How to Make the Right Decision for You (When You Seriously Doubt Yourself).

“Good Morning, Sofia! Thanks for bringing your violin downstairs. Today is Wednesday—orchestra at school.” my voice is upbeat.

“I hate Wednesdays! I hate violin!” Sofia is very clearly disgruntled. She’s frowning and mad.

This has been the tone of the conversation on Wednesday mornings and about practicing violin for a few months now. Sofia decided, independently back in September, that she wanted to try violin.

So we did.

Today, she’s no longer happy with that decision.

The classic conversation and parenting strategy would be to say, “You can’t quit. You have to continue what you started.”

“Why?” she’d reply.

“Because I said so.”

A conversation such as this would unfold with yelling and tears as I tried to force my perspective and opinion in on her world. The more I’d try to have her see it my way, the unhappier she’d become.

How do I know?

I’ve been there before. Many times.

But I’m not a classic conversationist, or parent, any more. Instead, on the car ride to school our conversation goes like this:

“Okay. I hear you.” I say. “If in your heart and gut you truly feel like playing the violin is not right for you, then you need to have the conversation with your orchestra teacher. This is not my decision so you need to own it. You need to stand behind it and speak your truth.”

“NOOOOO!” I don’t want to!” Sofia protests.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because. It’s too hard.” She explains she’s referring to the way in which adults and her peers might respond to her when she tells them she doesn’t feel something is right for her …. but the adult or peers feel the opposite. They push their opinions at her and … being cajoled feels bad.

Why is it that we feel, as adults (or peers), that our perspective is more right for kids than their perspective is right for them?

The only answer is training. We’ve been trained to believe that parenting a child is best done by encouraging them to follow our advice instead of … the callings of their own internal guidance system.

If an adult had taken up violin at age 45 and after 6 months decided that it was not their thing, would we do the same thing to them? Would we load them up with guilt by saying, “I’m so disappointed in you, Jim. I thought you’d do better.” or “Jim, seriously, how do you expect to become something in life if you give up this easily. Tough it out, Jim.”

Five years ago, I shifted the belief that just because I was parent meant I always knew better. I realized that giving birth to a child didn’t mean I always knew what was best for them. They’re under my care, yes. Will I always offer guidance if they ask for it? Yes, of course.

But “care” and “dictatorship” are two completely different things. As much as I’d like to think I have “absolute rule”, I don’t.

Never did.

Absolute rule over another human being is an illusion. It doesn’t exist.

As difficult as it is to believe, we’re all born with our own internal guidance system perfectly intact. Where things go awry is when we start believing all the people around us know better than us about what our next best step is …. simply because they are bigger than us. Bigger not only implies size, but also when it appears someone has “bigger” success, knowledge, income, more friends, better body, more talent, better life, etc.

We slowly lose our sense of what’s right for us because we come to believe that our guidance system is wrong and Mom and Dad (or teacher, friend, sibling, coach or mentor) are right. How many times have you heard someone who has the results you want say to you, “This is the way to do it! Follow me! This is the RIGHT WAY.”

Sometimes it IS the right direction for you. But sometimes, it’s not. And they only way to know for sure is to listen to your guidance system. Sometimes your guidance system is called your gut feeling, a hunch, intuition, or having a sense about something.

I believe that Sofia knows what the best decision is for her. Yes, I could force her to stay with it and load her up with guilt about how she’ll never become successful if she quits stuff. I could tell her: no pain—no gain, you must start what you finish at all costs and be persistent.

I could say all the seemly sensible and logical things parents say to their kids when they’re scared they won’t make the “right” choice.

Instead, what I did this morning was to walk Sofia through a thinking process that reconnected her with her own guidance system. I presented her with trust and support, not guilt and poorly supported statements of conjecture such as, “You’ll never be successful if you quit!” or “You’re a loser if you quit.”

I said,

“If you’ve given this a lot of thought and you’re truly unhappy, then go ahead and tell the teacher today that you’re very appreciative of all that she has done for you but after some deep thought you don’t believe violin is for you.”

She didn’t want to do this, of course, because the typical response from a teacher is one that induces guilt in the child for “not making them proud”. Teachers want kids to do what they’re told, not follow their own guidance system.

In order for Sofia to be able to stand in her truth as an adult, she needs to practice this as a child. I told her how to say her truth kindly and politely so the teacher would know she was appreciative of all that she had done for her thus far. I gave her the words to express what she’s thinking in a way that allowed the teacher an option to respond in an unconventional way: with support, not guilt.

I also told her that if she didn’t make this decision herself, and instead decided to continue violin because of the fear of what others would say—her teacher, her peers …. her Daddy—she would be resentful and angry about feeling obligated to live her life according to someone else’s guidelines.

How do I know? She currently was living according to someone else’s guidelines (her parents) which sounded like, “Just stay with violin a little longer. We paid for the (damn) thing already.”

The current realty was angry and resentment from her. Anger and resentment sounded like, “No. I hate practicing. I don’t want to. I hate Wednesdays!”

I’ve never heard a successful, adult violinist say they hate what they do. They all love it and practice because it’s fun for them. Was this the path she’d be on if I forced the issue? No, she’d quit at the end of the year, in two years or five (basically, whenever we let her) and finally find relief from the pressure. Guilt, resentment and sadness are high pressure feelings. They’re not who we really are which is why they feel so bad.

Here’s the reality.

I’ve witnessed that when Sofia loves something, nothing can keep her from it. She’s an incredible artist. I’ve seen what Sofia’s like when she’s connected to something she loves: focused, attentive, determined, happy, inspired, persistent and creative. I’ve seen her demonstrate all the traits of a successful adult already … when she’s connected to something she loves. When she’s doing something because she wants to, not because I want her to, she’s golden.

In reality, I have nothing to fear. She’s already proven to me she’s “got what it takes”.

Just not with the violin. And that’s okay.

She’s not a “quitter”; she’s an empowered “chooser”.

So, here’s a question for you: How many times have YOU said yes to someone else’s expectations of you only to feel resentful about being forced or obligated to do it their way? How many times do you provide that favor because you’re “nice” only to feel pissed off that you had to go out of your way again when you had something else to do?

Not sure? Let me give you a hint: every time.

(Guilt and resentment are terrible for your health, by the way. Real killers, they are.)

Every time we “give into” the expectations and demands of someone else …. even if that person carries the status of best friend, parents, spouse, sibling or peer … you lose a part of yourself. You add to the pile of resentment that you’ve started from the very beginning in childhood.

The moral of this story is: I’m not a classic parent and I don’t buy into the common beliefs about parenting such as: kids should just do as I say because I’m bigger and stronger than them. I don’t believe that training my kids to follow my guidance system or the guidance of a teacher or friend is the best option.

It will only lead to an adult who continues to live their life based on fear of judgement and trying to please others.

I believe my kids are intuitive enough to know what choices are right for them. I support them in thinking things through and them giving them the language to share that thinking process with others. I encourage them today—at age 9 (Sofia), 12 and 13— to stand in their truth and live the lives they want NOW.

We never know how long we have in this life and it’s critical that we move through this experience as we deem appropriate—at every age.

Then, when it’s our time to depart we can say definitively and with great joy, “I truly lived the life I intended. I am happy with how it all turned out, every moment.”

If you’re wondering, “Wait, Allison … if you don’t tell your kids WHAT to do … how do they ever get anything accomplished?? Don’t they just sit on the computer and text all day??”

No, they don’t. Some days they try to but in the end their creativity takes over. We’re all (especially kids) incredibly creative creatures. Kids want to learn, play and be productive. This is a natural instinct that has been drummed out of most of them by adults as they grow. When we leave them alone for a while, learning for learning sake and loving the process resurfaces.

It took me about three years to back away from the belief that I needed to tell my kids what to do. It’s an incredibly strong belief system that the majority of parents were raised with themselves.

If you’re looking for proof of the opposite truth in every day situations (that kids are capable of making decisions independently at any age) … you’re not likely to find it. The belief that we need to tell our kids what to do is a strong belief for most parents. So strong and so active, in fact, they won’t even see it for what it is.

Sadly, it’s also a fear based belief. Fear is destructive, by nature.

So, I suppose this post is for those parents who are tired of fighting their kids on every decision and want to begin to move away from thinking that in order for their kids to be successful in life they need to tell them what to do all the time.

Having just extracted myself from this belief, I know it’s pretty scary to even think about parenting another way.

Having come out the other side now, I can tell you with certainty and experience that it is a good, solid decision to make. Since having taken my opinion out of my kids faces they have strengthened their own resolve on what is right for them.

Examples are … they get good grades because they want to and not because I tell them to. They choose activities that are exciting to them (as opposed to what their friends what them to do or what is the most popular thing to do). They are learning to moderate their own disagreements as siblings and do not ask me to intervene. Not surprisingly, they have very close emotional relationships now that I’m not in the middle.

And … for those who are still doubters … they are even “achieving” cool stuff such as my 13 year old is about to publish her second book. Writing is HER passion and desire. This project was NOT me telling her to do it because it will look good on a college resume. She loves writing and is pursing it in her own way.

So, if you feel allowing your kids more say in what is right for them in their life is the right decision for you, I encourage you to go for it. You will feel the relief that comes from following your guidance system and they’ll be happier and more productive following theirs.

Will you like all the decisions they make following their guidance system?

Probably not. But, such is life.

You didn’t do everything your parents thought you should either and you turned out okay. Imagine if, at age nine, they allowed you a say in your own life? Imagine the lightness of your life’s journey without “bags” of resentment and anger to carry along?

Just because Sofia is deciding to stop violin does not mean she’s a quitter, that she won’t be successful in life, won’t get into a good college, is a failure or is a “disobedient” child.

Quite the contrary.

Making this decision (at age 9) has empowered her to make 1,000 more decisions in the future that are right for her.

When she’s faced with the anguish of pleasing me, her teacher or her friends over pleasing herself …. she will remember the feeling of relief that comes with following her heart. She will feel that much more confident in dancing to the beat of her own drummer.

This is not an easy thing to do, mind you .. making decisions like this. I’ve talked with many, many people who continue to suffer as adults because the choose hurting themselves instead of “hurting” others. They follow the advice of others only to discover later, “I knew I should have done it the other way. I felt it in my gut.”

Today has allowed Sofia to know, through real life experience, that when she lives her life according to how she feels it should go—not according to how her parents, teachers or peers think it should go—she will experience more relief, joy and success.

Kids are intuitive, as are you.

Always go with your gut. The relief you feel from following your heart is priceless.

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