That Darn Thing Called Agency

NONE of us really know what we are doing in this parenting thing.  

Some of us think we have it figured out for a time, but we are always humbled and put in our place. Some of know we will never have it figured out, and we continually seek help and guidance.  And some of us gave up years ago 🙂

But the truth is, the only parent who really knows what He is doing is God.

So I look to His example as a parent more than anyone else, as often as I can, when I am facing parenting dilemmas.

And I had one of those lovely dilemmas just last week.

Elle came to me and expressed some concerns with her piano piece that she was supposed to have ready to play in a recital on Saturday.  Amongst tears, I found out that she hated the song! She wasn’t ready! It was too long! It was too hard!  And she outright refused to be in the recital.  She declared she would not play!

(She has only put her foot down like this one other time before, and I knew to take her seriously.)

I knew this declaration was coming because practicing had not been going well.  There had been tears and fights and threats to not play in the weeks prior.  But this time Elle was official and definitive. And time was running out.

Luckily, I had already explored my parenting beliefs before Elle confronted me with her refusal.

I already know that I do not believe in force, shame, guilt or bribe.

Of course I have weak moments, where I resort to these tactics. Like the one time I told Croft I would buy her ice cream if she would wear a certain dress. (The things you do for family pics.)  But in moments of clarity, I do not want to use these immature methods.

Overall, I believe that my children have that darn thing we call agency.

In the Mormon world we believe that agency is “the ability and privilege God gives us to choose and to act for ourselves.”

God does not force.  He does not bribe.  He does not manipulate. He let’s us choose, even when our choices hurt or disappoint Him. He let us choose before this earth life, and He lets us choose now.

In the premortal world we could follow His plan, come to this earth, get a body, be tested and have choice.  Satan and his followers choose not to follow God’s plan.  And He let them. God did not force Satan to obey Him. And because He did not force, God lost 1/3 of his children before they even came to earth.

Sometimes I think as parents we forget this.  We think it is our job to MAKE SURE our children do what is right.  That is not our job.  Our job is to teach them correct principles, and then we step back and let them govern themselves.  We encourage and teach them to use their agency righteously, but we do not force them to.

After some teaching and guiding and encouraging with no change in Elle’s attitude, my response was, “O.K. You don’t have to play in the recital. I will not make you. It is your choice. But you will have to own your choice.”

She would have to own her choice because with “agency” comes “accountability”.  The two are inextricably linked.  They are even share the same pages in “For the Strength of Youth“.

God lets us choose our actions, but He doesn’t let us choose the consequences of those actions.

As part of “owning her choice” Elle had to go meet with her piano teacher face to face and tell her of her decision.  Elle wanted to just text a vague cop out, but I wanted Elle to own up to her reasons.  Chad went with her, and Elle talked to her piano teacher.  Everything went smoothly, and the piano teacher was understanding and encouraging. Elle came home feeling much better.

As further accountability, I encouraged Elle to continue to practice the song.  Just because she couldn’t play it by Saturday, didn’t mean she couldn’t play it by Christmas.  We talked about strategies to overcome the difficult parts of the song.  She has been practicing diligently and even said, “I don’t hate the song as much anymore, mom.”

And Elle decided she still wanted to go to the recital to support others and her teacher.  She came home with more confidence to perform next time.

I would have preferred that my child sucked it up, practiced hard, and came through in the end.   I would have preferred that she performed at the recital even if she messed up.  But she didn’t.  She exercised her agency – her right to choose the course of her life.

I am sure God would prefer that we didn’t make mistakes either.  That we didn’t quit or complain or think less of ourselves.  I am sure He would prefer us to do things His way as well because He knows His way is better.  But after He teaches us and guides us, He steps back and let’ s us exercise that darn thing called agency. For good or bad, right or wrong, pretty or ugly, He let’s us choose.

We, as parents, can learn from His example.

(P.S. The details of this story were shared with Elle’s permission.)






4 thoughts on “That Darn Thing Called Agency”

  1. Thank you for the post and the great reminders about agency…we are experiencing this gift in our household as well and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn how to be a better parent in this way. It isn’t easy, but it has definitely given me a glimpse of what Heavenly Father experiences with me!
    Loved how you put in all into perspective.

    1. Thanks, Jennifer. I appreciate how you referred to agency as a “gift”. It doesn’t always feel that way, does it? 🙂 You are a great mom!

  2. Seeing one of your blog posts pop up in my feed is always the highlight of my day. You have such good insights and, though I myself am not a parent, they still remind me how to be a better person and also help me in interacting with my nieces, nephews, Primary kids and my friends’ children. Thank you for always sharing your perspectives, I really enjoy them! And thank you to Elle for letting you share her story.

    1. You are welcome, Lora, and thank you for your kind words! I am glad you can apply my posts outside of parenthood. That means you are a good thinker. I don’t want people to just read “my story”. I want them to see “their story” in “my story”. Merry Christmas!

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