When I found out I was pregnant and envisioned parenthood and all that it would embody, I foresaw a future of endless decision making. After all, I would be in charge of another human being, which (to me) meant that I would be responsible for making all of the choices. I would have to decide what my son couldn't decide, what he wasn't old enough to decide, and what he should decide, but wouldn't want to decide at the time.
Little did I know that while motherhood does mean that I'm swimming in a sometimes unforgiving sea of important decisions, it also means having the foresight, strength and discipline to step back and let my son make decisions, too. In fact, I make far fewer decisions for my son than I previously thought I would, when he was just a kicking, hiccuping summer squash inside my growing stomach.
It's important to me, and many other parents, that I teach my son about consent and body-positivity and the importance of self-love. I want my son to establish a sense of self, and that means (more often than not) stepping back and letting my son have the final say in specific instances. Of course, I am still the authority figure and I still establish boundaries that I expect my son to adhere to; but I also give my son the room to make his own choices, so that he can better understand himself and the importance of complete body ownership.
Which is why during these 11 moments, you should let your toddler make the final decision. This doesn't mean losing all control and no longer parenting your kid, it just means that you love and respect them enough to give them the opportunity to grow into a happy, healthy adult.
When To Hug/Kiss Someone
Giving your kid the ability to decide who they touch and when (including you) teaches your toddler about consent and complete body ownership. Your toddler refusing to kiss Grandma goodbye or hug mom after a particular long and trying day isn't disrespect, it's your child learning that they are the only individual who should have control over their body. Sometimes, we just don't want to be touched; it's that simple. So, forcing your kid to hug or kiss someone when they don't want to/don't feel comfortable is setting a dangerous precedent that could potentially harm them in the future.
Who Gets To Hold Them
Which is why you shouldn't force your kid to be held by someone they clearly don't want to hold them. Establishing a sense of trust between yourself and your toddler is paramount for a multitude of reasons (i.e. safety, happy living, healthy development, emotional wellbeing, etc), and learning to listen when they're trying to communicate their likes, dislikes and what makes them uncomfortable or scared, is the first step in building that trust.
How Much/What They Eat
We all want our kids to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and obviously we want to establish boundaries that keep our kids from eating chocolate ice cream exclusively. That said, letting your kid decide what they eat, how much they eat and/or when they're full or not hungry, is important. For example, forcing your kid to "clean their plate" long after they're no longer hungry, can established unhealthy eating habits that are insanely difficult to shed later on in life. It's always worth repeating, but teaching our kids that they're in charge of their own bodies — and no one else — is vital, and that includes the food they put into their bodies.
What They Want To Wear
This one comes with a "within reason" caveat. Obviously, you don't want to let your kid wear shorts and a t-shirt in the dead of winter; that's just not safe. However, if your son chooses a pink tutu, it's best to let your son wear a pink tutu. And if your daughter likes what our culture has labeled as "boy clothes" (whatever that means) let her wear them. Allowing your kid(s) the chanced to dress themselves is, again, teaching them the importance of complete body ownership, as well as giving them the ability to explore their likes/dislikes and establish a personality.
What Gender They Identify As
Most parents choose to know their baby's sex, and plan accordingly, long before their bundle of joy arrives. Others are choosing to raise their kid(s) in a gender neutral environment, and refuse to assign a gender to their children until they've made that decision themselves. No way is right or wrong, but it's important that when children do start to self-identify, their identifications are valued, appreciated, and respected. Everyone has the right to self-determination, even toddlers, and transgender children as young as two years old have been quick to express their gender as something different than what was assigned to them at birth. It's their parents' job to respect that self-identification and support it, no matter what.
Who They Play With
While most parents are quick to encourage inclusion and diversity in their kids' respective social circles, it's equally important to respect their wishes when they voice a hesitation. Perhaps another child makes them feel uncomfortable. Maybe they're being bullied, and they're too afraid or ashamed to tell you just yet. Either way, we shouldn't be forcing our kids' to play with someone they are afraid of or unsure of or all-around dislike. We tell adolescents to pay attention to that pit in their stomach, and encourage them to trust themselves when they have a "bad feeling" about someone; so why not with toddlers, too?
What Toys They Play With
Predetermined gender stereotypes that perpetuate unhealthy expectations based on an aging binary, are for the birds. If your son picks a Barbie to play with, let him play with it. If your daughter wants to play with toy trucks or toy tools, let her play with them. There is no such thing as "boy toys" or "girl toys," only fictitious identifiers that were created in light of society's laziness, and in an attempt to increase spending. Your kid should be determining their personality, their likes and their dislikes; not a notoriously patriarchal society.
What Halloween/Dress Up Costumes They Wear
Again, within reason. Obviously, you want to pick something age appropriate and not absolutely terrifying/violent/gory. However, if it's safe and not emotionally scarring, allowing your kid to pick their Halloween costume or their dress-up gear is another way to encourage self-realization and self-identification. If your son wants to be Elsa from Frozen, go forth and sing "Let It Go" until you lose your voice. If your daughter wants to be Ruth Bader Ginsburg instead of a princess, buy that judge gavel and give yourself a pat on the back. Who our kids look up or want to be or consider "super" should never be determined by their gender.
When They Want To Socialize
I don't know about you, but there are plenty of days when I don't want to be around anyone. Literally, not a single, solitary person. Toddlers can experience the same need, and just like I don't want to be forced to socialize when I need alone time, children shouldn't be forced to throw on a face and interact with individuals when they're not feeling well, not feeling up to it, or not feeling outgoing. Wanting to hang out and/or entertain themselves is completely natural and healthy, and can teach your kid some paramount self-sufficiency.
Which Bedtime Story To Read
Even if it's the same story you've been reading since the beginning of literature (because yes, that's how it can feel) letting your kid pick which book they want to read/read to them, is fortifying their love for all things reading. There are an untold number of benefits to teaching your kid to love books and reading, so why not facilitate that love by allowing your kid to pick which story they read and which exciting, spectacular and imaginative world they're swept away to?
What They Want To Be When They Grow Up
A vital part of raising successful children is teaching a sense of self, which can be facilitated by encouraging your kid to be anything and everything they want to be. Even if it's a super hero and even if it's an outrageous profession that very few people join, encourage your kid to dream, dream big, and go after those dreams with enthusiasm. That early passion is the kind of energy that establishes a healthy and inspiring work ethic.