The single most important job as a parent, aside from making sure your children stay safe and out of jail, is to teach them how to be independent, responsible adults. We only get them for a short time. And for those eighteen years, give or take, we have to not only teach them what’s expected of them as adults, we have to let them practice.
I keep thinking, “Oh my God, they are NINE. Soon to be 10! We’re more than halfway there…my job is half done and I’m going to be losing them to the world very soon. I need to step up my game!”
Certain things are clearly easier to let them practice than others. Like pouring a bowl of cereal and quietly turning on the television on Saturday mornings. Mastering this maneuver is a win-win for everyone.
Earlier this year, I was examining our record for getting on the bus and making it to school on time. I’d estimate the boys had made it on the bus 8% of the time. It was insane. I was driving them almost every day. Often it was only one or the other of the boys who was dilly-dallying, fighting, looking for something, forgetting something, refusing to brush his teeth properly, etc. and making us late. So, in the spring, when the weather was nice, I had a stroke of genius. When the twin who was ready to go to school was sitting around waiting for the other one, I told him that he could go on up to the bus stop.
All by himself.
Turns out this was the smartest thing I could have done. Suddenly, both boys started to get ready a little earlier. Both boys became aware of the time. Both boys realized that if they could get their acts together they could walk up the street, meet their friends, and get on the bus–on their own. Without having their mommy watching over them every step of the way. This, apparently, is a huge incentive. Who knew?
I fear I have become a bit of a “helicopter parent”. I supervise my kids fairly closely and have some strict rules about what they are allowed to do and when. I catch myself intervening when they are playing and having a disagreement with each other or other friends. I find myself offering solutions, unsolicited advice, and doing things for them that they should be doing themselves. When we are with less-structured, more easy-going families, I try to dial it back so as not to appear crazy. I envy super calm, cool, and collected parents who don’t jump up at the first signs of distress. Parents who send their kids off to play or do things that, let’s face it, most of us did regularly when we were growing up and our parents didn’t bat an eye.
So these experiments in independence seem to be important for them AND me.
I want to be a confident parent. Confident that I’ve taught my boys how to solve basic problems. Confident that they will be kind and considerate when playing with their friends. Confident that they will know their limits, know themselves, and choose their own (smart, safe, compassionate) path, regardless of what their friends are doing. Confident that they will follow guidelines for safety I’ve laid out for them time and time again.
But they are boys. Nine year old boys. And common sense doesn’t exactly rule the roost around here. I often find myself uttering the words, “What were you thinking?”
Like everything else in my life, letting them experiment with their independence is a balancing act. I’m constantly evaluating whether they can/should in any given situation. I want to give them enough opportunities to make decisions and practice responsibility so they don’t just blindly rebel and revolt as they grow into teenagers. I’ve made a conscious effort to step back and keep my mouth shut. I’ve started saying the words “Work it out”. I let them walk up the street to the bus stop by themselves. We split up in the grocery store sometimes and they take half the list. Obviously, this doesn’t happen all the time, but I’m trying. Baby steps.
Sometimes I feel like I’m preparing myself more than I am preparing them. Preparing myself for the day when they won’t need me anymore. Preparing myself for sitting silently while they make every decision for themselves. Preparing myself for the fact that they may not ask for my opinion for a long, long time.
I’m realizing that much of my life and personality has been consumed with being a mom/coach/teacher of these little boys and in the not-too-far off future, I’m going to be forced into retirement. It’s half-time and my coaching opportunities are dwindling. I need to prepare both them and myself for the next half so that when the game is over and they graduate and leave the house and start a new adventure, I will finally be that confident parent. I will rest easy knowing I have raised to strong, kind, brave, smart, independent young men. And we will all be prepared for whatever life has in store for us next.
Better get back to practice.