Dear Ivy: Decide

My Dear Ivy,

Following up on yesterday’s letter, I wanted to focus this one on something I wish I’d learned a lot earlier in life, and was a lot better at putting into daily use than I actually am. I wrote yesterday about the “Fear of More Options” and reconciling yourself with regrets. What that means in practice is: sometimes, you have to just decide.

In a way, I envy you here. In your current stage of life as I write this, you’re still deciding things very much based on instinct and raw feelings. There’s not much for you to choose, at the moment.

I envy you, because decisiveness is not something that comes very naturally to me. I like to research, weigh options, consider pros and cons, spend an exquisite amount of time determining the best course of action, and then leave my options open in the event my chosen course doesn’t work out as intended.

But sometimes, you have to just decide.

You won’t always have all the information available that you might wish in order to make a decision. To be honest, having all the information is a rare luxury. There will be times you have to make a choice based on incomplete information – perhaps even information you know is of questionable reliability.

And sometimes, you have to just decide.

This is something you and your brother and sister have done a great deal to teach me. There are times when I’m trying to help one of you with something, that I simply can’t wait for all the information to gather itself at my fingertips. There are times when you need something, and need it right now. And since you, especially, are still learning how to communicate your wants and needs, there are times when I simply don’t get it, and have to figure out – or just guess – what it is you’re trying to tell me.

And, as I wrote yesterday, sometimes I’m going to get it wrong. And that’s ok.

And sometimes you are, too. And you know what? That’s also ok.

There are going to be big decisions in your future – the ones where, if you get it wrong, it will change the course of your life. There are going to be decisions with no truly good options, and (somehow, at times, even more difficult to navigate) decisions with no truly bad ones.

Sometimes it will be worth taking a long pause and gathering all the information you can before forging ahead. But there comes a time when you do have to forge ahead. Don’t do as I’ve done far too many times myself – don’t let yourself be paralyzed by the fear of getting it wrong. Don’t wait so long to make a decision that the big decisions end up being made for you by circumstances outside your control.

I will promise you two things, here and now, many years before you’ll actually read this:

First, for as long as I have the mental capacity to do so, I will always be ready and willing to help you through any tough decisions you need to make.

Second, and more importantly, as much as I want to help, I promise to try (though sometimes I will fail) to give you the freedom to make your own decisions, as early and as often as I can.

There are two competing theories here. One of them is that children learn to make good decisions by having good decisions made for them.

I don’t believe that. At all.

The other theory – the one I believe – is that you learn to make good choices by . . . learning how to make good choices (which occasionally involves making, and learning from, some not-so-good ones). I want to give you that opportunity whenever I can, starting with small things that won’t cost you much if you get them wrong, and eventually working your way up to making those big, life-altering decisions, and making them well. I want you to learn what it means to make real choices, to have plenty of practice making good choices, and to enjoy their fruits when you do.

And like I said, sometimes I will fail. There will be times when I will need to step in and make choices for you – for instance, when your safety or the safety of others is on the line. I wish I could promise not to step in any more than is necessary, but to promise you that would be a lie. It’s hard, sometimes, to watch you and your brother and sister make choices I think are the wrong ones. It’s hard to sit back and watch you do things I think will make your lives harder, or things you’ll regret later. Even in the littlest of things, I want to step in and “help” to make it better or easier or quicker for you. 

But I want so much more for you and your brother and sister! I don’t just want things to be easier or better right this moment, today. I want you to learn how to make big, life-altering decisions in ways that will make your life better, forever. I can’t expect you to have any idea how to do that if you’ve never had the chance to make real choices for yourself. So while I won’t always get it right, I will always seek to give you that freedom when I can.

And sometimes I’ll get that wrong, too. There have been times when I tried to give your brother and sister a choice, only to see them overwhelmed with the sheer number of options and the daunting task of choosing between them. It’s a tough balance, trying to give you the freedom to make real choices, without overwhelming you to the point of paralysis so that you can’t make any choice at all.

I won’t always get it right (as your brother and sister can already attest, and as you probably can too, by the time you read this). But I hope that by then, you will have had plenty of practice making decisions for yourself. If so – whether or not I agree with every one of those decisions – I will have succeeded in at least this one thing. Because my goal isn’t to raise a girl for whom everything is perfect, all the time. My goal is to raise a woman who knows what she wants; knows what she needs to do to get there; and knows that I’m right here, ready to help in any way I can, as much and as often as she wants me to – no more, and no less.

I love you, Ivy.

Love,
~Dad

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