“Have you finished your homework yet?”
Those dreaded words are every school aged kid’s nightmare, the defining line in the sand between where the fun stops and the drudgery begins. We all have memories like this, of the moment when the ball in our hands is forced to drop, the bikes we are riding gets turned back around for home, or the fantastic game of make-believe gets shattered mid-scene until only the backdrop of the real world remains. It is the Siren’s call of fun, outshouted by our parents’ voice of reason. And (generally) it works like a charm.
It is easy to lament these unwanted interruptions. Childhood, after all, is peppered with moments when a parent flexes their authority, pulling their unfair advantage to ruin a moment of especial joy with no other explanation than, “because I said so.” With this one blanket phrase bedtimes were enforced – no matter how critical a point you might have reached in a video game – vegetables were eaten, friends were not allowed over until your room was spic and span.
Authority may have given our younger selves a terrible temper (or even a rebellious streak), but looking back on it now with the hindsight that’s 20/20, it is clear we did not even know how good we had it. Our parents made our key decisions for us, and we have them to thank for growing up with our teeth intact, our homework complete, and our friends not sinking us into the deep end.
So when did the dynamic shift? Who can really say, but even the most die-hard mama’s boys gets the reigns of responsibility transferred over to them at some stage. Suddenly a threshold is crossed, and the baby birds get tossed unceremoniously out of the nest. You wake up one day to find that the zoning laws have changed, you are no longer under your parents’ jurisdiction. The person responsible for you now, is you. Whatever you want to do, with no one to watch over your shoulder prompting you directions all along the way, no one to push you back from the edges should you walk a little too close, in fact there’s not even a warning sign telling you when there’s danger. This is complete freedom. This is the stuff of childhood dreams and young adult’s “adulting” nightmares.
As it turns out, it’s not that easy being the boss of myself. Sure, I get to sit in the corner office, holding all the keys, but I’m surrounded by the control panel, overwhelmed by buttons and their constant flashing. Each one of them is demanding that I make a decision, decisions, all right now, this instant! And there are so many types: big, small, important, insignificant, all rolled into one long reel of choices until I can no longer distinguish one from another. Do I go to the gym, or go out and eat? Do I date guy A or guy B? Take this job, or leave for another? What about Netflix? What about money? It doesn’t take a genius to learn that the world is big and demanding, but it is now up to me to navigate my way through its varied maze safely.
Looking back, how did my parents manage to do this for so many years? How did they make it look so easy? It is no simple feat, having to make the hard decisions so that their children didn’t have to, and it is no small blessing to have parents who are willing to shelter you in such a manner. Who else could make ‘delaying gratification for long term benefit’ decisions with such ease? Homework first, play after, no ifs, ands, or buts.
How many practicing adults nowadays can, with the same confidence, say they make those same kinds of decisions for themselves? Rather, how often do our mature and grown-up selves tend to choose the ‘Fun’ thing over the ‘Important’ one, letting the latter sit and wilt instead in our neglected To Do list? Why can’t we make decisions for ourselves as good as our parents did?
I don’t suggest that turning back the clock and slipping into a simpler time is the way to go. Once you taste the alluring fruit of freedom there really is no going back, no matter how much you may sometimes wish for there to be a reassuring voice in your ear, telling you with unmasked exasperation to put down the remote and finish your homework first (or tax returns, or insurance filings).
The voice is still there, it is just no longer external. The lessons from your parents stay with you, in you, passing the torch of responsibility off to light the fire of independence within. You know that voice, you’ve heard that voice before; it speaks up whenever you act out against your best interests. At the end of the day, the person best equipped to make the right decisions for you, is still you. It may be that it is no longer a given but a skill, one that must be carefully cultivated and constantly renewed.
How do you make good decisions for yourself? By making a habit of making good decisions, by practicing doing the right thing even when your pleasure addicted brain revolts and mutinies. When that happens (as it likely will), remember, nobody ever died because their playtime was cut short, and you might actually even feel better about yourself after your homework / chores / responsibilities are finished on time.
Sometimes, when I am caught up in the throes of a bad bout of indecision, I reflect on myself waffling and wonder, who decided I was ready to do this anyway? The older we get, the more the world seems to blend out from its old black and white days into multiplying shades of grey, and all along its gradients are pitfalls of choice demanding that we pick where we stand. At times I feel confident, at others I’m a mess. But nobody said this decision making thing had to be all or nothing. For better or for worse we are going to be going at it for the rest of our lives. It is a skill like any other, and like any skill the more we practice the better we get. Practice choosing the better things, even if that means the harder things, and forgive yourself when you slip up, as you eventually will. Just give it your best, that’s all you can ask for, and I have an inkling we will make our long-suffering parents quite proud yet.
Author’s Note: Back from vacation, it was great! Thanks for asking 😉 Hope you enjoy this week’s article, if you didn’t please air your grievances in the handy comment area down below. Otherwise, Share, Like, Subscribe, and I will see you back here next week!