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Why it’s important to give kids a choice

Fifty years ago, psychologists said that you must love your kids, unconditionally. Today, some say you should withhold affection until kids do what you want (New York Times article  When a Parent’s ‘I love you’ means ‘Do as I say’ )

Praise for the good? Punishments for the bad? Withdrawal of your love when they choose incorrectly? Timeouts?

The upshot of these studies: None of the methods worked in the way intended.
Yes, kids will do what you want when you praise them, or when you withdraw your love during bad choices, but they end up disliking you–the parent. (After all, they aren’t Pavlov’s dog.)
Why? Because they really did not have a choice.
They knew that they were being controlled.
Adam and Eve had a choice in the garden. And even though God knew what they would do, he gave them the choice, because they had to know that their actions were of their own free will.

For I knew you would sin and transgress, and come out into this land. Yet I wouldn’t force you, nor be heard over you, nor shut up; nor doom you through your fall; nor through your coming out from light into darkness; (Lost Books of Adam and Eve, Ch 8:13)

Why did he give them a mixed message? Don’t eat of the tree of good and evil, but multiply and replenish the earth? If God had not warned them of the choice in eating of the tree, the consequences being as grievous as they were–it would have caused them to hate God for not warning them. In this way, they were warned, but they chose. They were in control.

 And I told you not to eat of the fruit thereof, nor to taste of it, nor yet to sit under it, nor to yield to it. Had I not been and spoken to you, O Adam, concerning the tree, and had I left you without a commandment, and you had sinned — it would have been an offence on My part, for not having given you any order; you would turn around and blame Me for it. (Ibid., verse 17-18)

Neal Maxwell points out that

“It is contrary to God’s character to dictate to us. Hence some will be lost because of their misuse of moral agency and their lack of faith. Were it otherwise, genuine happiness and growth could not occur.” (Lord Increase Our Faith)

And he shares this story:

Scientist Alan Hayward wrote of an illustrative experience.

Suppose for a moment that God made His presence felt all the time—that every action of ours, good or bad, brought an immediate response from Him in the form of reward or punishment. What sort of a world would this be then?

It would resemble, on a grander scale, the dining room of a hotel where I once stayed for a few days. The European owner evidently did not trust his waiters. He would sit on a raised platform at one end of the room, constantly watching every movement. Goods that might possibly be pilfered, such as tea bags, sugar knobs and even pats of butter or margarine, were doled out by him in quantities just sufficient for the needs of the moment. He would scrutinize every bill like Sherlock Holmes looking for signs of foul play.

The results of all this supervision were painfully obvious. I have stayed in many hotels around the world but never have I met such an unpleasant bunch of waiters as in that hotel. Their master’s total lack of trust in them had warped their personalities. As long as he was watching they acted discreetly, but the moment they thought his guard was down they would seize the opportunity to misbehave.

In much the same way, it would ruin our own characters if God’s presence were as obvious as that of the [hotel owner]. This would then be a world without trust, without faith, without unselfishness, without love—a world where everybody obeyed God because it paid them to do so. Horrors!

As an adult I understand this, as a mother it is difficult.  Sometimes in my child-rearing I have wanted to be more like Lucifer and just make sure my kids made the right choices, but I know I cannot.  I know it does not work.
In the long run, we only find happiness when we choose the right for ourselves.
How we help our kids choose the right is another story.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in setting limits, and following through with consequences, but I also see the need for kids to learn that they have choices and with those choices come consequences.
But when we are in charge, be it at home, or at work, or at church–it would be good to remember the consequences of counting pats of butter.