I am struggling lately with the question of independence for my twin seven year olds. I want them to be independent and self-confident, but letting go is hard. Really hard.
When is the right time to let them go and have a bit of independence?
I know that the answer is that I need to start letting go a bit at a time in order to build their skills and confidence, but it can be difficult determining the what and when of that process.
For the past year or so, they have been asking for little bits of freedom here and there. When I drop them at school, they want to walk up to the building on their own and not be accompanied by me. Fine. I can still watch them and make sure everything is ok.
Then, the other day they got in their minds that they wanted to walk our 5 lb. black toy poodle to the park down the street – on their own. Many questions flashed through my mind:
- Could they cross the street at the crosswalk?
- Could they tell time and know when to come home?
- Do they even know their own address?
- Would they be able to avoid talking to strangers – or resist someone that insisted?
Then I wondered: Did I walk to and from the park when I was 7 years old? I actually can’t remember, but my sense is that by sometime around grade 2 or 3 (or was it 4?) I was walking about 15-20 minutes to and from school on my own.
They were insistent. And my wife was looking at me as if I was being over-protective. So, against my gut, I relented and said ok. They were giddy with excitement, not quite believing I’d said yes. (Which raises this whole other topic about how each negotiation with your kid becomes part of this elaborate database of experience that they subsequently draw on in order to get their way. They pay very close attention to what works and what doesn’t and then reuse tactics and arguments that worked before and abandon ones that don’t. But I digress…)
Before they walked out the door, they had found their watch and had a refresher on telling time, they had memorized and been quizzed on their phone number and they had repeatedly been told not to talk to strangers. Out they went into the world. Gasp.
I stood there wondering what I should do. I walked around, pretending to straighten things. Then I bolted outside to watch them walk down the street. But they were already out of sight when I got to the sidewalk.
At that point, my irrational fears took over like an uncontrollable chain reaction. I started walking down the street following them – I just wanted to see them. But I realized that they’d be so angry at me if they saw me. So I had to be stealthy and hang back.
I must have been quite the sight – sweatpants and top, my extremely uncool baby blue crocs, and a baseball cap covering unshowered hair. At one point, I spotted them and had to take cover behind a bush. Probably not the best situation I thought – looking and acting like a stalker of children while, in fact, stalking my own children.
I tried to relax and look natural. I walked at a brisk pace keeping them in sight while maintaining my distance. They seemed to be having fun and doing well. At one point, I lost sight of them and had another mild panic attack. Then, way across the field I saw them romping along. Phew.
On their way back across the street heading home, they stopped to talk to another dog-walker. Just as I suspected. Of course, who doesn’t stop and talk to two sweet kids walking a tiny black dog?
Eventually, they arrived home safe and sound. They had acquired some skills and built their confidence. But they clearly need some more work on the street-proofing.
Survived the first baby step toward independence. Now, the big problem is: What do I say next time?