"Mom, I like my independence...kind of like America from Great Britain." These are the words my seven-year-old daughter said to me swimming in the wave pool last weekend when she wanted me to let go of her. The waves seemed pretty high to me, and I wanted to make sure she was safe. But she was confident in her ability to keep her head above the water, and she needed me to trust in her ability as well.
The same scenario played out a few months ago when she learned how to ride her bike without training wheels. I remember running down the street alongside her with tears in my eyes as she joyfully shouted for me to let go of the bicycle. She was ready, but I was not.
We all want our children to grow up to be strong, brave, independent and self-reliant. We begin sewing the seeds of independence when they are babies; leaving them on a play mat with toys while we fold laundry or return a few e-mails in the next room. As they grow, we teach them how to dress themselves; put away their toys and dirty clothes; help out with family chores around the house. We place kid-friendly snacks on the lower shelves of the pantry so they can help themselves to whatever they might need to refuel during the day.
Independence is a critical characteristic to foster in our children, as it will help to determine their ability to resolve conflicts with friends, siblings, and eventually roommates and co-workers. We allow them to experience natural consequences so that they can learn to be responsible and take care of what they have.
And it's not easy, is it? There are times when it's all we can do to stop ourselves from rushing in to rescue our children from unpleasant situations. Every instinct we have tells us to protect them. Solving their problems for them seems easier, more efficient, and oftentimes makes our lives easier as well. And yet when we do that, we rob our sons and daughters of important opportunities to strengthen their independence.
Honestly, no matter how much sense these thoughts make on paper, I'm going to have to work on letting go. It doesn't come easily for me, though I want to raise a confident, self-reliant young woman. Chances are I will still hold my breath when she climbs too high up in a tree or when she wants to venture into deeper waters. But the good news is I still have time to get used to the idea of letting go. It's going to require a lot of practice!
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