In response to elaborate on independence   2 comments

This week a friend contacted me after reading my previous post last week on independence.  She said there was something missing from the post and suggested that I also talk about how I helped my kids (so far) to become independent.  So I will do my best to explain a little about what we do.

I’ve never been the kind of mom that cries about the fact that my kids are getting older.  When others are misty eyed because they cannot believe their child has reached a certain milestone or age, I’m ready to move forward with them and not wish for them to still be little.  This attitude is a part of my personality that keeps me from hanging on too tightly.

We do all the normal things families do; chores, money management, babysitting siblings and talking about safety and ‘what if’ situations.  We also experience our share of laziness and naughtiness – I won’t talk about remedying those situations today because there are a lot of great books out there on child rearing by respected authors.   But I think there are a couple of areas that I find aren’t talked about too often in books on child rearing that may stand out as being key to what has helped  my kids to experience a level of independence that is unusual for their age.

I have learned that there is risk involved in teaching them to be independent.  I began sending my children on walking errands when they were about seven years old.  When my oldest was seven, I had him walk to a small store called T-Mart a half a mile away to get an ingredient for dinner.  I gave him a quarter to be able call me from the payphone outside of the store (these were the days before everyone had cell phones) so I knew that he safely arrived there and then I could estimate how long before I could expect him home.   Just last week I gave my current seven year old a receipt that needed to be turned into our church office, so I gave her instructions on what to do with it and had her walk to church which is about four blocks away.  I could have easily given it to one of the older kids to do, but I want to make sure the younger ones also get opportunities to gain independence.

I have the kids ride their bikes or walk around town to the places they need to go such as piano lessons or the library.  They stay home alone when I determine they’re ready, not some agency that sets an across the board age for everyone.  When each child reaches around seven, they learn to start breakfast for the family, by getting eggs with cheese scrambled, muffins made and getting the table set or delegating it to someone.  Of course the person being asked to set the table must oblige, because the one cooking is in charge – even if the one cooking is seven and the one being asked is twelve. 

Is there risk involved in these things?  Of course, but life involves risk.  Sure, someone could point out all the red dots that represent those people charged with a sexual crime that reside near the route my kids will ride their bikes and ask how could I let them ride near there?  My response would be that sexual predators have been around – and in the same numbers- for generations.  The difference is we now have a way to track them and instantly look up their whereabouts at home on our computer – making us believe the world is more dangerous today.  Our parents and grandparents lived near these same kinds of people – but they just didn’t realize it because they didn’t live in an age of instant and abundant information.   This abundance of easily accessed information about crime and criminals adds to of our fear of ‘what ifs’.  With 24 hour news channels available, it is instantly broadcast across the nation when a child is abducted by a stranger – which is extremely rare.  This makes us believe that strangers are lurking around every corner to steal our children and our irrational fear keeps us from allowing them any freedom.

The area I think has been most important for gaining independence is that I make my kids feel needed in our home, not just wanted.  Most parents love their kids and make them feel wanted, but in today’s world the family doesn’t really need their kids as they did in the past.  There was a time where the literal survival of a pioneer or farm family depended on the work of every family member.  Children knew they were needed and that gave them a sense of purpose.   I let my kids know that the work they do is genuinely needed and not just a chore for the sake of a chore.  They have learned to climb ladders, clean gutters, and blacktop the driveway at around age 11.  Patch leaky roofs and chimneys at age 14.  In any work that is needed from housework to outside work, I have had them work with me and have let them know that their contribution is invaluable. 

I think their level of responsibility grows when they know they are being counted on and trusted to come through.  When my 15 year old stays alone at his grandparents’ cabin he knows his life could be in danger if he is careless – such as not leaving a note on the counter indicating on which trail he plans to 4 wheel.  If he got injured on the trails, no one would know where he is.  My parents count on him to be careful with the wood burning stove and outdoor fires – and because they count on him and entrust him with their property – he comes through for them.   Because he has been taught at a young age to handle himself (which involves risk) and that his contributions to the family are vital, he has now reached an age to be completely trusted with these things. 

So for me – I would say the ‘how’ in gaining independence for my kids has been stressing two main areas and the first is accepting that there is risk involved in allowing kids freedom and the second is letting them know they are needed in the family.   The way I see it, there is greater risk in being overprotective and hanging on too tightly – and that is resulting in having older children who are overly dependent on their parents for too long or ones who ‘bust out’ because they want independence but were never taught how to handle it and then they make poor choices.  Our culture sees the result of this much more often than we see kids being abducted by strangers.

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Posted April 9, 2011 by The Nonconformist Mom in Uncategorized

2 responses to “In response to elaborate on independence

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  1. Great post! My husband used to make dinner every night, but has recently started a second shift job. I don’t have a lot of energy at the end of the day, so the kids know that I need their help to get something on the table. Lo and behold, they are stepping up and being FAR more independent than they were even just a month ago! Necessity is the mother of development! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing!

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