“You’re Not in Control of My Life!”

The above is what my younger son, James, said to me yesterday. It wasn’t in response to anything earth-shaking (I wasn’t telling him what instrument to take up in fourth grade, where he must go to college, or whom he should marry). In fact, I forget why he tossed that off, but trust me, it was minor.

My response, me being me, was more explanatory than he probably was seeking: “Well, not in this case, but for many things, at your age, yes, I am in control of your life.”

Chapter Five of my book is called “Take, or Take Back,Control.” Here’s how I explain it in the book:

…remaining in control—remaining the adult in the household—is not the same thing as being autocratic or dictatorial. It is, instead, authoritative. What that means: When you are authoritative, you project to your children the comforting sense that there is a responsible person at the wheel, that the parents’ job is to take care of things, and it’s the child’s job to, well, grow up…

I don’t know why I feel the urge to tell my kids that, yes, in such decisions as the fact that we won’t be eating McDonald’s as often as they’d like is mine, not theirs. (But seriously? Between you and me? I took them there yesterday for the first time in a long, long while and you know what? I don’t think they were all that thrilled with it, but I kept my mouth shut. I think they could easily have taken or left it, you know?). I do show them, all the time, that it’s me and their dad in the front seat; that when they are of age, big decisions are theirs. But we also make it clear that smaller choices are, of course, theirs.

Take hair.

James, last August, when his hair was super-short.

James, last August, when his hair was super-short.


...and this past March, when he was at his most Beatles-in-the-60s-ish.

…and this past March, when it was at its longest.


James has been growing his hair for a year now, and I’m not a giant fan of it (though I’m quick to add that he’s a heartbreaker no matter what his mop-head looks like). He can have his long-ish hair if he likes, sure — but I still have to insist that he, you know, washes it all the way (he’s been surprised by how much longer it takes to rinse in the shower. I tell him that with great hair comes great responsibility.)

Today, as we’re headed off for the weekend and camp starts in another week, I asked my older son — who likes his hair short — if we should stop at the barber shop today. He declined, saying he would wait until just before camp.

But James? After three straight days with 90-degree-plus temps and high humidity?

He asked for a short haircut. A choice he is completely in control of.