Is it okay to choose our kids’ journey?



Back when I thought I had some “say so.”

“We must let our children choose their own journey,” says writer Susan Steen in the Murfreesboro Post, Rutherford County’s Local Newspaper. (I looked it up and it’s in Tennessee. I had no clue.)

In her article, Steen has an interesting anecdote I can relate to, plus four tips that are really, really helpful—regardless the age of your children.

“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself.” ~Walt Whitman.

It was a chilly afternoon, and my older son had pulled in the driveway after a vocal performance test. Eager to hear how he thought he had done, I raced outside without a sweater. “I nailed it,” he said. As I began to warm in the sunshine, he followed quickly with “and then I changed my major.” Shivering, I scrambled to find the right words and the right reaction to the unexpected news. Eyes full of tears, I replied, “I want you to be happy,” and I meant it. Having watched children cry because they were forced to remain in a sport they hated, a dance class they loathed, or later in life a job that suffocated them, I know that no matter what I want for my children, they are on a road they must travel for themselves. I cannot travel it for them.

When our son went off to college, we preferred he pick a STEM major. If I can brag for a minute, unlike myself or many other people, he’s got both sides of his brain working. His initial major was Theoretical Mathematics with a minor in Music. I think he added Music to keep himself happy and Math to keep his dad and me satisfied. However, after a couple years, Math became a real drag. He said it was so hard that he couldn’t have a life, a girlfriend or anything besides studying. Looking back, how hard was it for him to announce that he’d dropped Math in favor of a major in Literature? “Yikes,” we thought. “What is he going to do for a career?” He had spent his life with his nose literally buried in books–if we’d looked at it objectively. Literature is and always has been his passion.

Here are four tips Steen shares in the article that I think are worth sharing:

1. Don’t assume that what makes you happy or makes you feel successful will be the same for your children. In fact, don’t assume those things for anyone other than yourself. Marketing people work hard to tell you what they believe should define success and happiness, but don’t let them. Decide that for yourself and encourage your children to do the same. In fact, take the opportunity to have a conversation about what those things look like.

2. Allow them to make mistakes, allow them to fail. Maybe it is as simple as failing to pick up favorite toys that will be taken away as a consequence or as uncomfortable as missing the field trip because of a forgotten permission slip, or a costlier consequence of receiving a ticket because a driver’s license wasn’t renewed — there are times to rescue, but there are many times to allow a child (and adults) to experience the sting of failing.

3. Never say never. Just before you utter the words, My child would never ______, I would never make my child do ____, I’ll never let my child ____, You’ll never _____, or I’ll never _______, stop. One of two things is going to happen, either you’ll make another person’s life miserable because you are going to not back down when you really should, or you’ll make a liar of yourself. Neither is a great choice. Think before you speak.

4. Say I’m sorry and Forgive. There is nothing more meaningful than genuinely apologizing and nothing more powerful to offer another person than your forgiveness with no strings attached.

We can’t live our kids’ lives. I think if they acquiesce to our desires they may live to regret it. They may think they’ve been cheated from following their own path. It may be tough as a parent to let go, but seriously for the health and happiness of our kids, we should.


My son at Pike’s Place Market.


What are your thoughts about directing your kids to what you feel is best for them, versus letting them choose their own way?

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