Posts for decision-making

What Halloween is teaching me about the power of choice

Foster/Adoption, Girl Power, Tales from the Maxi Pad - Lynn Johnson - October 28, 2015

power of choiceFor Halloween this year, the Squirrel is going to be a cat.  A “spy kitty,” to be exact.  Yes, that means a cat who spies on people.  How cool is that?  

We bought the costume – one of the only age appropriate/not hyper-sexualized cat costumes for young girls – at the Halloween Super Store back in the beginning of October.  She loves it and she can’t wait to premiere it this Saturday.

Last year, just weeks after the Squirrel coming to our home, we got her both an Elsa and an Ariel costume a few days before Halloween.  She couldn’t decide which one to be so, she wore both.

A lot has changed in a year.

Imagine you had to choose between 2 costumes.  In your mind, they are both great ideas.  You love both the dresses.  They both represent what you love most in the world.  How do you decide which one to pick?

Now, imagine that this is your first Halloween in a new city.  In a new home.  You don’t know anyone else your age in the neighborhood, let alone what costumes they will be wearing.  You have no idea who will open the door when you press the doorbell and yell “Trick or Treat!”  And, you are not exactly sure they will be giving out the kind of candy you like.  How do you pick a costume?

Finally – stick with me- imagine that, not only are you in a new city, you are in a whole new family.  Everyone you have ever known is gone.  You are being asked to accept two total strangers as your new parents.  You have no sense of time and space and don’t know if you are coming or going.  You are desperately trying to grab onto anything that you can feel some semblance of control over.

You don’t exactly remember what happened last Halloween and you can’t possibly imagine where you will be next Halloween.  Now, how on earth do you choose a costume?

Researchers studying the impact of trauma on decision-making define decision-making as:

“a complex process that requires identifying alternatives, evaluating their probability and estimating their consequences”

Based on this definition, it is no wonder that both small and large decisions can allude most of us – especially us women and girls who struggle with perfectionism.  Decision-making puts us in the position of having to choose the “right answer” when one rarely exists.  When we are caught up in our own mess of wanting to appear flawless, please others, and avoid the challenging emotions associated with making mistakes, making a choice becomes an extremely difficult thing to do.  Take that perfectionism and add a dose of trauma and you can become completely paralyzed.  

It is no wonder that the Squirrel had to be a Disney Princess mash-up last year.  I remember a time about a year ago when the 3 of us were in a café and we asked her to pick out the sweet treat she wanted.  She couldn’t do it.  She literally worked herself into such a terrible fit over a scone vs. a muffin that we had to leave the café.

What surprises me is how much has changed over the last year.  Just the other day, we were all – once again – in a café.  When it was time for the Squirrel to decide what she wanted to eat, she promptly replied, “A yogurt and a cinnamon roll.  Oh, and one of these fruit snacks!”

“That’s too much.  Just choose 2 things.”

“Okay.  I’ll just have the yogurt and cinnamon roll then.”

On the surface, deciding to eat a cinnamon roll or be a spy kitty for Halloween may seem like no big deal.  But, let’s all remember how complex a process decision-making is.  It’s something all of our girls are practicing and struggling with.  “I’ll have the cinnamon roll” should be greeted with celebration and encouragement.  “Great!  Way to go! Good job making that decision.”

I jumped for joy when the Squirrel chose her Halloween costume this year – and not just because I was completely ecstatic over such a creative, original, non-Disney-licensed choice.  I was excited that she made a choice.  Making this choice shows me that she is much more at peace than she was a year ago.  Her brain has calmed down enough to identify alternatives, evaluate their probability and estimate their consequences.  Her life is stable enough that she is beginning to trust that each choice is not her last choice.  She is easing into the comfort of knowing who and where she is, that there is often no “right answer,” and that she has the power to explore, experiment, and try again.

Like I said, we bought the cat costume weeks ago.  Now, she is beginning to waver on the “spy” part.  “I think I just want to be a regular cat.”  Ugh.  My guess is that, as she is discovering what her friends’ costumes are, she is starting to feel embarrassed by her incredibly unique idea.  We’ll see what happens.  We still have a few days left.

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