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Who's the Boss, You or the Kids?

discipline, family vacation

Just who is in charge, here?

Who calls the shots in your family, the parents or the kids? Do they get to decide on small things, like what to have for dinner or where to go out to eat? What about lifestyle decisions, or things that impact their health, such as what they eat and when they go to bed? Do your kids get to give their input on expensive things, like vacations or, in the case of Wall Street Journal contributor Jeff P. Opdyke what kind of braces the two of them should get?

It’s an interesting question for this generation of parents. Many of us remember wishing we could give our input on various family decisions big and small. And in this age of wanting children to share their feelings and be open with us, it would be counter-productive to pick and choose when they get to express their opinions, right?

But how do you do that? How was Opdyke supposed to respond when his son complained that Opdyke got more expensive invisible braces and he, the teen, had to endure unattractive metal ones? Opdyke wants his kids to know their input matters, but the braces brought up a new challenge. What are we teaching kids when we say “I’m the boss,” or “because I said so.” What does it do to them when they don’t really have a say in the matter?

I know what Opdyke is saying, but I couldn’t help but feel annoyed with the guy’s son. First, the son is a teenager so of course he got angry, of course he complained. It’s a teen’s job to find fault in his parents. But second, I have to wonder what the kid’s relationship with money is like. Does he think a $500 difference is negligible? In that case, maybe Opdyke needs to worry more about entitlement and impressing on him what $500 actually is. Second, why couldn’t Opdyke simply explain: I’m an adult, a professional, braces look awkward on me and normal on a teen. Surely the kid could understand that (my 9-year-old could totally get that).

Okay, I’m belaboring the braces when the real point is, what kind of influence should kids have on family life. Is family a democracy? Or a benign dictatorship?

I like getting my kids opinions, but I’m pretty clear with them that having an opinion doesn’t trump practicality or necessity or whatever. All input is heard and sometimes (often) it even influences the outcome. But like Opdyke when he was a kid, opting out of a family obligation isn’t an option. Neither is going to Macaroni Grill, which, for some reason, gets tossed around whenever the thought bubble “where should we eat tonight” forms above my head.

I’ve also established guidelines on clothing, set price limits on toys, clothes and presents before we start to shop. They know why certain movies are off-limits for now. I’ve always adjusted and amended while trying to maintain a baseline consistency as they’ve gotten older.

And maybe this is old-fashioned and harmful and my children will never amount to anything, but somehow, despite their ages, they’re fairly clear about the idea that they are kids, I’m a grown-up, and sometimes I’ll wind up with the clear braces and they won’t.

So far, that works, though I’m willing to admit, it could all fall apart in their teens. In which case, apologies in advance to Opdyke and his son.

How do you negotiate power in your family?

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Photo: quitethebitching.com/Nicole Morales

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