A Choice Like No Other

Do you want to wear
your pink pyjamas or your blue pyjamas?

This diversionary tactic might not work on today’s savvy preschoolers, but it worked on my cohort, I think. It also sorta sums up the parenting wisdom from my extended family, even if I didn’t execute it perfectly:

  • Give kids a choice whenever you can – it’s respectful and it builds personal agency (and no, no one knew it by that name back in the day)
  • Don’t pretend to give them a choice when there really isn’t one – it’s a recipe for someone (maybe both of you) to end up unhappy. (It can even be manipulative, when the next step is trying to persuade the kid that your choice is really what they want.)

Going to bed now? Not negotiable. What you wear? Entirely up to you, kiddo.

So I took note of Seth’s recent blog, which talks about A/B testing in market research; that is, offering two options with no meaningful difference:

  • Blue boxes or green ones?
  • $195 or $205?

This approach doesn’t offer the respondent (or the tester) a chance to think outside the box, blue or green. That’s sorta its point: it implicitly validates the current product/service offering, with only some fiddling on the margins. It’s the business or market-research equivalent of the parental question to the preschooler:

Pink pyjamas, or blue?

To find insights and even surprises, Seth recommends A/J testing; that is, offering radically different options. What about a movie 30 minutes long? Or 5 hours?

This got me to wondering about how often I accept the product/service basically as is, and carefully choose between basically irrelevant options. I pause between a small or a large plastic clam-shell for produce, when what I want is a biodegradable container or none at all. I accept the either/or dichotomy of fast food or tasty food, without asking why I can’t have both. I hover my pencil over the ballot, looking for a name and a party that will, truly, do politics differently.

And it got me to wondering about how often I manage my life with A/B testing, making choices only on the margins. Pork or salmon for dinner? Laundry or floor-washing? Tea with friends or time spent emailing friends? Phoenix or Myrtle Beach for the winter?

I know all about choosing between pink and blue pyjamas: Heck, I’ve been doing it since I was a preschooler. What radically different options might I consider for the structure of my life?

What if the going-to-bed-now part is, in fact, negotiable after all?


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9 Responses to A Choice Like No Other

  1. Dorothy says:

    Funny how that pink and blue pajamas story comes up so often. I guess I want my children – well grandchildren now, to live in the A/B world, but for me now that I am retired, I am all for A/J. Thanks for the memories and insights.,

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Dorothy – Yes, it’s a delightful story – all the more so for being true. And yes, what we want for kidlets shouldn’t always be the same as what we need for ourselves.

  2. Your interesting take on Seth’s thought-provoking message (I like his advice better than Chesterton’s, which makes me wonder who’s promoting Seth for Sainthood?) makes me ask if the agency of parents has been removed with the changing times. I think parents who buy cell phones for their kids are surrendering most of their agency. I think adults who join social media are surrendering far more agency than any of us imagined when we first logged in. I’m no longer sure how many of the horses are already out of the barn and mounted by the horsemen of the Apocalypse!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – P’raps you’d like to document Seth’s case for sainthood, although doesn’t the candidate have to be dead? Anyway, retaining agency – and our sense of it – is one of the keys to mental health, I believe. So your thoughts are also interesting.

  3. Tom Watson says:

    When our four daughters were growing up, it depended upon who was offering the choices—Janice or me. For the most part, Janice’s choices were much more open-ended. I, at least from what the girls tell me now, I was a bit more hard-nosed about choices. I don’t remember it exactly that way, but…
    Does it depend upon who is doing the evaluating?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – People can experience the same event differently, as we say these days. 🙂 For sure that applies between parents and kids, as well as among kids. And the difference you describe between yourself and Janice is sort of the stereotypical father/mother difference in our culture, I think. Not that it always breaks like that . . .

  4. I guess offering a choice to the kid is OK, but it’s the pleading, “Okay???” added to every non-question statement when talking to their kid that is my real pet peeve. Who is setting the rules? Why is the parent so desperately needy?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I haven’t heard that one. I think Jordan Peterson has it about right in Rule #5 – Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

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