The March Towards Independence
photograph by Serrnovik | Dreamstime
I saw a colorful display of school supplies while shopping at Target the other day. I did the customary thing we mothers do; I sized up the discounts (meh), noted the new characters now adorning lunchboxes (my kid loved Blues Clues and Thomas the Tank Engine), scanned the piles of notebooks and glue sticks and No. 2 pencils, while considering the many different items my son’s teachers had requested over the years (I seem to remember tissue boxes, lots of tissue boxes). And then I felt a slight pang, because, for the first time in 18 years, I don’t have a child to shepherd to school.
What a strange feeling it was. Bittersweet, but something else, too.
Dare I say… relief?
But I won’t dwell on that. I expect you’re still adjusting to the too early school start time and wondering how long it will take to get everyone’s clock turned back so the morning rush isn’t quite so frantic. (Can it ever not be frantic?)
Thankfully, my son will still be attending school, but this fall he starts college and I won’t be much involved with his comings and goings. He’s steadily grown more independent these last two years, getting himself to and from school, taking care of his own appointments, searching out information he needs. My role has shifted to being more of a coach and sounding board than tender. But when I mentioned my observation, he chimed in.
“My friends and I had the same experience,” he says with a laugh. “We went by the school supplies aisle and said, “Nope, that’s not us!” Of course, that was only until it dawned on them that they would actually need some supplies, “but only notebooks and pens,” he added optimistically.
Change is the one constant we can count on as parents. Change as children gradually become more self-sufficient, learning skills that will help them become independent from us. I suspect you’ve seen it in your own child. Your youngest son, who was barely able to dress himself last March, is now fully clothed before you’re even up in the morning. Or your daughter, with the crazy hair, is finally learning to manage it all by herself. Skills like shoe tying, reading, or riding a bike are often learned in the long stretch of summer. And mastering such skills are the strides kids need to make in their march towards independence from us. But it’s not always easy to know when to give them some of the freedoms they desire. We often find ourselves asking, “Is my child ready for that?”
Which brings me to a conversation I had with Tramica Morris, the mom of our Can-do Kid this month, Moziah Bridges. Her adorable son is 11 now and already beginning to exhibit the desire to have a bit more freedom. (It was around the middle school years I remember my own son asking me to loosen the reins a bit.) Last year, she had wondered how soon she should give him the freedom to ride his bike around the block to visit a friend. It seemed simple enough. But we moms are wired for worry. We do the typical risk analysis, weighing the risk of an activity against its potential benefit.
However, one thing to keep in mind is how these older kid milestones are important ones to allow kids to reach, as they give children a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance that comes with having more autonomy. I remember when my son was 9 or 10, wanting to walk home alone, which meant crossing the University of Memphis campus. That seemed so big! But we discussed it as a family and despite my initially worry, he did just fine. And ultimately, it was a confidence booster for him.
In this issue, writer Stacey Greenberg explores these older kid milestones, and speaks with experts to help parents weigh this important matter. It will be coming down the pike for you, too, probably sooner than you think. Better to consider it now, so you can make your best decision and help your child gain the competence he needs to manage life. Put your worries into perspective, and remember the benefits your child will gain by mastering a bit more of his world, one bike ride at a time.