We make countless decisions throughout our lives – from the small daily ones like choosing your clothes for the day and deciding what to eat for lunch, to the big ones like choosing our life partner. I follow one simple rule for most meaningful decision making in my life – make the decision yourself because YOU need to live with it. When I decided to leave a consultancy job in London and move to Dubai straight out of university because I fell in love, that was my decision. When I chose to quit a job I loved to devote more time to my daughter, it was my decision. I took advice from my family and friends, I had debates with my parents about the pros and cons of marrying early and lengthy discussions with my husband about whether or not I’ll be able to maintain my sanity without a career to channel my energy to, but at the end, I took the final call. I made the decision that I was happy with. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t consider the impact on others, I did and I ensured that they were comfortable with the effects my decision would have on them. It also doesn’t mean that I haven’t made decisions where I’ve sacrificed for others – I have, but I’ve been comfortable with that. The point I want to stress, is that I’ve made most of the important decisions in my life myself – they were not forced upon me.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about plenty of other Pakistani women (and often men as well, but more so women). From an early age, you’re often told what or what not to do, rather than advised, explained, or reasoned with. You should become an engineer, even though you have no inclination towards Maths and would rather spend your time with a paintbrush in your hand. You need to get married to this man because he looks fantastic on paper and that’s what your parents have decided is best for you. You need to have children now because you’ve been married for 3 months!
I don’t mean to belittle the importance of parental experience and knowledge. Parents often do know what’s best for their children, but as parents, we need to remember that we’ve lived our life and we need to let our children live theirs. Even though we would love to be around for our children throughout their lives, we can’t. We’ll eventually die, or our children will move away. Either way, it’s important to inculcate in them the skills required to live independently, and a key skill is the ability to make good decisions, to have confidence in the decisions you make, and to have the courage to either stand by a good decision, or accept the consequences of a bad one.
The benefit of teaching children to make their own decisions early on is that it inculcates a strong sense of ownership over one’s actions. I was brought up in a very progressive household and given the opportunity to make my own decisions from a very early age. I moved to another country for university when I was 19 and then married a man who considers me an equal. I’ve had the opportunity to make my own decisions most of my life, knowing that I’ll have to live with the decisions I make. I’ve chosen not to smoke, drink or try drugs, despite being subject to a lot of peer pressure, simply because I know that being the person that I am, I will regret it later on in life. I chose to marry at 22, to the shock of most of my family and friends (“You’re an Oxford graduate, you’re so ambitious, why would you get married so early?”), because I believed that the man I’d met loved me for my passion, for my ambition and for my need to be good at what I do. I’ve learned over the years that I was right, because he’s pushed me to try harder, he’s encouraged me follow my dreams and when needed, he’s helped me to pause and recollect my thoughts to ensure that I’m moving in the right direction. If on the other hand, he had turned out to be different, I would only have to live with the consequences of my own decision. Often when things go south, it’s easier to blame others than to reflect within. If you know however, that you took the decision, you have only yourself to blame. I personally find that much easier to live with than the thought of having been coerced into a bad choice. If I make a bad decision, I can learn from it, I can grow and teach myself to make better choices going forward. All poor decisions make us stronger decision makers.
Baby A is still very young – just 21 months old, but my husband and I give her a lot of autonomy when it comes to making small daily decisions. Every day, she chooses the shoes she’s going to wear for the day. She trots along to her shoe rack, picks up a pair and even tries putting them on. Most of the times, she’s pretty good at matching her shoes to her clothes. Sometimes, when she’s not, we’ll recommend a pair. At times she’ll accept the recommendation, but if she’s remains adamant in her initial choice, we respect her decision. We’ve taken her to the mall in slippers, several times. We’ve taken her sneakers along as well in case she wants to change into something more comfortable for walking, because as parents we need to have our child’s back. When we go out shopping, I usually select 2-3 outfits and then let Baby A choose which one she wants to buy from amongst them. At this age, she may not be able to process large amounts of information at the same time, but she’s still very capable of making small decisions (progressively leading up to bigger ones). She chose her daddy’s birthday gift last week. She chooses her snacks most days – she knows where I keep most of the food in the house, and she’ll either stroll up to the fridge and demand cheese or strawberries, or walk up to the kitchen counter to ask for biscuits or pistachios. These are small decisions and they may seem meaningless at this stage, but they’re teaching Baby A two very important things: firstly, every day, she’s becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of making decisions and secondly, she learning that her decisions are respected.
My husband and I hope that we’re raising a strong decision maker. We hope that we’re raising a woman who will use the information available to her to make her own independent choices and then take ownership of those decisions. We hope that we’re raising a woman who will learn to live with the consequences of her decisions and treat bad decisions as a learning opportunity. We hope that we’re raising a woman who will know when to stand up for herself and when to accommodate, and will not be forced into doing something she’s uncomfortable with. We hope that we’re raising a woman who will have the courage to stand up against coercion – for herself, and for others. Most importantly, we hope that more and more parents raise their daughters to be independent decision makers, so that Baby A doesn’t have to hear horror stories of forced marriages and unmet dreams, like we do.