When I was a girl, we had Cheerio’s, eggs or oatmeal for breakfast. That was about it. When we got tired of hard-boiled eggs, we’d try scrambled or fried. Pancakes with bacon were a special treat and were reserved for the weekend when we had more time. Boy, times have changed.
For breakfast, my kids can have over 250 brands of boxed cereals. I can choose from bagged or boxed brands, organic brands, oat, wheat, spelt, barley or corn-based brands. My milk can be soy milk, rice milk, skim, 1%, 2%, or whole. It can be regular milk, “hormone-free” milk, or organic milk. I can have regular eggs, egg whites, eggs from hormone-free farms, or eggs from free-range chickens.
I can make waffles from scratch, choose from over 10 brands of pre-prepared mix, or from umpteen brands of frozen waffles. I can serve turkey bacon, low-fat bacon, pork bacon, “hormone-free” bacon, or beef bacon. I can serve orange juice that is pulp-free, with regular pulp, with extra pulp added, or calcium enriched. I can choose from over 35 types of fruit smoothie or if I’m traveling, drive through a fast-food place for a breakfast bagel, burrito, or muffin sandwich with another 50+ choices.
And that’s just breakfast.
Our world of prosperity has given us an explosion of choices for us and our children. Just think about the increase in choice in these areas of their lives:
Credit: A generation ago, access to credit used to be tight, which made living within your means easier to do. Our children will have access to credit and can charge many purchases freely.
Dining/Food: Dining choices were limited and most people were at home during the dinner hour. Now, we can make a meal at home, pick up a pre-packed dinner at a big box store, drive-through dinner at a fast-food place or eat out (all on our way to take our 5-year-old to soccer practice).
Activities: Organized recreation for small kids was rare. Now, we can choose between karate, baseball, soccer, gymnastics, dance, music lessons, Mommy and Me classes, science camps, girl scouts, boy scouts, or church activities. The list is endless.
Work: It was pretty common for our parents to work in the same jobs or careers for 20+ years. Any career is open to our children. They live in an opportunistic work environment where changing jobs or careers frequently is the norm.
Are our children ready? I don’t think I am ready! In fact, I’m exhausted just thinking about breakfast.
Our kids have a great challenge ahead of them. They need to be able to make decisions that our parents never had to. They need to be more wise and discerning than past generations. At a minimum, they need to maintain their sanity. At a maximum, they can achieve true peace and joy.
What can help?
First, we can know that choice is good, but that more choice doesn’t necessarily make us happier. In a favorite book of mine, The Paradox of Choice, author Barry Schwartz describes the decline of happiness in America:
“The American ‘happiness quotient’ has been going gently but consistently downhill for more than a generation. While the American gross domestic product, a primary measure of prosperity, more than doubled in the last thirty years, the proportion of the population describing itself as ‘very happy’ declined. The decline is about 5 percent. This might not seem like much, but 5 percent translates into about 14 million people – people who would have said in the seventies that they were very happy would not say so today. It seems that as American society grows wealthier and Americans become freer to pursue and do whatever they want, Americans get less and less happy.” (The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz, Harper Perennial, 201)
Our generation of parents prides itself in developing thinking, reasoning children. Most of my friends and I encourage greater choice than past generations of parents ever did. “Do you want to wear the red shirt or green?” “Would you like to play baseball or soccer?” “Would you like to go to the beach or go on a hike?” Although our children need to learn to be good decision-makers, it sometimes has a paralyzing effect. In the words of one mother describing her five-year-old:
“I have noticed that my son sometimes has difficulty making the sorts of choices that exclude one thing or another. I have the sense that it has to do with a sense of loss. That choosing one thing over another will mean that one thing is lost. Finally making the choice somehow minimizes the pleasure in the thing that is gained, though there also seems to be an accompanying relief in finally making the choice.
I have noticed him deliberating, as if he is frozen with indecision. He literally cannot make the decision unless he is gently prodded. Most recently I noticed him doing this when given a choice between different colored popsicles.” (The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz, 143)
The author’s research shows that we spend more time and attention gathering information and making a choice than we used to. (Do I buy this white blouse or do I try three stores because there may be one I like better – and one on sale!) We have a limited quantity of time, so this becomes time not spent on talent development, relationship-building, service, or other things that bring greater peace and joy.
I cannot help but notice that the author’s advice on maximizing joy and keeping choice manageable is the same advice I find in the gospel of Jesus Christ:
The color of our children’s popsicle won’t matter much in 10 years, but who they marry will. There are some decisions that are trivial and some that are critical. Having priorities is essential and having spiritual grounding helps find those priorities.
“Choose you this day whom ye will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)
If we (parent and child) seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven, our priorities will be grounded in love, service, and “in doing good to all men.” If we follow counsel of the scriptures, we will spend our energy seeking for the things that matter the most.
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:” (Matthew 6:20)
Once priorities are known, the decisions that really matter become clear. The kind of birthday party they have, the car they drive or brand of shoes they wear is trivial. Decisions made in this category can be made quickly and can be considered “good enough.”
How they spend their time, who they date, the language they use, or the moral standard they choose are the weightier matters that deserve more consideration.
#2. Embrace Constraints
It sounds paradoxical, but following a set of rules is liberating. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it is not uncommon to hear about a great love for the commandments of God. I personally see them as a blessing, not a restraint. If we decide just once to follow a commandment or rule always, the finality of that decision frees up thinking for other complex choices and gives peace of mind.
Will our children decide they will not smoke each time they are offered a cigarette? Will they decide to drink before the party, once at the party, or decide not even to attend parties where drinking occurs? Will our girls decide to dress modestly once, or every time they go shopping?
If they decide only once, they can avoid the gut-wrenching or hasty decisions that come in the pressure of the moment. The gospel of Jesus Christ and the words of living prophets help to guide our children on the decisions that really matter. Here are a few examples of modern-day counsel from church leaders:
- Stay away from pornography
- Obey the Word of Wisdom
- Stay morally clean before marriage
- Dress modestly
- Marry in the temple to create a forever family
#3. Seek Wise Counsel
There are those who are qualified to help our children with their decisions. Parents, church leaders, modern prophets and scripture can all give solid counsel to children looking for direction. Of course, one of the best sources of counsel is the Lord through prayer. With His help, they cannot go wrong.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; (D&C 9:8-9)
#4. Eliminate comparisons
Much sadness and depression in decisions comes from pride. Was our decision better than or worse than our neighbor’s? A friend of mine says, “Compare and despair.” We usually compare our worst trait with someone else’s best. C.S. Lewis’ comment on pride is even more relevant today, where there are constant social comparisons:
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109–10.)
#5. Model Discernment
Boy, I have a tough time with this one. While I know my overall priorities, I feel like the boy choosing a popsicle when it comes to my children’s after-school activities. “It’s all good,” I hear myself say. But being constantly overwhelmed by the ALL is not good. Our children are likely to follow our lead when it comes to decision-making. The suggestions above are probably more important for me than my children because they are watching what I do every day.
#6. Be Grateful
Finally, gratitude looks for the positive side of the decisions we’ve made. Gratitude takes our focus away from regret. Gratitude helps to focus on what we have, not what others have. And gratitude can give us a mental break from all of the decision-making we have yet to do.
I am so grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this competitive, fast-paced world of expanded choice, I know that I can be confident in my decisions. The gospel helps me place my priorities in the proper order. It directs me to seek the Lord’s will first and follow the commandments. After that, I use my best (and practicing) judgment to make the best decisions I can, and teach my children to do the same. With the words of the Savior, I am ready for the decisions this life has to offer.
I may even be ready for breakfast.
This post was originally published in 2008. Minor changes have been made.