The other day I had to stop myself from being the overbearing parent, even if my intentions made perfect sense to me at the time. You see, we had just had lunch with friends in the big city (which for us is Hanover, a town of about 10,000 people), and were choosing something for desert in the nearby chocolate shop. With the rich smell of chocolate drifting through the air and all those beautifully made treats filling the aisles and shelves, it was nothing short of a dream come true for a family of chocolate lovers as ourselves.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when our son, Nicholas, given the rare opportunity to choose from all that gourmet chocolate, decided that he wanted to have Necco wafers! Nothing against the wafers, but considering where we were, it seemed to me that the choice was a no-brainer, and just as I was about to relay this to him, I could hear the brakes screeching in my head as I reminded myself to back off and let him decide for himself, free from my influence.

In the end, he got the Necco wafers that he wanted, and I got another lesson in lightening up as a parent. There are times when it takes everything I’ve got to stop trying to micromanage every aspect of our children’s lives and remind myself that I don’t have all the answers.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of hands-off parenting, and I don’t think kids left to their own devices, like on a playground or when surrounded by their peers, will necessarily make the right decisions. It’s the job of the parents or teachers (or other adults) to oversee and guide them to do the right thing, especially when it comes to the big ticket-life issues that might affect their health and happiness. When bad choices are followed by bad behavior, it’s our job to intervene.

But for the smaller, more quotidian issues, I don’t think it’s such a bad thing for them to develop their own values and opinions, free from parental bias. Not only that, but deciding for themselves and understanding that their opinions matter builds confidence that will help carry them through future situations when mom and dad aren’t around.

The problem I run into is that it’s too easy to project my feelings onto their decisions (often times I’m not even aware that I’m doing it), and there is no denying that children want their parent’s approval. All it takes is a frown or a sigh to deny it to them. Even silence can speak volumes, planting the seed of doubt in their choices.

Though I’m entitled to my own opinions, so is everyone else, including my children, and they should be free to make those decisions on their own. For most issues in life (I’d say about 95% of them), like which clothes to wear or what flavor of ice cream to eat, the choice is pretty simple and they should not be paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong choice, because there are no wrong choices.

If they make a decision that they don’t like, hopefully they’ll have learned something from it and take that into the next situation and make a more informed decision. That’s how people learn, right?

As parents, we are there to provide protection, guidance, and when things don’t go perfectly, comfort and support, but children need to develop some independence, because we are not going to be there all the time and they will be faced with bigger decisions in life. Though we hate to see them suffer, we can’t raise our kids in a bubble, and sometimes they will stumble.

Bear in mind, these are not life or death situations. As long as the kids are healthy and happy,  it doesn’t hurt for them to make up their own minds and for parents to take a step back, even if that voice in your head is screaming, “Choose the chocolate!”

As for the Necco wafers, Nicholas loved them, and he shared them with his sister and friends, who in turn shared their chocolate with him. It was a win-win situation, all stemming from a decision that he made for himself.

Now, if he could only apply that process of self-determination to loving spinach, life would be good… not that it isn’t, already.