“Do you kids know,” I asked, “that you do not have to do what I say? You don’t have to obey your mother either.”
I have six children. One day in the year 2005, while we all were waiting in the living room for dinner, I started this casual conversation. The youngest was 6, oldest 14 – a perfect time of life for this breaking news.
They thought I was tricking them. But I wasn’t. “In fact,” I said in all sincerity, “from this day forward, you don’t have to go to school or do your homework either.” I paused to let it sink in. They looked at my expression to find a hint of humor. But I was dead serious.
They quickly discovered I meant what I said. Their faces sparked with curiosity and glowed with excitement. This was a groundbreaking day in the Van Alstine household. It was skydiving freefall. It was earth shattering Emancipation Proclamation and Declaration of Independence all wrapped in one. It was Martin Luther King Jr’s ringing voice, “Free at last…free at last…Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.”
And I wasn’t about to burst their bubble. I wanted them to feel the full force of their freedom. “Yes, I’m serious. You don’t have to clean your rooms. You don’t have to do your chores. You don’t have to do anything, anytime, for anyone, from this point forward. In fact, if you think about it, you don’t have to do anything at all. Can you think of anything you have to do?”
“You have to breathe,” Grant chuckled, thinking he’d pulled an ace out of his sleeve. “No, you don’t,” I replied. “You can choose to stop breathing, and die of asphyxiation. Unfortunately, people around the world make this suicidal choice every day.”
“You have to eat food,” Madison shot back. But she knew what was coming. “No, you can stop eating, and die of starvation. Ever heard of a hunger strike?”
“Well, don’t you have to work?” they asked.
“No, I don’t. I can stay at home, sleep, and play video games here in the living room with you.”
“But how would you get any money?”
“I would just do without it.”
“I’d get by. First, they’d turn off the electricity. Then the gas. We’d run out of food. Then we’d be out on the street. But I could leave you to fend for yourselves, hop a train, and live out of garbage cans in Southern California.”
“Well, you wouldn’t want that, would you?”
“No, I wouldn’t.”
“So you have to work, right?”
“No, I choose to work, because I want electricity to light this living room, gas to heat my shower every morning, food to eat like the dinner mom is cooking, and a home with all of you. You see, I choose work every day not because I have to – but because I want to. I, like you, am completely free to choose.”
Then I paused to make my point. “There’s really only one thing I have to do,” I stated. “I have to enjoy or suffer the consequences of my choices.”
Ever since that day, my kids have enjoyed the freedom and consequences of their newfound emancipation.