I think we all want to raise independent children, but we are often scared to let our children out of our sight for even a moment.
As a society, we are scared that something terrible will happen if we don’t constantly monitor our kids. Even if no accidents occur, we also worry that encouraging our children’s independence will cause us to run into problems with the law, such as the Maryland parents who were accused of neglect after letting their two children walk home alone from the park. I can’t even imagine the stress of that situation for both the parents and the children.
I live in a community with no school buses, so I see children walking to and from school on their own every day. Luckily, there are crossing guards to give an added measure of safety. While I don’t allow my own children to walk to school alone at this point, I do let them walk ahead of me when they want. I also let them cross the street to the neighbor’s house without me. While they were very young, I taught them important safety rules such as stopping and looking both ways before crossing the street and watching out for cars backing out of driveways.
How will children ever learn to safely navigate their world if they never get a chance to practice?
Lately, I have seen a whole string of articles encouraging us to raise independent children, perhaps as a backlash to the helicopter parenting method that has been in favor. I think that encouraging our children to play on their own from a young age is extremely important. It helps children grow their creativity and learn how to entertain themselves without relying on parents, friends, or technology such as television. Young children can simply be left to play in a room away from their parents and older children can be allowed to play outside in their yards. I also make an effort to avoid constantly hovering over my children when we play at a park. I can keep an eye on them from a bit further away so that they have some semblance of privacy.
Several years ago, I attended an event where parenting expert Vicki Hoefle spoke. She told us that our goal as parents is to raise children and then send them off into the world without us.
As parents, we have roughly 18 years to teach our kids all the skills they will need to lead an independent life. We need to give our kids responsibility for their own lives from an early age.
I realized that I was guilty of doing things for my children that I should have instead taught them to do for themselves. For example, my six-year-old spent the night at his grandparents’ house this weekend. I was automatically going to pack his bag for him, but then I realized that I didn’t need to do that. Instead, I told him what items he should pack and let him pick them out by himself.
For me, the biggest struggle in teaching my children independence is accepting that they are growing up and that they don’t always need me anymore.
I don’t want my own neediness to hold my children back. I admit that I am sad when I realize that my children are growing up so quickly. My youngest child starts kindergarten next year and I am already dreading sending her off to school. I will miss her during the day! However, I realize that her education is important and so is her independence. I don’t want my children to be afraid to try new things because I’m not there to hold their hands.
Also, I think it is important to let our children make their own mistakes so they can learn from them.
As a parent, I often warn my children if they are heading down the path towards a mistake, but then I shut my mouth and let them choose what to do for themselves. I hate seeing my children upset, but deep down I realize that they need to face these problems now so that they will learn how to cope with setbacks later on in their lives when I’m not there to help them. After all, I want my children to be confident in themselves when they go off to college and live on their own. It will be easier for my children to make mistakes while they are still living at home so that I can help them find a solution to the problem. I look forward to seeing my children graduate high school as confident, independent adults.