“Mommy, You Have Two Options”

When Sally wants something that is not an option at the moment—say, going out for ice cream—the first thing I do is explain why it’s not an option. I explain that we had already made other plans, or that we don’t have money in the budget to go for ice cream every day, or that we need to make sure we’re eating a healthy diet and ice cream should be a special treat not something we eat constantly, etc.

Sometimes, however, that’s not enough. Sally doesn’t always understand the concept of staying on a budget (“But mommy, you can just go to the bank and get more money!”—is it just me or does every kid her age come up with this?), and her priorities are different (she may not care that her baby brother needs to sleep, or that I have an assignment to finish). In these cases, I have to put my foot down and say “no” even though Sally may not understand.

When this happens, I try to make sure to give Sally options. If she wants to go for ice cream but that’s not an option, I give her other options: She can have a popsicle or a slice of watermelon. If she wants the children’s museum but that’s not an option I give her other options: we can go to the library or the park. Sometimes this works beautifully, and sometimes Sally responds with “but I don’t want a popsicle or watermelon, I want ice cream!

This isn’t something I only do when I have already told her her first choice is not available—I give Sally options and ask for her input constantly. I give her options for breakfast, let her choose which park we go to, give her a choice of outfits, and involve her in making a weekend or evening plan as a family. Regardless of the context, I like to think that giving Sally voices shows her I value her, gives her some sense of control over her life, and introduces her to the world of decision-making.

I suppose I like to emphasize options as a recourse when I have to tell her “no” because I don’t want her to feel that she has no control over her life, no option but to do whatever I say. But the other morning Sally turned this around on me in a way that made me think. Her two favorite outfits—the blue one and the green one—were both dirty, and I told her she couldn’t wear them. I gave her other options—a full closet of clean options—but it didn’t work. She was upset. She insisted that she didn’t want to wear anything else. Finally, she took a deep breath and turned to me intently.

“Mommy, you have two options. I will wear the blue one, or I will wear the green one. Now choose! Those are your options! What do you pick?”

I had to turn away from her so she wouldn’t think I was laughing at her.

The thing is, what she was offering me was a false choice. She was giving me two options that I’d already said I didn’t want, and not giving me the one option I did want—for her to choose clean clothes. Needless to say, I didn’t take her up on her offer, and a promise to do laundry that day so that she could wear either one the next day resolved the situation. But Sally’s offer—and how it felt to be on the receiving end of this options thing—did give me something to think about.

It’s not like I can change the reality that Sally can’t always have her own way—and it’s not like I would if I could. There are times when, for any of a variety of reasons, I simply have to tell her “no”—and if there were never such times, she might not adjust well to someday finding herself in an adult world where she can’t simply have or do anything she likes (yes, she’ll have a lot more freedom, but there are still limits to that freedom). I try to give her options to give her something she can control, and also to make it clear that I’m taking her needs and wants into consideration too.

But now I have to wonder—how often do the “options” I offer after saying “no” to what she actually wanted feel just as false as choice she presented me? Sometimes it works out great, and Sally gets excited about going to, say, the library instead of the children’s museum. Other times it doesn’t work out so well, and she refuses, say, both the popsicle and the slice of watermelon and goes on demanding ice cream. I definitely plan to go on giving Sally options after saying “no” to something in the future, and I don’t really see an alternative to the reality that these options will sometimes feel like a false choice. I do know, however, that I’ll have a greater level of sympathy for her frustration the next time she balks at the options I offer her.

How about you? How have you dealt with the offering of options and the existence of false choices, either on the receiving end as a child or on the meting out end as a parent or caregiver?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I do something similar to you, but in a different order.

    A nephew asking me to do something he can’t do right then will just get a “I’m sorry, we can’t do that. Here’s why.” No alternatives presented.

    But when I’m offering something in the first place, it will always be one of two options. “It’s breakfast time. Would you like Cornflakes or NutriGrain?” “It’s time to get dressed. Do you want to wear the blue tshirt or the red tshirt?” That way, they know up front exactly what the possibilities are (and aren’t), and still get to make some decisions about their day.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Oh, I do that too. And when it’s an evening or a weekend, we always involve her in creating the plan for what we will do. Maybe I should add that to the post.

  • John Kruger

    I find myself allowing for decisions as much as I can, but not so much in a list or “this or that” kind of way. If something is not an option, I just say why and try to leave it open. For example “we can’t go play outside right now, it is raining. Let’s do something else.” I will offer suggestions, of course, just in an open ended sort of way. “Do you want to do this? How about that?” ect. (though I must admit, he is still young enough that he sometimes has difficulty distinguishing a suggestion from an order). I do reward my son with getting his way when it is in acceptable bounds whenever I can, which hopefully gives him a certain sense of autonomy. He is only 3 right now and language skills are still pretty lacking, but over time hopefully he will learn to operate freely enough within rules to keep him safe and healthy.

  • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com/ Marian

    I do the options thing when I’m offering something, but when I have to say “no” I try to remember to present them as “ideas” rather than options. Such as, no you can’t have ice cream right now, but here are some ideas of things you could do instead. That way she’s not constrained to picking either watermelon or a popsicle… she can simply choose nothing at all if ice cream is what she’s really jonesing for and nothing else will do. I think the reason it feels like a “false choice” is its presented like those are your only options and you HAVE to pick one of them.

    • ako

      I like that idea, including “none” as an option whenever possible. It makes the other two choices feel more like choices, and especially when it’s stuff being done for fun – that way, asking for stuff doesn’t lead to being trapped into options you don’t want. I know that when I can’t get what I want, there’s a big difference between “We can’t do that for you – I have these other two things, if you’re interested” and “We can’t do that for you – these are your two choices, and you must pick one”.

      • AnotherOne

        Yeah, that’s what I usually do. My kids will ask to do/have something, and I’ll say no and tell them the reason, and then say something open-ended like “but, we could do something else fun.” They’ll usually say, “like what?” and I make a suggestion or two. Sometimes they’ll jump on something else I suggest, but more often they whine about wanting the first option, and I simply tell them that we’re not doing that, but if they think of something else, let me know. Often they’ll think of something else, or just go play or do whatever. My oldest is a little more stubborn/tenacious, but she’s getting better with age.

        Also, the “too expensive” thing didn’t make sense to them until around six or seven years of age; we just had to wait it out. Now they know exactly what our monthly budget is for family fun activities, and so when they want to do something like go out for dinner or icecream, or go to a movie, or go to the skating rink, we tell them exactly how much it will cost, and how much will be left of the budget for the rest of the month. The first few months we let them take the lead in deciding what to do with the family fun money, we used it all up the first week. But it sunk in pretty quick that if you go out for dinner and a movie on friday night, and then go bowling on saturday, and then rollerskating on Sunday, then you have to go three or four weeks doing nothing that costs any money.

      • AnotherOne

        Also, as my kids have gotten older, I’ve realized that offering options too much gets us into the trap of my kids thinking it’s my job to come up with an array of options for fun things to do. When they’re too little to come up with stuff themselves that’s fine, but now that they’re old enough to think of things themselves, I’m trying to move away from being their activity coordinator par excellence (and their accompanying sense that they are entitled to having their parents make life fun) to letting them come up with stuff on their own, and facilitating if necessary.

      • Christine

        I remember the story of a mom who told her kids that they needed to go to the store. She was bundling her son into the car seat, and he asks “what’s my other option?” So options are good, but I don’t want to get into the trap of always having them, because sometimes I don’t get a choice, so I can’t pass one on.

      • Kagi Soracia

        The too expensive thing was used so often with us that it started sounding like an excuse, though given my parents had seven kids and my dad’s job wasn’t that great, it was probably true, at least half the time. But I hated it as a kid, because all it meant to me then was that it was another way that I was different and isolated and couldn’t have anything that everyone normal was having. Another way that I was alone and helpless and hopeless.

        I couldn’t distinguish between things we weren’t allowed to have because of my parents religious beliefs, and things we couldn’t have because they could barely afford us. I really, really wish that people who can’t afford to have so many kids, wouldn’t. I love all my siblings, dearly, but my parents had no earthly business having so many children.

      • AnotherOne

        I understand how you feel–my family situation was much the same. Although for whatever reason things being too expensive didn’t bother me all that much, except for a few exceptions. Weirdly, as I look back, I sometimes wonder if my parents ended up subscribing to some religious/fundamentalist beliefs as a way for themselves to feel better about not being able to afford so many things for us. Maybe it’s easier to think of all mainstream middle class clothing as sinful and immodest than it is to come to terms with the fact that you can’t afford to clothe your children in anything but the cheapest thrift store/ handmedown castoffs. And easier to say that you don’t believe in television, or video games, or exposing your kids to the “sin” on display at malls and restaurants and theme parks and other fun public venues than it is to admit that you just don’t have enough money for those things. I don’t feel bitter about my parents’ poverty–given their backgrounds and education levels, they did the best they could. But no, like yours, they had no earthly business having so many kids.

      • Kagi Soracia

        I struggle with bitterness, and try to let it go, but I think the thing that bothers me the most is how unnecessary a lot of it was. If we had just been allowed to go to public school, which I spent years envying the people I knew who did so, even as I was indoctrinated about the many reasons why we could not, all the sin we were being protected from and on and on….but that is the one, single, biggest thing I regret.

        I spent years telling people, and even mostly convinced myself, that it was a good thing I hadn’t gone to public school because I wouldn’t have handled the structuredness of it very well, but the truth is, it would have been good for me. Because I never learned how to study, I just read voraciously, but there comes a time when you have to do the work, and I always skimmed by and made it look like I’d done more than I had, and I was smart, so my mother didn’t pay as much attention to it as some of the others. She let me get away with a lot of things that I really shouldn’t have done, but she didn’t have time or energy to deal with.

        I’m only now really understanding how big the gaps are in some of the things I should have learned, especially science and history, math and life skills. I left home as soon as I possibly could, but I was woefully unprepared for actually living in the world, because I’d been so sheltered I had no damn idea what was out there. I’ve ended up in min wage job after job, working hard without really making anything of myself. I am wanting desperately to go back to school, to college, but terrified that I won’t be able to hack it because I never learned how, and also college costs have skyrocketed in the last 12 years since I was last considering it. :/

        So I don’t resent the poverty, really…I understand it. But I do resent the fact that I was deprived of the tools for getting myself out of it, of the socialisation that would have made not having things matter less, the awareness that there is joy in life and that it doesn’t have to cost much, and the friends I could have made. I still, today, have a total of three friends offline, and one of them I met online – she moved here when we started dating again. Two of the three are just as socially dysfunctional as me – one another homeschooler, the other has Aspergers.

        I’m really grateful for my online friends, because they’ve saved my life and more importantly, my soul; but I didn’t meet any of them until I was nearly 18 already, and I’ve cried bitter tears at times for the things I never had that it wouldn’t have cost my parents anything to give.

      • Christine

        *hugs*. Here’s hoping you get a job with tuition benefits, so you can do something part-time at least.

      • Kagi Soracia

        Well, the other thing I’m dealing with is a lot of health issues, chronic pain and some other things, so I’m pretty limited in what I CAN do at this point. I’ve been unable to work since 2009, because the few things I could do just aren’t available.

        In general, I feel like I missed my window, and I never knew it was there. :(

      • Gemgirl

        You should sign up for writing/publishing classes. I am not from the fundamentalist world but I love Libby Anne’s blog and you are fast becoming one of my favorite posters. You write well. It can be cathartic. You can take these classes in the evenings or whenever at local (cheap) community colleges. Kagi, you have a tremendous amount to say. Writing need not be poetic and flowery…..sometimes, the truth from a new perspective is all people need.

      • Kagi Soracia

        Awww, thank you. I don’t even comment here that much, I’m too shy. :’) I do have a blog where I put such thoughts as I have, though I haven’t been able to update it much recently.

        I’m kind of stuck at the moment because I have no income whatsoever, and zero options. I had to move back in with my parents when one of my medications started causing seizures in 2009, I lost my job and my apartment before they figured out what was going on, and my health has only gotten worse since then. The job market sucks to begin with, and there’s only a handful of things I can even do anymore.

        I am a writer, and have done a lot of fan writing mostly, also my best friend and I have written a bunch of novels together, strictly not for publication because neither of us has any interest in writing up to that standard – we write for fun, and stress relief, and we wouldn’t want to do it as a job.

        What I wanted to get my degree in was linguistics, that is my main field of interest, but I wanted to go to Notre Dame, and they don’t offer it. Not many places do – my second choice was Kansas State, and neither do they. KU does, but at the time I refused to pay money to go to a place I hated (the KU/KState rivalry is pretty huge around here) and I decided I would rather work low wage jobs and study on my own time; that hasn’t worked out too well, for reasons noted above.

        My dad never went to college himself, and doesn’t feel that it’s necessary, so my parents never made it a priority to either make sure we were ready for college or pressure us to go. I picked up enough of his anti-intellectual attitude to think that I didn’t need it either, but now I really wish I had taken what chances I did have back then. Neither one of my parents really knew the difference a good college education can make, or else they actively distrusted it. I took a few classes at the local college, got overwhelmed by both the classes and the tuition since I refused to take out a loan (also my dad, he insisted that loans for any reason that you didn’t have immediate means to pay off in relative short term were not acceptable) and basically scrapped the whole idea. Not quite the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, but it comes close.

        So writing is a thing that I do in my spare time, and I know I do it well, but I’d never ever want to make a living at it, even if I could. Part of that is probably some of the same fears still at work, but in any case at the moment it’s a moot point. I am in the process of switching doctors, because I think a number of the meds I’m on are still causing problems, both cognitively and moodwise, and they’re not really keeping up with my chronic pain levels well enough to justify it. I’m sure there’s a better solution, even though I don’t have insurance and can’t afford what I really need, but my current doctor is unwilling to work with me to find it.

        So…hopefully things may be getting better, soon, but getting my brain to clear up enough to be able to enjoy writing again would help a lot. And if the rest gets better, too, I might be able to get back to work again. Getting some independence back would do wonders for my mental health, which has been pretty shaky over the last year.

      • Gemgirl

        That is cool that you write for yourself. Keep writing….I really think it keeps us sane! My mom worked for 25 years for Rehabilitative Services for the State of Colorado. It is a public agency and people like my mom specialize in finding people work who have certain disabilities….physical, mental or otherwise. It is a public agency. I don’t know if Kansas (or whatever state you are in) has that but they may. They generally work in tandem with psychologists, psychiatrists, schools, etc. She loved her work and succeeded in helping to make people more independent within their individual circumstances. Anyway, might be worth a shot. In the meantime: I’ll keeping watching your posts! :) Good Luck!

      • Jayn

        But I hated it as a kid, because all it meant to me then was that it was
        another way that I was different and isolated and couldn’t have
        anything that everyone normal was having.

        Been there, done that, wasn’t allowed to have the t-shirt. As someone who desperately wanted to fit in, being constantly told ‘no’ for monetary reasons was both frustrating and depressing, especially once I hit the age where brand names became important. And now as an adult, I find I probably spend less on myself than I should, because I always have money in the back of my mind, especially if I know a large expense is on the way (I’ve noticed a real difference between me and DH on this one. We grew up in very different economic strata, and while he’s not irresponsible with money–he’s the one who really manages our finances–he seems more apt to buy himself treats than I am.)

        I don’t think my parents did anything bad in that regard, and I know it probably wasn’t always easy for them to swing the stuff they did get me, but sometimes I really wish I could knock the dollar signs out from behind my eyes.

      • Kagi Soracia

        Yeah, I have this problem too, though in my case it tends to come out in packrat-ness – I’ll be saving empty bottles and jars, saving any old thing on the premise that I might use it someday and won’t have to buy something new, even though half of those old things really ought to be replaced especially if there’s no reason why I should have to make do, but it feels dreadfully wasteful and I can’t convince myself to throw shit out. Then I have to move again and I swear to myself that I will go through and get rid of things, but it never seems to happen.

      • Christine

        My in-laws didn’t have much money when my husband was growing up (they got hit with interest rates jumping several full points between getting approved for a mortgage and it being finalized). His dad was a pastor, and they couldn’t afford for his mom to get a job, so you have an idea of the “no money” level I’m discussing here. They were careful to not say “we can’t afford that”, but would phrase things more along the lines of “that’s not something we want to spend money on now”. I know it sounds really cheesy, but it worked (at least long run). It also helps kids deal better with not actually having the money for something, even if they have the money in their pocket at the time.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      From the other side, for a moment — sometimes you just NEED ice cream (or whatever you’re craving), and you will damn near rip someone limb from limb to get it.

      • Liz

        Oh, that was me this week.

    • http://valuesfromscratch.blogspot.com/ Marian

      Just thought I’d pop back on and share something that happened this afternoon. I was trying to give Olivia some choices and she looked at me and said “Mommy those are NOT good options!” It reminded me so strongly of this post I had to come share.

  • Christine

    My LO is still young enough that I somewhat have to constrain her choices like that. (If for no other reason than the fact that she can’t talk, so figuring out what she wants when pointing won’t work really requires that I make suggestions that she can agree or disagree with.) But, as much as I want to make sure she has choices, I also want to be careful about giving the illusion of choice. (Yes, she can choose what clothes she wears, but the real choice of “wear what she wants, or wear something else” only has one option she can take). I’m just not sure where I want to draw the line, because there’s no ideal middle ground.

  • Composer 99

    Down the road, presumably Sally will be able to take a larger hand in deciding on alternatives when a first choice is infeasible, even if the alternative is ‘nothing’ or ‘stay home’.

    I think that would reduce or eliminate the ‘false choice’ aspect of trying to present options to one’s child, especially if the presenting of options is framed so as to allow – or even expect – her to come up with her own ideas for alternatives.

    • Christine

      I try to work that way. “No, honey, we can’t go outside because it’s too close to bedtime/too wet/etc, but you can play with something else.” THEN I suggest ideas, as examples.

  • WordSpinner

    On the bank thing:

    When I was very young, I didn’t understand that the money my parents got out of the ATM was their money. I thought the machine was giving them free money, and I didn’t understand why poor people didn’t go to the machine. She might not know that the money you get out of the bank is the money you put in it, and that there is only so much.

    Also, I remember my mom telling me that the dress I wanted wasn’t on sale, so we couldn’t get it. I didn’t understand the difference between “on sale” and “for sale”, and I couldn’t figure out why they were showing it if it couldn’t be purchased.

    • ako

      I remember as a kid being aware that my parents didn’t have infinite money, but thinking that the amount they had seemed huge when an allowance was a dollar a week and being able to save up ten dollars for a doll was a real challenge. I was mystified by how they always seemed to have more money than it cost for all of the things I wanted (toys, candy, trips to the swimming pool, etc.), but somehow couldn’t afford to buy all of those things.

      Basically, it’s really hard to grasp the cost of things like mortgages and insurance payments when you’re eight.

      • CarysBirch

        One of my favorite family stories is about insurance payments (no kidding!) My youngest brother was about four or five and he was talking about the sports car he was going to buy when he was all grown up. Suddenly he got a very serious, sober look on his face and asked my dad if you HAD to have insurance to have a car. My dad replied, “yes, you have to have insurance on your car, it’s the law.” My brother burst into tears and wailed “But I’ll NEVER be able to afford insurance!”

        It was one of the cutest things ever. I am happy to report that he now, as a young man actually does own a sports car, and pays for insurance quite nicely.

      • Mogg

        I’m glad he got his sports car. It’s terrible to think that all of our childhood dreams can be destroyed by such mundane things as the necessity of insurance, and nice when it turns out that the dream is achieveable after all :-)

      • Monimonika

        Ahh, the additional associated costs of things beyond the upfront pricing. That burns.
        My younger sister told me a story of how one of her college profs talked about how excited he was to know he could afford to buy a horse (“I can get one for about $2,000!”). Then my sister asked him if he had a stable. The prof then put my sister down on his crusher-of-my-dreams list.

      • Christine

        It’s like the people I hear complaining that they’re paying $50/month for their phone, even though they only want phone & texting, because it’s “too expensive” to just buy the phone outright and get whatever plan you want.

    • Arakasi_99

      A while back, we had to really start economizing because there was a significant chance that I would loose my job. We explained the situation to my son so he understood why we had make the lifestyle changes.

      He responded, “It’s OK, Dad. You can have my money”. He offered us all of his birthday & allowance money. We finally managed to convince him that it would not be necessary, but I’m pretty sure that he put $10 in my wallet

      • Nate Frein

        That’s…adorable.

        I’m not sure I would have been so understanding (or unselfish) at his age.

      • Arakasi_99

        Whenever we have one of those days in which I’d be willing to sacrifice a goat just to get one morning in which he will do what needs to be done to get ready for school without arguing about every little detail; this is one of the memories I think back on and realize “He’s a pretty good kid, all in all”

      • sylvia_rachel

        Awww :)

        When we were buying our current apartment, my daughter, who was then about 4, offered to let us use the money from her bank account as a down payment. She had about $1000 in there (birthday money, etc.), which must have seemed like ALL THE MONEY to her.

    • Conuly

      My uncle thought you went to the store to get money. After all, you hand them one bill and get back lots of bills and coins!

      • Mogg

        Just imagine how confusing it must be for a small child to go to a grocery store with the option of POS cash advances. You can get your groceries and they give you money as well!

      • sunnysidemeg

        My little brother (around 4-5 years old) would get so offended when he didn’t get change back. We tried explaining and he’d seem to get it, then the next time he gave exact change he’d be just a little outraged that they didn’t give anything back. Learning subtraction cleared it up for him.

    • The_L1985

      I remember thinking these things too.

    • David Kopp

      Yup. I make sure I connect my work to money to my 3 and 4 year olds, and that my money comes from my work. I hate dropping them off at daycare, and I tell them that I would love to spend the day with them if I could (and I would). But I have to go to work to make money so we can have the nice things we have and go do the fun things we get to do when we’re not working. And telling them that school/daycare is their job, just like mine, helps. They’re contributing to the family just like I am, and that makes them feel good about it, and we all value our time together that much more.

      • Composer 99

        I am so stealing that “school/daycare is their job” thing.

      • Japooh

        I used the “school is your job, and (my job) is mine” as well. It gives a little perspective when they’re still too young to really understand why adults go to work and makes clear that they have responsibilities outside the home too.

      • Liz

        Daycare is their job… that just warms my heart for some reason, and I’m not even a kid person :-)

      • Jayn

        I am SO tucking this away to use if I wind up sending my kids to daycare someday.

    • Alice

      As a kid, I thought for the longest time that the bright yellow receipt that comes out of the ATM was a slice of cheese. I was obsessed with cheese at that age.

  • luckyducky

    I wouldn’t call it a “false choice” — it is choosing between options that don’t necessarily include your 1st (or 2nd or even 8th choice). A false choice would be “you can’t have ice cream right now but you can some lindberger cheese (or some food that is equally abhorrent to the average preschooler) or a Popsicle.” It is when someone apparently offers 2 (or more) options but only 1 option is realistic/desirable.

    Having to choose between options that aren’t one’s 1st choice but are still reasonably desirable is not always great but it is life. Not learning how to or being made to have to do that regardless of the burden is places on others is called being spoiled. And I don’t throw that around lightly, I don’t like calling children (or adults) spoiled for linguistic reasons (it implied an inherent rottenness which is not the message children should get about a temporary/learned behavior).

    • The_L1985

      Psst–it’s spelled “Limburger.” “Lindberger” cheese presumably flies back and forth across the Atlantic. ;)

      • luckyducky

        Ooops…. I knew that didn’t look right.

      • The_L1985

        It’s not a commonly-written-down cheese variety, so it’s no biggie. I just had hilarious images of a cheese-plane and had to share. :P

  • AAAtheist

    Unfortunately, my parents never gave me the option of different choices for my requests. Whatever they offered or didn’t offer was the way it was and it was just too bad on my end if my needs weren’t considered.

    Libby, you’re doing beautifully on your end. Even though Sally doesn’t yet understand the concept of false choices, she innately seemed to understand the feeling of being presented with other, less palatable (though reasonable) options.

    Your kid is one smart cookie! As she gets older, I think she’s going to be just fine.

    ; – )

    • David Kopp

      Yup. I’ll have my kids help with input for dinner sometimes, but they don’t get a full choice as to what they eat, especially if they want different things. There are some things you get choices for, others you don’t. The biggest thing I can see that helps with ALL of my discussions with my two boys (3 and 4) is letting them know that I take them seriously, their feelings and desires. I will ALWAYS give them a why if I can’t do something, and they are always free to ask why. Sometimes the answer is “We need to do this now, we can talk later about why”, and we do.

      I also think I’m fortunate in that I’m kinda weird to begin with and I have to explicitly “read” people to be able to function in most social situations, and that has helped me tremendously with the kids because I can tell what’s making them upset even if they can’t necessarily communicate it. Mostly because kids live in the moment and don’t hold grudges like confusing adults do ;)

      • Rosa

        Mine gets to (HAS to, actually – it’s part of meal/shopping planning) plan a meal every week, and then help cook it. So it’s pretty clear to him how we balance everyone’s preferences with the fact that sometimes he chose the meal, sometimes I chose the meal, sometimes Daddy chose the meal, and sometimes circumstances dictate the meal within the broad boundaries of everyone being willing to eat it.

        We’ve been doing this since he was barely four, and it was a pain in the ass at first – I don’t always WANT hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls once a week! But we definitely don’t have the short-order cook problem.

  • katiehippie

    I was surprised (and very happy) a couple weeks ago when my son chose not to do something because to him the money spent wasn’t worth the small amount of time he would get to have fun. A carnival was in town, $30 for an armband to ride as much as you want. It closes at midnight and he decided that going at 9 at night wasn’t worth it for 3 hours. He waited to go the next day so he could go for 6 or 7 hours.

    • AnotherOne

      Yes, it’s so gratifying when they start figuring that stuff out! My 8-year-old has started looking for deals on fun stuff. Which is awesome when she sees the poster for the free kids’ movie showing at the library, and not so much when she finds the coupon flyer for BOGOF Hardees biscuits, and decides that a grease bomb before-school breakfast can TOTALLY be worked into the budget. At which point we have to have a talk about how it’s not necessarily just money keeping us from having fast food breakfasts every day. :)

  • Machintelligence

    I am reminded of a story one of my friends told me about speaking with his grown daughter and finding out that she had “really hated” summer camp. When asked why she never said anything, her response was “I never realized it was an option.”

    • The_L1985

      I had that very conversation with Dad before. “I honestly can’t tell how upset you are about things, Dad–everything from spilling a drink to getting in a car accident got the same yelling and insults from you.”

      “I was trying to rile you up. I expected you to yell back and let all the anger out, and then it would be over.”

      My schools taught me that “backtalk” was very wrong and not allowed. So I hadn’t even considered yelling back at Dad to be an option! When I told him so, and that I’d ended up internalizing the things he’d said to me, it totally floored him.

      I’m glad we had that conversation–a lot of things that made both of us very angry now make a lot more sense. I still don’t think Dad was right, but at least now I know the reasons for what he did!

  • Olive Markus

    So, this isn’t fully on topic, but your posts about raising your daughter were the first peak I’ve had into the world of non-authoritarian parenting (is that the right way to put it?). I have two nephews that I love dearly and who are not truly valued. They are mainly treated as annoyances and ignored until they act up. They have a lot of behavioral problems, but it is now so incredibly obvious to me why. Since their parents are now having marital problems, my entire family is going back and forth to help take care of these kids (I already have family living near them helping, too). I’ve talked to them about your approaches, and they work WONDERS (not to the parents, they get angry at me). They work particularly with the oldest boy, who is so smart, and simply wants to be validated. He wants his existence validated, his intelligence validated, his wishes validated, and his parents simply don’t do that. Doing exactly what you’ve described today usually works, particularly if you get his input during negotiation. It doesn’t work perfectly, as the entire idea of conversation is new to them, but it is an amazing start.

    Anyway, simply, Thanks for giving me these insights :).

  • Sophie

    Slightly off topic but I love it when little kids start using the phrases their parents use. I think sometimes it can be very helpful to have your words repeated back to you, it can make you think more about what you say. I know a lot of parents who use the same phrases again and again until it’s almost their catchphrase.

    When my little brothers were Sally’s age, the phrases they mimicked were: “If I’ve told you once…” followed by a hard exhalation, “You are not listening to me!”, “I am not going to repeat myself” (the irony of that one!) and they would also count to three when they wanted us to do something that we weren’t doing. Hearing those phrases out of the mouths of 4/5 years olds made me think more carefully about what I said to them because to them those phrases had almost become meaningless because they were said so often.

    • victoria

      I remember when my daughter was about 2 and in the midst of potty training. For awhile whenever I went to the bathroom she’d clap when I came out and say, “Mommy! You went to the bathroom all by yourself! I’m VERY proud of you!”

      It was probably more of a self-esteem boost than it should’ve been, but when they’re that age you take what you can get.

      • Sophie

        That is awesome! That’s going to be a great story to tell her when she’s older!

  • Joykins

    Options are great if they’re given in the right context. Eventually you can hit the option of “obey now, or obey later with (noncorporal) punishment” options. Because really, are you going to give him the OPTION of continuing to hit his sister?

  • TLC

    My son is now 18 and head off to college in 11 days. (AAACK!) He has always been an extremely intelligent child — he started to read when he turned 4, and was reading at a 4th-grade level when he started kindergarten. So I have had to do some SERIOUS thinking on my feet over the years to offer options and respond to his questions.

    His dad and I divorced when he was 3. Dad was a labor union negotiator, and I swear this kid used lay awake night and listen to his Dad while he was on the phone working. He used to negotiate bedtime right down to the minute!

    In 2008 I was laid off twice in a seven-month period, and decided to start working at home as a freelancer. My five-year anniversary is coming up on Aug. 21. I have been honest, as is appropriate, about spending issues and when there isn’t a choice, because sometimes I get really stressed when funds are tight. I also told my son right away when his dad filed a child support lawsuit a couple of years ago, because of the stress on me and the fact that I had to hire a lawyer severely diminished our available funds.

    I am very blessed to have my son’s support in doing this business. Three years ago, I was offered a full-time job, and he told me not to take it. When I asked him why, he said, “Because you’re so much happier doing this!” When I told him that funds were tight and it might get worse, he assured me he could handle it. He then FORBADE me from working full-time for anyone else ever again.

    Libbey Anne, you are doing a very good thing by giving your kids limited choices and listening to their responses. They need to learn that they can’t always get their way. And they need to know that sometimes they have to make the best of what’s in front of them. You already know that you need to keep adjusting as they grow older.

    The other thing you need to do is let them learn from their mistakes. A couple of years ago, my son made a very negative sign to take with him to watch his high school play in the state girls basketball tournament. I suggested that it wasn’t the best thing to do and he should leave it at home, but he made the choice to take it. The first time he held it up, an assistant principal came over immediately and took it away. He learned so much more from that than if I had simply forced him to leave the sign at home!

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Oh, I wish my parents had had that bit of wisdom. A lot of the times, the “options” were “do what you’re told” or “go to your room”.

    …any guesses on where I spent a lot of time?

    • Kagi Soracia

      This. This was me. I was a stubborn, smart, angry kid and I knew there were things that weren’t right about how we were raised, so I fought back more than some of the others did. I got a lot of spankings too.

  • Heather Scholl

    I give my 10 year old daughter choices like what outfit to wear or which ice-cream shop to go to or whether to go to a movie or do something else like go to a park. If she wants to do something when it just can’t be an option: sometimes I give her other options or sometimes just say no and tell her she can find something else to do or eat. Also, I don’t ALWAYS give her options on everything. Sometimes the parent needs to just be in charge. She needs to understand that her ideas count much of the time but sometimes her daddy and I need to plan the day because we are parents and that is what parents do.
    I wanted to mention this, however…..even if it may be a bit off topic. I didn’t start out with this in mind but I have realized I practice what I call “benchmark” parenting. I let her reach an new age/maturity benchmark and then I give her a “rite of passage” choice. For instance, she has wanted new decor in her bathroom since she was 8. Because her bathroom doubles as the guest bath, I was insistent that we couldn’t do it until we could agree on a theme together. Just near her 10th birthday, she began suddenly taking showers instead of baths and no longer cared about playing in the tub. She is taking a new interest in her appearance as well so I decided to “celebrate” this new benchmark with finally redecorating her bathroom. She loved that I “remembered” her for this moment and was ecstatic.
    This “rite of passage” thing really seems to work for us. She gets a few smaller choices in her daily life that make her feel involved in the family decisions and once in awhile (when she reaches a new developmental stage or level of maturity) she gets to make some real important decisions about something she really cares about that effects her in a personal way. I never tie these special things to a birthday or Christmas because I want her to remember them specifically as “her benchmark moments”. I think my mom sort of did this for me as a kid and I appreciate that even being a busy single mom….she noticed my changes and took time to celebrate them.

  • Rilian Sharp

    You say she shouldn’t always get what she wants, even if it’s possible, so that shell get used to not always getting what she wants. I say wait until there’s actually a time when what she wants is impossible. Don’t manufacture chances to deny her. If you do that, it’s like those people who say getting beat up is good because it gets you used to being beaten up. Even if it’s inevitable, you should still put it off as long as possible.

    • Sophie

      I can’t imagine that any loving parent would ‘manufacture’ situations to deliberately upset their children. Also learning that you can’t always get your way and that what you want isn’t always going to be anyone’s first priority is an important developmental step and it is much better for children to learn it earlier. I’m not talking about teaching them that like the Pearls would *shudder* but in the same way that Libby and other parents have described here.

      • Rilian Sharp

        If I could give my kid everything they wanted without hurting anyone else, and without violating anyone’s rights, I would. How could a loving person say otherwise?

      • CarysBirch

        My parents wanted me to concentrate on schoolwork and thus they never made me pay for anything I needed or wanted with my own money until I was finished with school. College.

        They could give me what I needed/wanted, they didn’t hurt anyone else, and nobody’s rights were violated, but I went into the world with NO sense of how to manage money or work for what I wanted, and I promptly destroyed my credit. I’ve been struggling financially all my adult life trying to dig out of the hole I dug myself.

        Was that entirely their fault? No. I definitely bear responsibility for my choices. At the time I thought it was awesome that all my friends had to work for stuff and I didn’t. However, looking back, I wish they had done it differently, and would definitely see it as loving, if they’d made me work for something once in a while.

      • Guest

        My parents did the same and I’ve never had a problem managing money.

      • Composer 99

        Rillian:
        I’m a big softie when it comes to my son, so I strongly empathize with your stated position.

        However, I must agree with the sentiments expressed by CarysBirch: such a parenting strategy would likely lead to problems when children grow up and are in a position to make their own way in the world, or should anything happen (viz. death or disability) to the parents implementing such a strategy while their children are young.

        Part of the package deal of having children is getting them ready to become adults.

      • Jayn

        Because it’s not necessarily good for them to get everything they want. Maybe there’s a trade off that they’re unable to appreciate, particularly if it isn’t immediately obvious (junk food is a good example). Maybe there’s other things that are more important, and you can’t do both. Maybe what they want conflicts with what someone else wants, so someone has to ‘lose’. It’s bad when parents never listen to their kids’ input, but the opposite extreme isn’t good either, for any number of reasons. Part of it is, yeah, getting them used to it, but the reasons that adults can’t always have what they want also apply to children.

      • AnotherOne

        Because my kids want shit like s’mores for breakfast, and passing toy fads that cost a ton of money and are quickly tossed by the wayside.

        Because people like my cousin got literally every material thing she wanted because her parents could afford it and never said no, and now she is a very not nice, very greedy person who thinks it’s so terribly unfair that her credit cards are maxed out and her credit in the toilet because she had to buy every thing that she gets it into her head that she wants.

      • Rosa

        I think the occasional fad toy is an important learning tool – as long as the kid has to make the choice (mine gets to with birthday & Christmas money) so they actually get to learn from it. Nobody learns from someone else wasting money.

      • AnotherOne

        I agree, and I do let them buy whatever they want with their own money, and they’ve learned a few hard lessons about using up all their money on something that broke easily, or that turned out not to be nearly as cool or interesting as they thought. Which is always sad to see. :( But a valuable lesson, nonetheless.

      • Sophie

        Letting your child get what they want all the time hurts THEM. Spoiled children usually grow up to be not terribly functional adults. Never mind the cavities and bad health they are going to have from all the junk food they were allowed to eat. They may grow up with no impulse control and no idea how to manage money. They could have massive problems socialising because no one wants to hang out with someone who has to get their own way all the time. Stamping your foot and pouting is only cute when you are three and even then it gets tiresome. And yes what I am describing is a worse case scenario but other people have commented saying that they know people like this.

        No one here is suggesting that we should say no to our kids for the hell of it. And your analogy about letting them get beat up is just stupid (and before you jump on this, I’m saying the analogy is stupid not you). Being a good loving parent sometimes means doing things your children will not like because in the long run it’ll be better for them. Not letting them have every toy they want will teach them the value of money and how to budget, not letting them eat chocolate for breakfast will teach them how to have a healthy balanced diet. Not letting them hit you or other children (and believe me I have met parents that do not enforce this one) will teach them that they can’t hurt people without consequences. Not letting them quit things when they get a little hard helps them learn perseverance which is an important one because life is hard sometimes (but of course a good parent will support them and also knows when to say yes you can quit that activity you hate/aren’t good at).

        Raising a child is about helping them become the best human being they can be, and sometimes that means saying no. But it also means saying yes a lot, it’s about compromise not all or nothing either way.

    • Rilian Sharp

      Person who voted down: You’re in favor of people being beaten up? You’re in favor of people not getting what they want just for its own sake?

      • Nancy Shrew

        No, we just think it’s a shitty analogy.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Right, then — I’ll be down your way in a tick, I expect you to have your valuables all packed up and ready for me to take. After all, I want it, why shouldn’t I just take it?

        (Don’t bother criticizing me, it’s his logic! And I have enough respect for people and their personal property that I wouldn’t actually do that.)

      • Christine

        Um, where did Libby Anne manufacture a choice for Sally? And as others have said, your analogy is foolish.

      • ako

        Can you make a single argument without accusing people who disagree with you of wanting to beat children?

    • AnotherOne

      Good Lord. I’m not “manufacturing chances to deny” my children things that they want. I’m helping them learn valuable life lessons like hey, it’s not actually good to eat twinkies for dinner every night.

      • Conuly

        Don’t feed the troll.

      • AnotherOne

        Yeah, you’re right.

      • http://Thechurchproject.me/ Tracey

        I’m not seeing this as troll-like.

      • Conuly

        You don’t know Rilian.

      • Sophie

        You don’t think him saying that people who downvoted him are in favour of beating children up is troll-like? Or even just the original analogy of saying that because we think children shouldn’t get their own way 100% of the time that we think children should get beaten up early in order to get used to being beaten up could be trolling?

        As Conuly said, you don’t know Rilian. He turns up on a lot of posts and says outrageous things just to get a reaction.

      • http://Thechurchproject.me/ Tracey

        Well I’m trying to differentiate between a person and their statements because no, I don’t know Rilian. The original statement seemed to make a decent point about whether tell kids no just to teach them no exists. I imagine no does come often enough as a reality that we shouldn’t force it if we don’t have to- safety and health concerns taken into account of course.
        The remark about getting beaten up seemed to me like playing devil’s advocate, perhaps a bit strongly. And Rilian did not in fact specify *children* getting beaten up. That I read as Fight Club esque- everyone should experience getting beaten up type argument. And I can see the parallel.
        I think the question remains: should we give negative examples to kids (or anyone) just to show that they exist

      • Sophie

        To be honest I would define a troll by their statements, after you all you only know someone is trolling based on what they say.

        My mistake on children versus people, I misread that probably because in the past Rillian has equated being in favour of public education with being in favour of physically abusing children. But Rillian’s analogy still doesn’t work because no one suggested that we should tell children no for the sake of it.

      • http://Thechurchproject.me/ Tracey

        ‘No one suggested we should tell children no for the sake of it.’
        Fair point. I figured there was something in the original article construed that way. On rereading, yeah I don’t know what Rilian is referring to.

  • Monimonika

    I have been offering choices to my younger sister ever since she was little (she graduated college now). But not positive choices. The choices have been whether she does the dishes, or folds the laundry, or mows the lawn, etc. and leave me to do whatever she didn’t choose. No option for “None of the above.”

    Works to include detailed caveats about the scope of each option (“Don’t need to wash the frying pans, but must clear out the dish-rack.”) so she can weigh which is less tedious to do. Of course, I did use truthful-but-misleading caveats to manipulate her into choosing whatever I didn’t want to do. >:-P

  • Kagi Soracia

    I was never given options at all, of any kind, so I appreciate the idea of giving any at all, even if they might be frustrating sometimes. Even the illusion of choice would have meant a great deal to me at times.


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