force would arrest anyone abusing people on the streets by smudging colors and splashing them with water against their will. I knew that the number of people getting drunk dramatically spikes during Holi, the ‘Festival of Colors’.
Our girls were asking permission to play Holi outside, along with our grown up friends. First, my heart went out for my girls who prepared their gears beforehand: water-proof camera, raincoat, improvised water-guns, etc. I then decided to make them stay home, deferring to my wife’s concerns. My wife and I are committed to consistently agree on every decision, to avoid sending wrong signals to our children that might unnecessarily put them in a position to take sides. “A house divided against itself will not stand.” As the head of the family, I am the ultimate decision-maker. But I knew that parenting is never a monopoly of either the father or the mother.
If, for any reason, our outlook or decision-points fell into different sides of the fence, then both of us should maintain the status quo or adopt a conservative stance when a situation necessitates an immediate response. Otherwise, we can just buy time, exhaust all possible scenarios, and wait for more inputs or indicators that will give us more confidence towards an optimal decision.
One of my daughters asserted, “Why is it that they (our grown up friends) can go, but not us?” Considering our Asian culture, her innocent query can easily be dismissed as plain disrespect to authority. Her tone surely called for a father-to-daughter private talk. We grew up in a society where our fathers make the decisions. Most of the time, we just follow, even though we silently demand a rationale.
“Do you believe that, as a father, my job is not to just make you happy?” She replied meekly, “Of course, Dad.” Then, I quipped, “As much as I wanted you to go out there and enjoy, I needed to be sure that you would not be in harm’s way.”
Last year, I decided to save money to buy a new iPhone. While traveling from Kathmandu to Bangkok, my daughters started prodding me to buy them original Chelsea football jerseys. I delayed because the shirts were very expensive. When we arrived in Manila, my eldest said she wanted the shirt as a birthday gift. Who can resist that? I ended up ordering those shirts online from Hong Kong.
I reminded her of that, and asked her, “Can you tell me how many fathers out there are crazy enough to buy their daughters shirts that cost NRs.12, 000 apiece just to make them happy?” I’ve told myself, “I would rather see their smiles than having a new iPhone. I don’t mind getting stuck with my ancient Blackberry.” Indeed, when those beautiful shirts arrived, I saw both of them grin ear to ear! I told my eldest that I was happier than them. There was virtually no risk associated with that decision, unlike the situation that we were facing that afternoon.
I had to issue the verdict by saying, “Today, I will prefer your safety rather than making you happy. Our friends went out to observe Holi because they can handle the risks of which you are still incapable of.” Before I finished that sentence, I saw her tears rolling down; it broke my heart seeing her face. I could not resist but wipe those tears off. Then she looked at me, and said, “Dad, I now understand your decision and I appreciate you for bringing me into the outer space big time, and allowing me to see the big picture. I will stay at home.”
I won her heart. But, most importantly, she understood how we, parents, process decisions objectively. Well, it does not mean we have to explain every decision. We need to discern if a talk is necessary. It is easy to issue commands to our children and assert our authority, but it is more challenging to deliberate the decision with them. The more we involve our children in the process towards a decision, the more we gain their trust. The more they have a better understanding of our decisions, instructions, and corrections, the more they will become responsible and mature individuals.
As parents, we need to help our children not to get what they want—but instead, to build their character and critical life skills that will allow them to grow, survive, and thrive.