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Call Me Overly Permissive But I Let My Kids Make Their Own Decisions Even As Infants

Flickr / Quinn Dombrowski

The following was syndicated from Quora for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at

Where do parents draw the line between being too permissive and not being permissive enough?

Too permissive or not permissive enough really does not do justice to the complexity of too much or too little parental intervention. So much of it has to do with the kid, their capabilities, age and maturity, the parents and their background, as well as a host of socio-cultural norms.

I actually learned on day one that my first born had his own preferences, as he made it clear that he wanted one arm in and one arm out of his swaddling wrap. Later that day I tried to give him the small bottle of water Alta Bates hospital sent us home with, which came with its own nipple, which was non-flexible and about an inch long. He’d have nothing to do with it. I decided to experiment with the Platex bottle we had purchased so his mom could express milk. It had a small pliable nipple. He drank it all immediately.

When he was 3-4 months old I would let him “choose” his jammies by holding up 2 and using the first one he touched. Within a week he had learned the rules and would predictable favor particular ones over another. Within a month, if I help up 2 that he did not favor he would not touch either. At about 9 months he would self propel around our apartment in a walker.

I’m in the dining room, and I see him scoot out of the living room down the hall into the bathroom. I heard a small thud and he scooted back into the living room. I went to check it out, and he had knocked his rubber duck off the side of the tub into the tub. I put it back in place. Five minutes later, he scooted back again and knocked it in again. Very purposeful. A month later, he uttered his first word, not some version of mom or dad but a clearly enunciated “duck.”

What he taught me was an early lesson that my kids, literally from the beginning at their own point of view, their own preferences, and a determination to act in accordance with what they wanted. It was a revelation and I liked it.

From a very early age, their mom and I, whenever possible, afforded our children choice, and unless it was really dangerous or risked irreparable harm, allowed them to choose. Our intention was to afford our children the opportunity to grow into confident decision makers. Rather than making good decisions for them (which I get as a valid approach) we preferred to allow them to learn from their choices, good ones and mistakes. One son’s preferred meal for several years was rigatoni and butter and the other choose to not wear matching socks to school for 3 years. And while these are modest, silly examples it also impacted more regular parenting choices like school work or bed time.

I can’t say what I would have done if our kids made choices that put them in physical danger or did poorly in school, used drugs or alcohol or got in trouble with the law. While we were against their drinking alcohol, the only hard rule in high school was that, if that happened, they were to call and one of use would pick them up, no questions asked and without punishment. Our parenting from the rear approach isn’t going to work with every kids. Not all of their choices were great, but their results were always good which made it easy to give them a wide berth.

Peter Stanwyck has 26 years of fatherhood experience, mostly in a positive co-parenting arrangement. Read more from Quora below: