The March Towards Independence

If you still have little ones at home, relish this time, for it slips by quickly.

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I must apologize. A family emergency consumed me last month. And so, my column was left undone. However, I looked back and remembered this piece. Wishing you all the best as the year gets underway.

And if you still have little ones at home, relish this time, for it slips by quickly.

I saw a colorful display of school supplies while shopping at Ike’s the other day. I did the customary thing we mothers do; I sized up the discounts (meh), noted the new characters that now adorn lunchboxes (my kid loved Blues Clues), scanned the piles of notebooks and folders and glue sticks and No. 2 pencils, while considering the different items my son’s teachers had requested over the years (I 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 to shepherd a child to school.

What a strange feeling it was. Bittersweet, yes, but something else, too.

Dare I call it… relief?

I won’t dwell on that, though, as I expect you’re in the thick of preparation, 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 dental appointments, searching out information he needs. My role has steadily shifted from tender to coach and sounding board. But when I mention my observation, he chimes 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 adds 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 children. Your youngest son, who was barely able to dress himself last March, is now fully clothed before you’re even out of bed in the morning. Or your daughter with the crazy hair is finally learning to manage it herself. Skills like shoe-tying, reading, and bike riding are often learned in the long stretches of summer break. And learning such skills are the strides kids need to make as they march towards maturity. But it’s not always easy to know when to give them some of those freedoms they need to do whatever it is on their own. 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 Moziah Bridges of Mo’s Bows infamy (and a former Can-do- Kid). 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.). She had weighed how soon she should give him the freedom to ride his bike around the block to visit with a friend. It seemed simple enough. But we moms are wired for worry. We do the typical risk analysis, weighing the risk of an event against its potential benefit.
But one thing to keep in mind is how these older kid milestones are important ones to allow kids to reach, as they give our children a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance that comes with having more autonomy. I remember when my son was 8 or 9 and wanted to walk across the University of Memphis campus to our home by himself. That seemed so big. But we discussed it as a family before letting him go and despite my initial worry, he did just fine and it was a confidence-builder for him.  

In this issue, Sandra Gordon describes some of the milestones to expect as the school year unfurls and speaks with experts to help you know what to expect. It will be coming down the pike for you, too. Better to think about it now, so you can make your best decision and help your child mature. As one expert put it, “the most important rule of thumb is to not say no when you could just as easily say yes.”


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