Last week I took my kids out for breakfast, and as they excitedly took their seats at IHOP, our waiter placed giant glossy menus on the table.
The menus were covered in pictures of all the massive stacks of breakfast foods at their disposal. “Get whatever you want, guys,” I said to their delight, as I eyed images of waffles and French toast and eggs, feeling like mother of the year. “Mommy, I want a burger with bacon and French fries, definitely,” sang my 6-year-old son. “That’s not breakfast,” I said. “We don’t eat burgers for breakfast. Choose something else.”
Then my 6-year-old daughter declared she’d be ordering grilled cheese. “We’re at breakfast, Alexis” I said in an annoyed voice. “Order breakfast.” They all stared at the menu as if nothing they wanted was available. “What’s the problem here?” I asked. “We’re at the *%#^* house of pancakes. Just get pancakes.” After going back and forth, they all grudgingly got some elaborate version of French toast.
And as I watched them eat their food, soaked in syrup and powdered sugar, I wondered why I said no to what they wanted.
I mean, if Hudson asked for breakfast meat in a roll, I’d say yes, and that’s almost the same thing as a burger. If Alexis asked for toast with cream cheese, I’d say yes, and that’s the same as grilled cheese. And it’s not just food. I say no to lots of little things that would be easy to say yes to with no consequence. Wearing flip-flops on a cold day to run errands. Wearing the same shirt to school twice in three days. Wanting to be done with a school craft before I felt like it looked good enough. I could just as easily say yes.
But I say no because I feel like I should, to draw lines somewhere and enforce certain standards of behavior to keep us all sane. Wearing proper clothing for the season, looking nice for school, being responsible, ordering appropriately. But as I sat there, I wondered which approach had the greater upside. Yes, my kids were making what I considered a better choice. But …
Studies of laid-back parents show that their kids learn faster from their own mistakes. If I said yes to those little things, they’d realize on their own which behaviors don’t make sense. They’d figure out that eating a burger for breakfast feels too heavy, or flip-flops in the winter feel too cold. They might not like being the kid whose family tree project looks less ornate than other kids in class.
Studies also show that kids who made more of their own decisions had a greater sense of self-restraint, since they could often do what they wanted. They also had more confidence, since their parents trusted them enough to allow them to make more decisions for themselves.
I didn’t really accomplish anything that morning at IHOP, and may have actually done the opposite. I came off as controlling and confrontational, my kids didn’t get what they wanted after I told them they could, and what they ended up eating may have been more gut-busting than what they wanted in the first place.
So I think from now on I’ll try my best to say yes more often, especially when it really doesn’t matter either way. But please don’t think this means I’ll let my children sit around all day watching TV and eating garbage if they want to. Because remember, there is no excuse for being a lazy junk food addict.
But if you find one, please let me know.