Learning from Poor Choices

For the most part, my firstborn followed the straight and narrow path through life. The worst thing she did, that I know of, was to call me a bitch when she was a senior in high school. At that moment I thought it the worst thing any of my children would ever do. My secondborn had a more carefree spirit and liked to live spontaneously. I’m sure it was her need to find a place in the world next to her older sister who lived by order and structure and self-discipline. Preschool teachers referred to my second child as a strong-willed child. Indeed she was. She taught me many things I needed to learn as a mom and gave me experiences I could have lived without. I was horrified when she was fourteen and the police called at one in the morning to tell me she had been caught drinking and I needed to come get her. I told them to keep her overnight so she would learn from the poor choice and they told me they didn’t have a place to keep her so I had to come get her. I was mortified when I found a marijuana pipe in her bedroom when she was sixteen. Scared someone would find it if I threw it out with the trash, I drove miles from my home and dropped it into a river.

Four years separate my second daughter from my third. If you know anything about birth order, then it makes sense when I say she is very much like my oldest daughter. Number three is driven by a need to succeed, to set goals and achieve them. Her world is full of black and white decisions (not much gray for her) and for the most part she makes good choices. But she has slipped a few times and she would be furious with me if she knew I made that statement publicly. She has a bit of perfectionism, so she doesn’t see the poor choices she’s made. Her three speeding tickets were not her fault, but the ridiculous attitude of the officer. The dent in the car door was the fault of her passenger. Our biggest arguments in the present revolve around the fact that she doesn’t want to share a car with her younger sister, and doesn’t feel her younger sister’s school and activities are as important as hers are in college. But she doesn’t have a job to pay on a car loan and car insurance and doesn’t foresee having the time to get one.

As for my youngest daughter, all of her life she watched from the wings and took notes. She studied how to get around the rules, how to take advantage of a situation. She can manipulate life as well as Houdini. Please understand, she is not a bad person. She is incredibly smart, beautiful, loyal to her friends, and has a fabulous sense of humor. But she regularly makes poor choices. Sometimes daily. And each time she does, I am absolutely shocked. She was raised in a household where clearly everyone understood right from wrong. She learned early in life that there are consequences when you don’t follow the rules. This was reinforced to her in middle school when she got caught shoplifting and when she was caught skipping school. Affirmed again a couple of years later when she received a ticket for minor consumption of alcohol. Currently as a senior in high school, she is learning the consequences of choosing to attend school only two or three days a week. Unfortunately, her recent choices will follow her the rest of her life as she is now an adult in the eyes of the law.

As my daughters grew up, I shared some of my own life’s lessons in order to help them understand what happens when you make poor choices. I doled out appropriate punishments and never once did I let them doubt my love for them. When life presented a learning moment, I found a way to bring it to their attention. But now, as I struggle daily with powerlessness over the poor choices my eighteen-year-old daughter makes, I am reminded of the old adage “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.”

I am learning from her poor choices. I pray she is too.

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