Every day we make dozens of decisions for our families. We decide what to feed our kids for breakfast, what route to take to school. We decide whether to buckle them into a car safety seat – or not. We decide the afterschool activities our children do or don’t. We also make larger choices like in which country to live or whether to go vegan. We consider and plan everything from our family’s summer break to which life insurance policies. As moms we also are greatly involved in the decision making process about what car to buy, what college our children should go to, what clothes they wear and even which friendships they develop.
It may seem like each decision is a completely separate and individual act. Often we make them in the spur of the moment (should we have burgers or biryani for dinner?) or through reflex (choosing cow’s milk rather than soy at the supermarket, smothering the kids in sunscreen before they go swimming). But in fact most decision making is a complex web of interrelated ideas based on experience, values, ambition and circumstance.
Most parents, for instance, absolutely want their children to do well in school and to go to college. But not all of us will envision the same path to that end. We may choose a kindergarten or primary school less for the quality of its educational services than for the convenience of its location or the cost of its fees.
Since we’re constantly bombarded with choices and some decisions can deeply impact our family’s health, finances, happiness, etc., it’s worth considering how we might make the best decisions possible. While there is no checklist for good decision making, there are a few simple questions you can ask yourself the next time you are facing a major family decision.
1. Is the decision informed? Meaning do you have enough facts and information (not just rumor or heresy or ‘advice from others) but concrete details to make an informed choice?
2. Does the decision match your family’s values and morals? Is it fair, honest,
3. Will the decision contribute to the long term goals/ambitions of the family and/or child? This can be tricky because long term goals and ambitions can change over time and based on opportunities. Let’s say your oldest son wants to be a doctor but he’s offered a full scholarship to a topnotch linguistics program. Parents and children (when they are older) should talk regularly about their goals and plans for the future so that you are all on the same page when major decisions arise. It may not make the decision any easier but it will help prevent disharmony and friction if a ‘change in plans’ happens.
4. Does it support the family’s needs and priorities? (This is the question I ask myself whenever I’m confronted by a pushy salesmen. Whenever someone tries to convince me to make a major purchase, I always ask myself is this a priority for my family right now? Typically the answer is NO.)
5. Have we taken enough time to consider all the choices and weighed the decision in terms of pros and cons? No decision is without peril and there are unforeseen consequences to every choice. But it’s still wise and important to at least consider the outcomes you expect and can predict.
6. Did you feel rushed or pressured to make the decision? With the exception of life threatening circumstances where a doctor needs an answer immediately, most decisions can be held off until the choices are carefully considered. If someone is rushing or pushing you to make a decision right now – that in itself is a good reason to step back and take some time.
7. Can you support it? This one is often overlooked and it’s the idea that once a decision is taken, how will it be implemented or stuck to? If you decide to enroll your child in horseback riding lessons for a term, will you in fact be able to ferry the child back and forth to class and schedule family outings and homework around their riding lessons?
Teaching children to make good decisions
Making good choices for the family is a skill learned over time. Children also need to be taught how to make good decisions and that can only come through practice. When making important decisions, involve your children in the process. Let them see you discuss the options and ask them for their opinions. Play the ‘what if’ game to teach them how to game and predict outcomes. Give them opportunities to make decisions and beforehand discuss the natural consequences. Most importantly allow them to the chance to make decisions – both big and small – and allow them to make bad decisions so that they can learn from them as well.
Originally published in Issue #31 of the Kuwait Moms Guide e-Newsletter.