Of Parenting, Free Will and Poor Choices

One of the hardest things about being a parent is letting your kids make their own mistakes. rain bootsIt’s not too bad when they’re toddlers and they want to wear their rain boots to the grocery store on a hot, sunny day. There’s a natural consequence there. They’ll get hot, sweaty (and stinky) feet. They’ll learn the hard way that this isn’t a good idea.

Once your kids are older teenagers and young adults, the mistakes they make go beyond the fashion faux pas of the terrible twos. They still have to learn the hard way, and it’s a lot harder on the parents.

We’ve hit one of those “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” situations as parents, and the helplessness I feel is a lot greater than what I felt when those same children, as two-year-olds, suddenly and inexplicably refused to eat the grilled-cheese sandwiches they’d demanded for lunch every day for the past three weeks.

Now, it’s not that my kids have never screwed up before, but usually you find out about it after the fact. At that point it’s all about picking up the pieces, in whatever form that takes, and helping them navigate the natural consequences of their actions.

This time I watched it happen and there was nothing I could do to stop it (despite many ahead-of-time parental warnings, which did happen–and which were ignored.)

I can take them to Mass every Sunday for their entire lives, making sure to work around sports schedules and theater schedules and birthday parties and all kinds of other things, but I cannot make them want to go. I cannot force them to make the right choice and to go to church before they go to the beach.

They have the gift of free will, and they used it. They chose poorly. And that makes me sad. It makes me feel that what I’ve been trying to instill in them for the past 17 or 21 years has been rejected.

Did I, as a parent, a Catholic, a Franciscan, do enough? To what extent do I take the blame for my Big Kids’ poor choice?