One of the biggest responsibilities of a parent is helping your children make wise choices. It starts with the little things when they are small and gradually builds as they get older. I mentioned in one of my earlier parenting posts that my mother was completely bemused by the fact I asked my children what they wanted in their sandwiches. Why give them choices? The answer is - because making simple easy choices helps them develop the skills needed to make more complex ones. They are going to make mistakes along the way, but if you've built good decision making skills into your children then they can rally and turn their mishaps around and continue wisely.
Fast forward a few years and the obvious help becomes more subtle. When it comes to choices of friends for instance, you can't say "that child isn't a suitable friend" and expect your child to agree with you every time. As an adult you may see a lack of quality in a particular child that is overlooked by their friends because they seem interesting, or adventurous or daring.
One boy our son knew in pre-school liked letting himself into people's houses and helping himself to anything that was lying around. His comment was "if you don't lock your door then you should expect people to come in, and if you leave stuff around you should expect it to be taken." This was not really the calibre of friend we were wanting for our son, so we subtly steered him away. The friend could visit us, but we rarely allowed our son to visit him (I didn't want any gifts coming home that had been acquired from becoming an accomplice to this 5 year old's life of petty crime!)
We chose smaller schools, with strong parental involvement for our kids. As they progressed from primary school to high school, the numbers attending grew. We wanted our children to grow up in a safe environment but not wrapped in cottonwool. They had to be able to handle themselves enough to deal with university life away from home, but they didn't need to know how to do that from the age of five. Slowly but surely from puddle to pool to ocean was our plan for them and it seemed to work.
Jobs and careers were another set of choices. We wanted our kids to have part-time jobs so they earned their own money and learned saving and spending skills. Our daughter was happy to work behind the counter at the local fast food outlet - she had no problem asking "would you like fries with that?" Our son on the other hand would doing anything except fast food. He ended up working as part of the clean up crew in a chicken processing plant. There's nothing like cleaning raw chicken off the floor with people who do that for a living, to know that you want something more for yourself career wise!
For all of her willingness to work in fast food, when it came to actual career choices, our daughter was completely at a loss. Our son was always going to be an engineer and never wavered, but no matter how many job choices were presented to her, nothing appealed to our daughter - other than being a dog trainer at the circus and (surprisingly enough) there is very little call for someone to train tutu wearing poodles for a living. We encouraged her to finish her education, get some office tertiary qualifications and see where she wanted to go. Within a couple of years she was bored and decided to go to university and become a teacher (something we had been advising her to do for years - but it need to be her decision.)
The biggest lesson we can help our children with is choosing their attitude to life. We taught ours that life wasn't a free ride and they needed to earn their way. We didn't buy them a car, we helped but expected them to work to earn it. They then had the right to choose their car because they were paying for it. They contributed to the household chores and by doing so they learned how to look after themselves when they flew the nest. Nobody likes doing chores, but choosing to do them with minimal fuss is an important life lesson - because life is full of menial activities that we can choose to do begrudgingly or with a smile.
Wise choices don't come naturally, they come with guidance and with giving your children the skills to gradually take on more and more of their own decision making. Mollycoddling your kids until they are adults and then expecting them to make wise choices and find their way through life is a recipe for disaster. There is nothing more rewarding than having put in the hard work and sitting back watching your adult children continue in the way they were intended to go.