As much as I enjoy my kids needing me (that can meant sarcastically or sincerely depending on the day & my mood) one of my goals is to support my children’s growing independence. That sounds like a simple, easy goal, but I’m finding it to be difficult. Mostly because allowing my children to grow their independence and their way of doing things means that they aren’t doing things my way! This requires quite a bit of flexibility, patience, and an adventurous spirit on my part. And it also requires me to continually find where I might be pushing them too much or not enough, or where they might be pushing me too much or are perhaps being too compliant.
I have one son who, like his dad, tests every.single.boundary, to which a wise friend observed Oh, look how healthy he is! It’s so wonderful that he feels safe and confident enough to test his strength. You’re going to have to hold the line lovingly and firmly and allow him to explore how strong he can be.Um, ok, hadn’t looked at it that way. And I have another son who, like his mother, is quicker to obey or comply or not fight for what he wants, and this all sits better with me than the boundary-pushing son, but the same wise friend warned about a sneaky streak should he continue to fear friction. You’ll have to help him learn productive ways to get what he wants, she encouraged.
So in this post I’d like to share some baby steps I’m taking toward supporting my kids’ independence. And I should note that ALL of them were initiated by my kids, go figure. I’d like to claim title to these creative and effective steps, but nope, it was thekidswho suggested them and walkedmethrough them.
Six-year-old Caramia has long wanted to chop off her beautiful locks, and you can probably guess my sentiment in that! After dragging my feet, I finally took her to the salon, where I let her browse pictures of hairstyles and let her work with the stylist BY HER SELF. My only interjection from the waiting room was when I overheard her say indignantly, “No! I want it aaaallll shaved off.” Knowing her and her sophisticated fashion sense, I’m sure she could pull that look off just fine, but Momma aint ready for that. I do, however, let her dress herself, which mostly means heels at the playground.
Baby Micah, who I’m afraid will always be called baby because he’s the youngest, poor thing, has lots of people doting over and watching over him in a day. It’s gotta be suffocating at times. I wonder how many times in a day he hears NO?! So once a day, I let him run away from home. I open the door, let him waltz on out and off to wherever his heart desires-which always leads him to a particular tree trunk, then a puddle, then to grab a baseball glove and to set up home plate atop the manhole cover in the middle of our cul-de-sac. I shadow him at a safe distance and find the whole thing pretty cute and entertaining.
Nine-year-old Silas is itching for independence and identity apart from the brood of siblings. Problem is, he’s so very helpful and I can find myself depending on him like a co-parent. I’m a bit stumped as to how I can help him, but he and I are working together to find ways to keep him going, as my mentor says! So soon after he turned 9, I declared Nine at Nine, the new privilege where the 9 year old gets to stay up until 9 pm- a whole hour past the others’ bedtime. He watches the clock like a hawk and then, when it strikes 8pm, he races off to the guest room for his alone time. He gets to watch a movie, read a book, play a video game, watch American Ninja Warrior with Dad, or tackle a coloring book with me as we unwind and talk about what’s on his mind. Silas is also now the Errand Boy and it is glorious! Of course, I count it as part of his homeschool curriculum- Here’s 20 $1 bills. Go into the post office and mail this package. Make sure you say ‘ma’am’, ask for the most affordable rate, and don’t forget the change. Or I send him into the Farmer’s Market to purchase our raw milk, or into Game Stop with his spending money to purchase a game he has already researched online and called ahead to make sure they carry (he’s been hung up on several times as they assumed a prank call.) He LOVES these independent excursions and I love not having to drag aaaall the kids into a store. Win win. Also noteworthy: when the 3 big kids and I flew to Boston a few months ago, I gave Silas the responsibility of getting us through the airports with the intention that he can soon begin taking flights by himself. Checking in, checking luggage, buying food, finding our gates….he did all of it! And if you’ve been to Atlanta’s airport, you know how impressive this is.
And then there’s Sam. Sam has never had a problem with independence, which has offered me so much training in how to stand firm and flexible as I watch him do his thing. What a privilege and challenge. This past week, he marched off into the woods looking for treasure. He came back with a broken down pallet and declared confidently and cooly, I’m gonna make a roller coaster. He slung his hammer over his shoulder and went to work. I didn’t pay much attention until hours later when he yelled, Mom, watch!
Last but certainly not least-Judah. This adorable 4-year-old also has quite the independent streak. And he’s also quite the charmer, which means he has found ways to get others to do things for him- or ways he can get out of things- with a wink and smile. Every morning he tells me “Mom, you’re so bwetiful. I’m so lucky you’re my mom. [long pause] can I have more food?” When he was 3 years old, his big siblings were playing in their bedroom and wouldn’t let him in. Minutes later I heard him whispering at their door Hey guys. Let me in. I have marshmallows. And sure enough he had found a big ol’ bag of marshmallows as bribery. There’s also another epic story of when 2 of my dear girlfriends were visiting and offered to help with baths. Some time had passed and I went up to check, only to find my 2 friends standing in the tub, fully clothed and splashing their feet around and trying to convince Judah- who was also still fully clothed, smirking, and NOT in the tub- how fun it is. Judah-1. Grownups-0. So our focus with dear Judah isn’t so much to help him spread his wings and fly (he’s doing that just fine) but to help him follow directions. My husband found that helping Judah focus on what he wants as a way to get him to do what it takes to get there motivates him to action. For example: Judah, do you want to play with Daddy? Then you have to first do your chore of cleaning the toy room. Or Judah, do you want to go to school and play with your friends? Then you have to go upstairs and get your clothes on.Simple cause and effect. Using what already motivates Judah- a desirable outcome- to accomplish the less-desired task required to get there.
If you have young children under the age of 5 or 6, this idea of kid independence might feel like a million years away. I remember feeling very discouraged when learning of other children’s ability to knock out chores without parental oversight or put themselves to bed or brush their own teeth or do their own dang laundry! Why can’t my kids do that? Will we ever get there?? In my experience, the first 5 years or so of our kids’ lives were focused on 3 things:
Gentle Training: coming alongside them and helping them pick up their toys, teaching them how to put toothpaste on a toothbrush, showing them how to open and close the dishwasher, how to carry their clean laundry to their bedroom, allowing them to see how we interact with other adults, stretching them to try and do this yourselfor see if you can figure it out, and if not, come ask me, allowing them to wrestle with a task and then asking if they would like help instead of swooping in to the rescue before they’ve even had a chance to try. Gentle training…day & night…showered with praise…guided with clear & simple instructions…and kind correction…and hands-on parental oversight…over and over and over…for years!
Building Trust: growing in our trustworthiness as their parents so that they can depend on us to parent lovingly, honestly, consistently, with principle, etc. And that when we don’t, they can trust us to recognize it, ask their forgiveness, and come up with new and improved methods. I can’t even begin to count how many times we’ve had to admit failure to our kids and invite them to help us brainstorm a better way. And they typically have fantastic advice!
Growing Confidence: Helping them walk into their unique and growing abilities, personalities, skills, intellect, creativity, etc and showering them with praise for who they are becoming. Also helping them accept and embrace trips, slips and stumbles as simply par for the course and something that can be viewed as a wonderful gift of training rather than a shameful failure or discouraging setback. Parenting my children with this perspective has incredibly enriched my own personal development and also my understanding of a loving Heavenly Father who gently cheers us on and trains us into our full potential.
Next week I’ll share what kid independence looks like for us as we discuss chores and allowance and budding financial freedom. And teaser: it involves a Dollar Menu that is rocking my world!
I pray we all are able to experience and embrace the gentle training of a trustworthy God who is cheering us on to our full potential.