Striking the Balance Between Parental Role and Children’s Rights

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Recently people have questioned some of the lifestyle choices I’ve made or intend to make for my child. An old schoolmate asked about my whole-food, plant-based diet and whether or not I plan to ‘force’ my baby to eat the same foods that I do. And just yesterday, while on a video call with me, an older relative expressed a mixture of shock and horror at what she thought were locs growing at the back of my little one’s tousled head. Others have expressed similar concerns, informing me that a child should be free to choose their diet and hairstyle, and that parents shouldn’t impose these kinds of decisions because the children don’t understand why their parents are making the choice. But I believe that only independent adults can make lifestyle choices, because children don’t have any inborn worldviews or the resources to design their living conditions.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the choice of which fruit to have for breakfast or what colour t-shirt to wear to the park are not within the same class as choices that reflect a person’s moral standards, habits and values. For example, my parents’ lifestyle dictated the way our home was run, the activities I participated in, and the cultural tastes that my siblings and I acquired. Since they were the ones caring for me, they decided what neighbourhood we lived in, the spiritual community we fellowshipped in and the childcare services we used. Their worldviews informed their decisions and as they groomed us for adulthood, they shared the experiences and philosophies that had shaped their lives. In the same way, my lifestyle will determine the choices that I make for my child – and that is perfectly fine! In fact, this is the way it ought to be, since the right to choose comes with responsibilities.

The Role of a Parent & the Rights of a Child

If we are to make the best lifestyle choices for our children it’s essential that we understand the role we play as parents. We may even need to modify or redesign our lives to create the most suitable environment for our kids to develop in. A parent who understands the complex task of raising a child will be aware of the following responsibilities that facilitate the child-rearing process. Every parent must:

  • Provide for their child’s basic and daily needs — food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, recreation, etc.
  • Protect their child from harm, whether physical, psychological, sexual, or negligent.
  • Pilot their child towards the social norms and knowledge deemed healthy and beneficial for both the individual and the society.
    But, even as we make choices for and direct the lives of our children, we must always be aware that they are individuals with rights, and we must be careful to distinguish between guidance and dictatorship. We should never become so restrictive in our attempts to set boundaries that we don’t offer any real choices or take away freedom of expression — even if the expression is one of disagreement. It is also important to be conscious that as our children mature and take on more responsibilities, we should begin to decrease the restrictions we place on them and allow them to face the consequences (both positive and negative) of their actions.

    The rights of our children are intrinsically tied to our responsibilities as parents, and as such, we are expected to allow them:

  • Individuality, by respecting their distinction from other family members and from others in wider society.
  • Information, empowering them to make informed decisions out of an awareness of the options available and their consequences.
  • Intentionality, by encouraging them to thoughtfully develop preferences and give reasons for the choices they make.
    If these rights are respected, a child won’t just be a mindless robot, but will develop into an empowered and conscious adult.

    Respecting Others and Their Choices

    As independent adults, making our own lifestyle choices and determining the way our homes and families are run, we may be tempted to think that our way is ‘the right way’ and grow intolerant and even disrespectful of other people’s choices. But we must resist the temptation to impose our beliefs on other people or ridicule their choices – especially in the presence of children. At the end of the day, our own children will become adults that make choices different from the ones we made for them. When we get to that place in life, we’ll have to accept that maybe some of our choices weren’t the best.

    Mommies, how do you tread the balance between making choices for your children and allowing them independence?


    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.
    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.