One of the things that is difficult for me as a parent is knowing when to give my children independence and how much of it they need. We’re long past the phase of holding hands when we cross the street, yet I often find myself putting a hand near one of my children, sort of like I’m using the Force to guide them across safely.
As we get closer to the teenage years*, I find myself thinking more and more about the girls’ independence and assessing where they are and where they should be. If I didn’t stop to consciously ponder these things, I’d probably still be doing far too much for them instead of having them learn for themselves. Forget about being a helicopter parent; my natural inclination is to be a tank parent and I have to fight it regularly.
What is it about my generation of parents that causes us to hover so much? Is it because we grew up on a steady diet of ABC Afterschool Specials about drugs, bullies, kidnappers, and pedophiles?
But, as I said, I can’t protect my girls forever, so I am trying to teach them what they need to know and then allow them to go out on their own. I’ve been leaving the girls home alone for limited periods of time — Graceful for a few years and Elegant within the past year. We’ve established the rules and things have gone well.
The biggest thing we did this summer is allow Graceful to start working as a mother’s helper. She took the Red Cross babysitting class last year and has been desperate to start her career as a babysitter. Mother’s helpering was a good first step for her, because she watched a baby while his mother worked in another room. The friend of mine who hired Graceful this summer had her come over once or twice a week. For the first two weeks, I walked or biked with her to and from her job — it’s .8 mile straight down the road from us. Starting with the third week, I walked to the end of our street and watched her bike off alone, with Pete’s cell phone tucked in her pocket. She called me as soon as she got to her destination, then later on when she was leaving, she called to let me know she was on her way home.
That first day, as I watched my baby bike off, I had a lump in my throat. This is just one of many times she’ll go off without me, but that time was significant. I had never allowed her to bike anywhere by herself, other than on our street within sight of our house, yet there I was watching her bike down a road alone. She knows the rules of the road and she’s a cautious biker who pays attention, so I knew she’d be okay. I also knew that she needed this new step toward eventual total independence.
Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about independence and how I should be encouraging it without totally pushing my chicks out of the nest. (Time enough for that later.) For example, the school bus stop is two-tenths of a mile from our house. Graceful walks to and from on her own, but Elegant — who rides a different bus that comes and goes on a different schedule — does not. She’s younger and is also often the only student getting on the bus there, so I’m just not comfortable with her going on her own, especially since it’s a high-traffic area where drivers don’t watch out for kids who might be crossing the street. But maybe I’m being too cautious?
What about the rest of you? How old were you when you started being more independence? If you have children, what have you done so far to encourage it?
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* Happy 13th birthday to this beautiful baby: