© Lightkeeper | Dreamstime.com
There is a theme running through this month’s issue, namely helping your child down the road to independence. That’s really what our job as parents is all about. We strive to give our children the strength and confidence to one day live apart from us, successfully, on their own.
What you’ll notice as you raise your children is that this happens incrementally. There are many small steps your children will take over the course of their childhood that will gradually build their self-confidence and competence. Each step will help them gain self-awareness of their ability to manage in the wider world. Even that baby you hold in your arms today will soon learn that you aren’t always present in his life to watch over him, though others will stand in your stead.
I can still recall the first time I became aware of this notion. I was fortunate enough to be at home with my son during the early years, I didn’t have to place him in a day care so that I could go to work. I expect that must be a difficult thing to do, especially when your child is still a baby. But I did work doing freelance writing, and so I often felt the tension that comes from having a home business, wanting to do the best I could for my clients, and yet needing to care for my son as well. It was a tricky balance to strike.
So when I was able to use the Mother’s Day Out program that our church ran, I did. Once my son turned 1, he began going to their classrooms several mornings a week. I realized that in doing so, he would begin having time away from our home; having experiences I wouldn’t be privy to, developing attachments to others, learning and growing separately from our family. In being on his own, he would begin to recognize the existstance of this wider world, one in which he navigate on his own.
It made me sad at first. How could he be without me? But it also gave me relief. I could work at home without feeling guilty, knowing he was in good hands. He had other children to play with, (which, as an only child, was a definite plus), and came to love his teachers. Being there was his first taste of independence. What followed were many other small steps, from doing overnights with friends in elementary school to flying on his own to stay with his cousins in Georgia when he was 10.
At each passage I often asked myself, is he ready for this next step? Will he be able to fend for himself? Will he gain new strengths and a sense of confidence in his abilities? If the answer was no, we slowed down, waiting until he was ready.
I must admit, though, that he did spend three weeks at an overnight camp something a bit more than we expected and he came down with a horrible case of homesickness. I was genuinely surprised, I thought he was ready. But he toughed it out, and when I arrived to pick him up later that month, he enthusiastically showed me around camp and told me of all his adventures. He’d come through the experience unscathed, and perhaps stronger for it, too. Although I will admit, he never did return to camp. Oops.
Fast-forward to this past Valentine’s Day, when the young man who will forever hold the key to my heart moved out to a place of his own. Of all things to receive on this day of love, the gift of letting go was a tough one. But I am thankful he felt competent enough to strike out on his own. I won’t lie and say it didn’t hurt because it did, initially. And then it didn’t. Because I see him forging a life of his own and making good decisions as an adult. He’s juggling college coursework and his job and he’s doing it successfully. I expect that’s the best Valentine gift a mother ask for.