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Parenting: How Much Independence Should You Give Your Children?

by The Next Family October 16, 2014

By Ann Brown

How much independence to give your children

I intended to write this article on July 4 because I was thinking about independence, and raising independent kids, and that would have been timely.  But last July, on the morning of the 4th , my husband asked me if I wanted to go out on the boat for a few hours before people came over for a BBQ, and that’s pretty much the last thing I remember until right now. Oh wait. There was a pitcher of Sangria…

And now, poof, it’s October.

The thing about raising independent kids is that we’re all for it in theory; no one ever comes right out and says, “My plan is to raise my children to be helpless and afraid to be on their own.”   Well, I actually did come right out and say that when my kids were young, but it was in private. To my therapist. And in shame.

I am a cautious, hand-wringing melancholic who gave birth to two cautious, hand-wringing melancholics, despite the fact that I deliberately married someone who was not risk-adverse. To even the playing field. But evidently – and paradoxically – the scaredy cat gene is dominant. Go figure.

I had to go waaay outside my comfort zone to endeavor to raise independent kids. My comfort zone is small. If it were a house, realtors would market it as “cozy”. If it were a candy bar, it would be called (ironically) “fun size”. Having a tiny comfort zone is not a great attribute in a parent.  So when I set out to write an article on how much independence to allow our kids, my first draft was short: NONE.  Also, I added, do not trust your gut. Your gut is mired in your own issues. Plus, if it’s like my gut, it is covered in muffle-producing Spanx so it’s hard to hear what it’s telling you.

My only suggestion, culled from my own life, was go to the refrigerator and mindlessly eat something high in fat and calories while asking yourself, “should I let my child do the thing she is asking to do?” Sometimes the food will answer you.

The fact is, there is no rulebook when it comes to knowing how much independence to give your kids. 

All we can do is observe what others are doing, solicit advice from trusted friends and family and, ultimately, learn from our mistakes. And most often, we’re going to just have to make a split-second decision and wonder later if it was the right one, as in the story recently told in my class: a mom’s two-year old went running out of the changing room at the Y while Mom was stark naked, getting out of her wet bathing suit after Mommy and Me swimming class. The mom had to choose to either cover up as quickly as possible and risk her son running through the lobby of the Y, into the street and being abducted by aliens and forced into slavery, or run – naked – after him.

That’s what raising kids is really about. Those decisions.

When my sons were youngish and they had to use public restrooms, I wrestled within the walls of my comfort zone. Taking your two- year old son into the Ladies’ Room with you is a no-brainer, but what about your six-year old son? And what if you force yourself out of your comfort zone and send your six-year old son into the Men’s’ room by himself at Costco and as soon as he goes in there, a skeezy looking man also enters the bathroom? Do you follow him in? Or hope for the best? Or (what I did) stand at the door and call to your son to “keep singing! Sing so I can hear you!” to make sure he isn’t being molested.  Until he started to cry and yelled, “I cannot POOP when I’m singing, Mom!” And then he was constipated for, like, a week after that. Because, you know, I had gone all Overprotective Jewish Mother on his ass and traumatized him into constipation. Which is a long-held tradition of Our People. At least, in my family.

In the end, I usually asked advice of someone I trusted, someone less nervous than I. And then I didn’t follow it. Because I am a work in progress, still endeavoring to push out the walls of my comfort zone, even though my kids are adults.

I do know one thing, however; I would have come out of that changing room buck-naked. Walking very briskly (running naked? Don’t think so) and yelling to my child to keep singing so I could hear him.

Photo Credit: Ano Lobb (Flickr)

The post Parenting: How Much Independence Should You Give Your Children? appeared first on The Next Family.

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