Before the baby is born you wonder if you've chosen the right doctor. And then you wonder if you should get vaccines (you should), and which ones, and when. And when to start solids, and which sleeping-through-the-night method to try. And which organic foods are worth the money. And then you wonder if you're sending them to school at the right time and for the right number of days. And then you wonder if you should hold them back before starting kindergarten. And which school you should send them to. And then you wonder if you should start an instrument, and which one, and when. And you wonder which soccer league is really the best for your child. And then you wonder if the friends your child has chosen are okay, and what you should do about it if they aren't. And then you have to help them make the decision about which college to attend. Sometimes it seems like parenting is one long string of decisions, and they seem to get harder and harder.
Every time I face one of these decisions, it seems like I have to remind myself of how to go about this decision-making process. So in the interests of reminding myself and maybe helping someone else along the way, here is part one of a two-part series on how to make these tough parenting decisions. Here is how not to make decisions.
1) Do not make your decisions out of fear. One of the most common commands in the Bible is "do not fear." As believers, we know that God is always with us, working all things for our good. So there's really no reason to fear. One area I often see fear as a decision motivator is in the choice of schooling. I think there are a lot of good reasons to homeschool, but sometimes I run across people who are homeschooling because they are afraid of the big bad public schools or afraid their child won't be able to function in that setting (without giving them the chance to try it). Sometimes we also make decisions because we're afraid about the money involved. It's important to be prudent, of course, but we also need to trust God to provide if we think we're supposed to do something.
2) We shouldn't make a decision for our kids because of our own reputation or needs. If I for some reason decide I need to have my child quit soccer in the middle of the season and it makes me look bad or irresponsible or harsh, so be it. My needs should not come before my child's needs.
3) We should not decide things for our children based on our preferences or as a way to fix our own past. If you always wished you could have a picture with Santa Claus but your 3-year-old is terrified of him, don't make the poor child sit on Santa's lap. If you really hate listening to beginner violin but your child is dying to try it out and gentle persuasion methods aren't working, get over your own preferences.
4) Decisions shouldn't be based on habit. So you've had all your children start piano lessons at age 4. If your fifth child has other issues that make it seem like that's not a good call, break the tradition. Or if your child has always played baseball but suddenly hates it, don't make them keep playing just because you're always the coach and that's the sport you like.
5) Here's the hard one: don't decide things based on what so-and-so is doing. Maybe their kids are very spiritually advanced and they keep them in "big church" every week. That doesn't mean you need to do the same thing--your kids may be better off in Sunday school. Or maybe your first child had always done sports, but child number two isn't interested in or good at sports. Let them pick their own activity. Or maybe you talk to the parents of your kids' friends and realize they have their kids in sports and music and art classes. Don't let that make you feel like you better do all those to keep up or foster the friendship even though your schedule is already overloaded. Make your decisions based on your child and your family.
6) And finally, don't make your decisions based on emotion and stress. Give yourself time to think things out and pray. And above all, don't worry about every decision as if it's a life-or-death thing for your children. Parents can do everything right and end up with troubled children, and parents can do a lot of things wrong and end up with amazing children. In the end, it isn't up to us. God has a plan for each child, and our job is to try to work with what he's doing and pray that our children will do the same. Sometimes we'll get it right, and sometimes we'll get it wrong, but we mustn't let these decisions freak us out along the way. Sometimes our kids will do the right thing and sometimes they won't, but we can't make those decisions for them.
Up tomorrow (or maybe Thursday): How TO make these decisions.