Throughout the course of a lifetime we make countless decisions. What to eat. What to wear. Where to work. Whether to stay in a relationship or not. Some decisions seem mindless and benign while others are fraught with feelings so immense it seems that a wrong choice will end the world as we know it. So often, when we have to make big decisions we want proof or confirmation that one path is better than another. We ask our friends and families. We seek out books and experts. We hope and wish and pray for a sign that tells us unequivocally what we should do. In so many aspects of our lives we can look to someone else to ultimately know the answer or make the decision for us. And in that, there is safety and comfort.
But in parenthood we feel like the ultimate decision makers (and often it’s true). The end of the line. The buck stops here. At the end of the day, no matter how many experts we consult, or how many friends we ask, we are in a position of making decision after decision about the lives of another human being. And for some reason, in the moment, they all feel like the ultimate decision.
Last week I caught myself saying to my husband, “Once we decide about what school our kids will go to, it will all be downhill.” In this time of our lives, deciding what educational path our children will travel feels like the biggest decision we will ever have to make. There are so many choices and it is easy to feel convinced that whatever choice you make will have an indelible and profound impact on the type of person your child will become. The pressure builds. No matter what road you consider, there seems to be another one that is equally beautiful. No matter what road you consider, there will be potholes along the way. There doesn’t seem to be a perfect choice. And meanwhile, the course of this little person’s life hangs in the balance.
Or so it seems.
As I consider my thoughts that this decision is the ultimate decision I can hear another mom express extreme worry and concern over what camp to put her daughter in. A father agonizes over whether to forbid participation in football because of the risks. A pregnant couple debates whether to have a hospital birth or go to a birthing center. A mom worries that her decision not to punish whining will make her children intolerable to others. To breast feed or bottle feed. To circumcise or not. What day care to choose. In the moment, each of these decisions feels like the ultimate decision. Each of these decisions feels like the weight of the world. The weight of our child’s future. Their happiness. Their health. Their lives.
Each decision feels incredibly important in its own right. But if we look back on the all decisions we have already made as parents, the millions and millions of decisions that make up the course of a day, a year, a life, it becomes almost impossible to pin point any one and say “There, That one! That was the one decision that made my child who she is.” Rather, our lives are a tapestry of interwoven decisions that meld and wind around each other so that the bigger picture is indistinguishable from the individual moments.
It’s like pointillism. If you look at a Seurat painting, you see a mélange of dots, equally important in the larger picture. In isolation, they are just dots. But together, they mean something. Collectively, they begin to tell a story. And underneath the dots and paint and canvass is where true art forms. A compilation of dots becomes a work of art because of the style, vision, love, heart and soul that the artist brings to the canvas.
And at the end of the day, this is true for parenting as well. In isolation, each decision means relatively little with respect to grand scheme of our child’s life. But behind the plethora of decisions is the framework that we bring to parenting, the backdrop upon which our children’s lives can be painted, dots can be added. And in addition to the decisions that we make, we cannot forget that there are countless others making decisions that impact the course of a child’s life. Teachers, peers, extended family and our children themselves (yes, even very young children). So rather than agonizing endlessly over every decision maybe we should be focusing more on the style, vision, love, heart and soul we bring to our children’s life. Maybe we should be asking ourselves these questions:
- Am I leading with love?
- Am I staying true to what I know about my family, my child, myself?
- Are we listening to each other?
- Are we respecting each other?
- Are we valuing each other?
- Is there safety, warmth, and trust in our family?
If we can answer yes to these questions, then whatever road presents itself, whatever direction we turn, whatever path we create along the way will add to the beauty of our child’s life. It doesn’t always mean we will make the right decision. And the tricky part is that there will never be a way to really know because in reality, there isn’t really one right choice. But what is freeing, is that when we let go of the weight of the individual dot, and realize that “the right choice” just doesn’t exist, we can relax into the moment, listen to our inner instincts, and move along the path with love.
What we can know with certainty, if we focus on the above questions as guideposts, is that we have created a space for our children to navigate the world with all its decision points, with strength and integrity and love and support. And when the decisions are no longer ours’ to make, when our children have to choose on their own, they will have the foundation to do just that.