A comment online: “It’s funny that most parents mostly determine their child is ‘in trouble’ if they are doing something the parent doesn’t want them to. If a parent feels they are not in control of their children, they feel like the child is doing something …’wrong’. Unless the child is doing something life-threatening or dangerous, you shouldn’t tell them what to do. Having a child, to me at least, means letting them explore life how they want, and being their play-mate, partner, provider, and protector. I can’t wait to raise my kids and see life through their eyes. It will be the most rewarding experience of my life, I can imagine.”
It is true parenting is not about control and it is true the trap is an easy one to fall into. However, as a parent of four small kids, I don’t agree that the only time to say “no” is when they are in danger of losing their physical lives or health. There are more kinds of danger than just physical. There is the danger of allowing apathy to breed, the danger of never encouraging good communication, the danger of permitting your child to believe there are no boundaries in life and therefore no safety nets to count on. There should always be boundaries. Not to keep them from exploring but in order to ENHANCE their exploration.
Let me put it this way. Pretend you’re exploring a hiking trail that takes you through amazing rock formations, gorges, shallow caves, etc. Now there is a trail to follow that everybody uses, a worn path clearly visible to the eye, and that’s where you start out. You are more curious than the average person though, so you begin to drift to one side of the trail, now the other side, in search of wonders other people have missed. But you always know when you’re going a little too far because you can see the trail behind you.
Now pretend you wake up in the same area but you’ve never been introduced to the trail before. You have no idea where you are, no idea where you can go to get fresh water, no idea how to leave the woods, no idea where the dangers are. You start exploring but it’s slow going because you have no frame of reference. You slip on a cliff of loose rocks because you haven’t heard anybody tell you that’s not the best way to go. You try out a cave and realize too late that you went deeper than you thought and can’t remember the way out.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea. We all do much better when we have a frame of reference, when we have clear boundaries to show what other people have discovered to be true in the area we are exploring. I homeschool and we’re currently using the “unschool” model which is VERY exploring-focused. But at the same time, when my daughter shows interest in mathematics, I don’t sit back and say “you’re doin’ great honey!” when she tells me 2+1=5. I correct her, I show her the boundaries. And I do the same with life principles as well because I Love her. I don’t want to watch her stumble around, trying to find her way, when I know at least a few things that would help her. And right now, with how young she is (6 years old), that involves a lot of trust on her part and consistency on mine. As she gets older, I will let her gain more authority and receive more responsibility for her choices, but if I don’t show her that her choices have real consequences, she will be ill-equipped for her larger freedom later on. This is a time of training and I will do my job, even if it means I look like a killjoy in her 6 year old eyes.
It’s not about control, it’s about giving her a map to use so she will find her way with greater success. In writing there’s a phrase–you can break the rules of grammar, but only if you know what they are and when it’s okay to break them. Same with life, really.