Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Forcing Gradual Independence

When we exercise at the park for Baby Boot Camp, I let my children, even the 21-month-old, play by themselves.  I don’t give two seconds of thought to the idea that they might be kidnapped while I’m sweating my way through some crunches or planks, or that they might break legs going down the slide.  The other day, Jamie decided to go down a pretty steep slide, on his own, on his belly.  Without anyone to catch him.  He ended up with a bloody, fat lip, of course.  I told him he was very brave, I hugged and kissed his tears away, and then I let him go back to the slide.


When we go for a walk, Charles rides his bike ahead of me.  He knows to stop at every cross street, and he gets “in trouble” when he gets too far ahead (“in trouble” in these situations is a stern talking-to about the danger of getting too far ahead and an intense reminder that he will not be allowed to ride his bike on the sidewalk again if he can’t follow the rules), but still, he rides his bike on the sidewalk.  On the side of busy street.  Could he swerve into traffic?  Yes.  Not stop in time?  Yes.  Do we still go?  Yes.


I have friends, many of them, who shelter their children.  And I’m not saying that they’re wrong to do so.  Certainly there are many terrible things that can happen to a child in this world and certainly we can prevent some of them.  But whether it’s from laziness or some misguided “pushing them out of the nest” impulse, I let my kids have a pretty long leash. 


It makes me a bit self-conscious sometimes.  My friends aren’t putting their kids in swimming lessons yet, or taking the training wheels off of bikes and essentially forcing their kids to learn, or allowing their children to climb the tree in the yard.  The same friends don’t make chicken nuggets or corn dogs for lunch or let their kids eat as many Peeps as they want on Easter.


I’m not really looking for a judgment here; this is how I parent, you probably do it differently.  But isn’t it amazing how differently we all do it?  And isn’t it interesting what those differences say about our goals for our children?  I look at my friends who shelter their kids and I think, will it be tougher for them to let go later or will their children have to rebel to assert their own selves?  Because what I hope I’m setting myself and my children up for is a gradual increasing of independence.  I hope that, as Charles learns to be safe on a bicycle on the streets now, so he might grow to be safe on a skateboard and then safe in a car or on a motorcycle.  Because, whether it scares me or not, he’ll be driving in 12 years.  There has to be something between Point A and Point B, right?  And it will probably be easier for me to hand over the car keys and sit next to him and teach him to drive if I know he has responsibly handled himself on the road in one form or another for a decade.


There are other bits of letting go, too.  I will sometimes tell Charles to be careful in a tree or while he’s dancing on top of the picnic table.  “Be careful up there, be sure of your footing, because if you fall, it will hurt.”  And then I let it go.  And sometimes he falls.  And sometimes he gets bloody knees.  And someday he’ll probably break his leg or arm.  But right now he’s learning the limits of his body.


And yeah, sometimes my kids eat junk.  Not junk that is actually bad for them (like energy drinks or deep-fried candy bars), but sometimes we have lunch at McDonald’s.  And sometimes we get to have ice cream.  I know so many people who place such an emphasis on nutrition that is seems like they never have any fun with food.  Sure, we prohibit things in our household, like caffeinated soda for kids, but we indulge all the time.  I like to think that Charles and James will grow up to understand healthy food AND the value of treats.


Bottom line, though, is that I think it’s entirely worthwhile to ask ourselves, frequently, “what kind of person do I want my child to become?”  I want my children to be self-reliant contributing members of society, people who are happy with themselves, who take calculated risks, who understand their limits, who aren’t afraid to stand their ground, who can easily express themselves, and who are affectionate and enjoy spending time with the people they love.  So that is how I choose to build my family.  And it involves letting my children run in sandals for the one thousandth time and then falling on their faces for the one thousandth time because even though I’ve explicitly stated the connection between running in sandals and falling, they continue to make the ill-considered decision to wear sandals and then run.  And they have to live with those consequences. 


Love isn’t always preventing injury or hardship.  Sometimes love is kissing the scraped elbow and helping them understand why they fall when they turn too slowly on the bicycle.  Love isn’t always keeping things that are “bad for us” out of the house.  Sometimes love is letting them get a tummy ache from eating too many gummy worms.

1 comment:

Mom and Dad said...

Hear..hear..It is a balance and I am so proud to know my grandkids are being raised with the same values you guys were raised with. I can tell you the first big struggle I had was when Joe took Tony out in the driveway on a bicycle and he was 3!!!!!! I was taken back with the thought that Tony was growing up and this was the beginning of letting him trial things on his own, with us beside him or not...it was now his to begin. I cried at the loss of his being a baby....then laughed with pride.