A huge part of adulthood and one of the key things we look forward to as children is the chance to make our own choices. One of the first words we say is “No!” and I learned early on as a mother that if you wanted your toddler to wear pants don’t ask them to put on pants, ask them if they want to wear the green ones or the blue ones.
The small decisions we make as kids prepare us for the more important ones we have to make as we grow older. Choice gives us a sense of control in a crazy world. What teenager hasn’t gotten frustrated with their parents for saying ‘no’ when they are making what they believe is a good choice?
The word “No” is usually met by all the traditional stages of grief from denial to bargaining while the final acceptance stage may look more like your frustrated teenager daughter screaming “UGH You are the WORST mother in the world!” And the sound of a door slamming as she stomps up the corridor to her bedroom.
You see, to the teenage mind not yet familiar with the intricacies of adulting, the word ‘no’ is a simple choice, a choice to let your child be happy or have “the worst day in their entire life OMG”. Where as to the parent “No” is a layered answer based of carefully weighed up pro’s and con’s factoring in other family members, safety, time frame, logistics and potential future consequences.
Okay, I admit occasionally parents do say no without a really good ‘genuine’ reason – in my case this is often related to laziness. A “no” to “Can I go to Billy’s house for a sleep over?” is possibly because Billy lives 40 minutes away and I don’t feel like getting dressed and driving rather than because I am concerned that Billy’s parents are secretly smoking crack.
But sometimes there are genuine concerns for safety, take my son Mr 13, who is more honest than most teenagers because well frankly he has never really mastered the art of lying. I am particularly thankful for that given the company he has a habit of keeping. He will tell me how his best friend ever is taking drugs and getting beaten by his alcoholic father and then in the next breath he will ask if he can go over there for a sleep over tomorrow. Um… yeah, no.
In situations like this I have to be ultra-careful to use an unrelated excuse for why he can’t stay there this weekend and then wait a few days to have the appropriate “safety” talk, this way he doesn’t connect that the fact he was honest with me has actually caused the “no”.
Mr 11 and Mr 15 on the other hand are far more versed in the subject of lying or at the very least omitting facts they feel might influence my decisions. In their cases, there is far more detective work involved but they are also more self-confident than Mr 13 and less likely to bow to peer pressure. Mr 11 has been very confident about his own decision making since birth. The best way of finding out if they are up to no good is quizzing Mr 13 about it!
So sometimes, okay most of the time, being a mother makes me feel like a total hypocrite. I made a lot of bad choices as a teenager – a bad teenage choice is how I became a mother in the first place! I’m just bloody lucky that things have turned out alright for me on the whole but I still find myself making bad choices, particularly with my health.
Having mental health issues and being suicidal most of my life meant that things like going to the dentist or having a pap smear were simply not done because, well they are unpleasant and frankly you aren’t all that concerned about long term consequences when you feel the chances are that you won’t be around to suffer them anyway.
Even at the best of times depression can turn choices like whether to wear the red jumper or the blue one feel like life and death decisions that we simply haven’t got the authority to make. My parents both have serious issues with decision making, Mum always has and Dads Alzheimer’s has affected his skills in that department, so something as simple as choosing where to go for coffee when I’m also depressed can take forever.
I also have a tendency to decide when to listen to my doctors based on my wants at the time, if medication is suggested when I am depressed then I’m all for it because I want to feel better, but if its suggested when I am euphorically manic and need to come down then I’m going to take a lot more convincing.
When I’m hypomanic and teetering on the edges of mania is probably when my decision skills are at their poorest, back to the teenage ‘have fun now and to hell with the consequences’ mentality I am more likely to take drugs (other than those prescribed), spend ridiculous amounts of money, stay up all night for days, swear inappropriately, act impulsively, drive dangerously, get into arguments, ditch my self -care routines and generally misbehave.
I caught up with an old friend the other day, she has been diagnosed with Bipolar in the last 12 months but in hindsight has had it for decades, we were discussing that pivotal point in hypomania when you still have the insight to know you need intervention even though you are having fun and how hard it can be to make that right decision to go to the doctor.
Ultimately life is full of decisions, sometimes we are going to make the wrong ones but recognizing and learning from them is what will help us grow, and if all else fails I do have a magic 8 ball.
Do you have trouble with decisions?
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