The holidays always pull me in opposite directions. There’s a tension between wanting to provide a magical experience for my kids and wanting to focus on all the beautiful themes that give it meaning, which are often in direct contrast. We try to do a lot of things for other people during the advent, in the hope that we’ll be reminded that giving is more important than receiving. The urge to make everything perfect or to get sucked into the vortex of too much (gifts under the tree/glasses of wine/cheese platters/money spent/insert your poison) is not good for my physical and emotional health and teaches the wrong lessons about what makes the holiday special.
The older I get, and the older my kids get, the more these dichotomies seem to appear. I want to encourage my kids to try hard and set my expectations for them high. Then I see the pressure that they’re under and the degree to which they internalize it, and I back off. I give them space to figure things out on their own, then grow impatient when their timeline takes too long. I want them to express their individuality, just not in those pants, thank you very much.
Right now my middle schooler is fixated on having more freedom. Since in five short years (god willing), he’ll be graduating high school, this seems like a good time to start giving it to him. But as the bumper stickers say, freedom’s not free. The compromise we’ve struck is that the more responsible he is, the more freedom he has. If you want the power to choose when you go to bed or how long you spend in front of a screen, you need to demonstrate that you are balancing the things you want to do with those you have to do.
I think kids sometimes have the perception that as adults, we get to do what we want all the time. And I understand because I have a hell of a lot more autonomy than any of my kids and they see that. And certainly, no one else in our house is the boss of me. What they fail to see is the dichotomy that everyone else in our house is also the boss of me. If a kid or a dog gets sick, my day is shelved. If my husband has to leave town for work, I am pulling double duty.
Responsibility is like that. It buys you the freedom to stay up late watching Hallmark movies because no one can send you to bed. You can choose the menu for the week while everyone else has to eat what is put in front of them. But that alarm clock comes brutally early, no matter how good the movie is. And I get to pick what we eat, but I also have to shop for it, pay for it, put it away, and cook it. It’s like Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility.
What I’ve figured out this year is that the balance between have to and want to, between freedom and responsibility, starts with trust. I earned the right to be responsible for my precious, messy, ridiculous family because I showed up every day ready to do the work required to take care of them. Now my kids get the chance to step up and do more for themselves, and as they do that, I will step back. It’s not easy to do, and I know mistakes will happen. Responsibility is a gift to my kids because it means I have to trust and let go, having faith that things will be OK because my kids have good sense and kind hearts.
This post is sponsored by Responsibility.org as part of their Ask, Listen, Learn. campaign, encouraging families to talk early, talk often, and be healthy. All the opinions are my own because no one is the boss of me. I’m very proud to be part of their team this year.