Decision Deficit: When a Parent Is Bombarded by Questions

“What’s for dinner?”…
“Can I wear my blue shirt today?”…
“Why does she go first? It’s my turn to go first!”…
“Can we stay for just 5 more minutes, please?”…
“What time can we go to the mall? And can I walk around by myself for a while?”…
“Can I borrow the car?”…
“Can I watch just one more show?”…
“Is it okay for Billy to come over for dinner tonight?”…
“Can I get that new app for my phone? Everybody has it!”…

When a parent feels worn down

“Please, no more questions! I can’t make another decision today!”

Sometimes as parents we hit a wall when we have been bombarded by questions for hours on end. Some questions require thoughtful consideration because of the implications, and others we can mindlessly respond to without much thought. I think it is the quantity of questions and not just the importance of the questions that can wear a parent down. I call this “Decision Deficit.”

In the course of any given day, when a parent is in charge of so many aspects of each child’s life, decisions are a natural part of day-to-day experiences.

Because parents are the ones with the power and authority to decide many aspects of each child’s life, it is natural for kids to keep coming to parents to request permission for things, or inquire about the reasons behind decisions, or just to get information about the world.

I can remember feeling frozen one night when it was time to decide what to have for dinner.

I thought I was losing my mind when I was overwhelmed by the thought that I had to make a choice.

I felt sort of paralyzed and could not seem to make this very minor decision. Somehow, I had lost confidence in my ability to make the right choice. In my head, I knew this was something basically unimportant in the big scheme of things; however, it felt like a huge responsibility to make the so-called right decision. I can remember calling a friend to ask her to decide for me.

When a parent is in this place of decision deficit, all you want is someone else to tell you what to do so you can do it. What you don’t want is to have to make a decision!

I have a friend who handled the dinner dilemma in a creative way.

As soon as her children were old enough to do even an elementary dinner like scrambled eggs and microwaved bacon or grilled cheese sandwiches, she put them in charge one night a week for planning and then making the dinner.

In addition to making a selection about dinner, her kids had to come up with what had to be bought for that dinner. She gave them a budget, so they had to make the decisions in the store as to what they could afford and she turned the whole decision-making process around dinner over to the child who was responsible that night. By the time she had 3 kids making decisions and then taking responsibility for preparing one dinner a week, she had cut down on the decisions she had to make about meals by almost half.

Parents can find creative ways to cut down on the numbers of decisions they have to make by turning over some of those responsibilities to children, giving them several choices and then stepping back and letting them make the decision. This can be hard for parents who like to manage their children’s lives and therefore make most of decisions for them. At the same time, this can help reduce this phenomenon of decision deficit on the part of the parent and can help promote a sense of ownership and responsibility in children.

Of course there are decisions that only parents can make.

“Can I drive my friends to the dance at school?”

This decision is one the parent needs to make the based on how responsible and mature the young person has been in the past, and how long that young person has been a driver.

What decisions you have to be in charge of is yet another set of decisions.

By relinquishing as many decisions as you possibly can, and being kind to yourself when you hit that decision deficit wall, you may lower some of the stress and confusion you feel when overwhelmed by the sheer number of decisions you have to make in any given day.

Invitation to Reflect

1. Notice how many decisions you have to make in the course of the day. At what point do you move into this zone called “decision deficit” when even the smallest decision feels overwhelming?
2. What are some ways you can give someone else the responsibility for making certain decisions, like what to have for dinner, what clothes a child wears, who should pick the book being read at bedtime. Remember that sometimes even the smallest decision becomes a huge obstacle when you have had to make too many decisions in the course of a day.
3. Who can you call on to help you make some of the mundane decisions that seem overwhelming when you hit that wall of decision deficit? Can you make a pact with some friends that you will help each other out when you feel you just can’t make one more decision?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network