Monday, April 16, 2012

Independence or Helicoptering?

Any parent of a teenager knows what I'm talking about: It's that tight-wire walk between allowing your kid enough space to make his/her own choices (even if they aren't good ones!) or being that ever-present, over-baring, stockerish, helicopter parent.

I'd like to believe that no parent wants to just throw their child out to the sharks (though, sadly, it happens far too often), but I'd also like to think that parents understand that need for independence and learning. How do you strike the balance? How do you support independence without giving up your parental responsibilities? How do you love, support, and teach without being overbearing? How do you teach your child to make good choices without ramming those choices down their throat?

Where is the balance?

I'm a big promoter of "raising adults." I don't want my children to be TAKERS of society, rather I have visions of them being CONTRIBUTORS. And, I don't think it's ever too early to start teaching natural consequences and skills that will further independence. It starts when my children enter kindergarten and they learn how to make their own lunch. Each year they gain new skills, including money management, nutrition, chores, personal laundry, etc.  By the time they hit highschool they're on to DRIVING, dating, and maybe even a job!

UGH, driving! The ultimate test of independence!

As much as I love raising independent, enabled children, I will admit I've reached a stage that has been hard for me. While I am grateful for a teenager that is responsible (most of the time, anyway), self-starting, and hardworking, his level of independence is hitting me hard. Giving him the freedom (aka trust) to make his own choices is at times excruciating. Watching him fall is even harder.

But is holding his hand the right solution? Should I be in his face and up in his "business" every minute of every day?  - I don't think so... but sometimes I just wanna do it anyway!

The hard fact is that at some point, every child needs their independence. I suppose that magic age is different for every child. For my son, it's been a slow progression starting when he was about 12. For one of my daughters it started when she was fresh out of the womb. Each child is different and I don't believe a single set of guidelines would sufficiently cover all four of my children's needs. What is right for one may not be right for another. And, thus we progress - parent's and children alike - towards their independence. Hopefully towards a future that finds them prepared and capable contributors.

And, more importantly, towards a future that finds them successfully hitting their personal targets... without mommy and daddy hovering over them, directing their aim, and pulling the trigger. Why? Because I cherish my independence and I love my children enough to want them to have it too.

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