One of the toughest aspects of parenting for me is making decisions. All day every day there are decisions to be made. A million decisions. Thankfully, a lot of them are easy to make. Deciding what my son should eat or wear happen without much thought. But so many parenting decisions feel like they carry a lot of weight and they don’t have a clear right or wrong answer.
For instance, next year we will be thinking about kindergarten and there are so many questions and decisions we will have to make surrounding this one milestone- is this school better than this one, should we move to a better school district, should we consider a private school, could we home school, is this school diverse enough, what is the special ed program like…yada yada yada? And the answers to these questions are murky at best. I know early education is super important so it feels like this decision could have a big impact, right? I could do a traditional pro’s and con’s list, but sometimes that isn’t helpful at all.
Lately I’ve been reading a lot from Liz Gilbert and Brene Brown and other amazingly smart and wonderful women. Liz Gilbert recently started a podcast called “Magic Lessons” and in one of the episodes she is talking with another creative about the decision to pursue a particular project or let it go. The whole time I was listening I found myself thinking- this technique doesn’t have to stay in the boundaries of creativity, it can be used for so many other decisions too. So I got creative (terrible pun 100% intended) and started using it in my own world and now I’m going to share it with you.
Here’s the concept (a slight deviation from Gilbert’s original concept)- when faced with a decision where there isn’t a clear right or wrong answer, perhaps you should examine your fear. What makes you fearful about committing to a choice? When you start to examine fear you may end up with a better understanding of what is driving you and you may be able to address that fear and feel confident about the path you end up taking. It’s all about putting fear in its place.
Let me break this down for you using a real life example. Last year, just before our son turned 4, we were faced with a different decision about early education. We had 3 reasonable options- leave our son in daycare, send him to a public preschool and work with the special education department, or enroll him in a special therapeutic preschool. Remember- our son has autism (amongst other diagnoses). I agonized over this decision. Agonized. There was no clear right answer to me- every option had a long list of pros and a long list of cons. One day I was super confident and then next I was worried that I was making a huge mistake. I was leaning towards the therapeutic preschool, but I just couldn’t seem to commit. Finally I asked myself- what are you afraid of?
I was afraid of the financial burden of the therapeutic preschool and how that would impact our family. I was scared of him only being around other kids with autism, fearful that it might stunt him in some way. I was scared of change- we were at a daycare we really liked and he was doing well there. When I laid those fears out, I was able to address them. I talked to my husband about the financial burden and we knew and committed to each other that we would do whatever it took to provide for our family understanding that this expense was so worth it. I talked to other parents of kids in the program and they assured me of their incredible experience and reminded me that our son would be with neurotypical kids in other areas of his life. I was able to recognize that sometimes change is inevitable and it is not always bad. Once those fears had been tackled, I could make a decision I felt good about.
It’s important in this process to recognize that fear is not always a bad thing. As Gilbert points out, fear has kept all of us alive. Fear keeps us from driving recklessly or going on a date with a creep. The key is to keep fear in its place. Gilbert puts it this way- imagine you’re going on a road trip…fear can ride in the car, but it’s going to sit in the backseat. And it can’t touch the radio or the map or decide where we are stopping for lunch.
Being fearful in the context of the many many many parenting decisions we make every day is alright. It’s probably healthy to have some fear about the way your decisions will impact your child’s life. But allowing fear to make your decisions or keep you from doing what’s best for your child- not okay. Confront fear, put it in the backseat, and trust your mommy gut (and if you are anything like me, the hours and hours of research you’ve also done). We’re all going to make it to our destination just fine.