What parent hasn’t been warned that “it goes by so fast,” when raising their kids? It doesn’t always feel that way, especially during those long nights when nobody is sleeping, but when I stop for a second and let it sink in that I have been someone’s parent for almost nine years, it’s kind of shocking. You’d think I’d be used to the rhythm of having my children outgrow clothes, expand their vocabulary, and become more self-sufficient. However, watching your kid gain more independence is hard. So. Freakin'. Hard. It’s a constant reminder that we can never freeze the golden moments of their childhood, even and especially when we want to.
On the flip side, my kids’ independence will eventually enable me to ditch a lot of household tasks. I picture a day when the kids are doing the laundry because, well, that's over two hours of my life I can get back every week. Until then, I have to put in the time to school them and let them practice, over, and over (and over) again. Some milestones, like crawling or walking, you usually just have to encourage them to achieve. Others, like navigating a challenging situation with a friend or making their own beds, have to be taught. For me, those are the harder independent gains for me to witness, because I know how hard fought and won they are. There’s no denying that my children are morphing from babyish blobs to critically thinking, complex people. I don’t think there is a word to describe the enormous amount of pride, and huge punch in the gut, I feel when I'm observing my children become who they are meant to be.
So, while I am not blowing off what a positive impact my kids’ independence has on us as a family, I can’t help but wince a little as they shed their dependence. Here are some reasons why my child gaining more independence is hard, because feels, you guys. So many feels.
You Have No Idea How To Gauge What’s Appropriate
There are books and how-to articles about what kids are capable of understanding or comprehending and at what age. However, you really need to know your kid, and a book or how-to article can't accomplish that for you. Was my daughter ready for a sleepover in first grade? I thought so, since she was enthusiastic about attending the first one she was invited to. Turns out, we should have waited, not because she missed me but because she was under the illusion that you actually sleep on an overnight and was unbearably cranky when that didn’t happen. Gaining independence should make your kid feel empowered, not weak with sleep deprivation.
You Don’t Feel As Needed
I've been shut out of bath time. I've had my daughter tell me she wants to read by herself. I've had my son tell me he prefers solo Lego play. Those moments should have been wonderful, but they were pretty weird. While I’m getting used to not having to supervise them constantly, I do find that I’m missing them and the moments when I was an instrumental part of the routine.
Younger Siblings Are Totally Jealous
My tween daughter is desperate to at least feel grown up. I agreed to make her a set of house keys, with the provision that she pays for subsequent copies if she loses them. Not only did this literally open doors for her, but it taught her to have a real stake in her independence. Unfortunately, her 6-year-old brother thought he was entitled to the same, and it gets exhausting explaining how he is far from ready for house keys. I mean, come on kid; you're still putting your underwear on backwards.
You’re Suddenly Nostalgic For Their Helplessness
I can barely lift my kids anymore and they fly past me on their scooters when we head to the park. Though I never thought I’d miss the diaper changes and stroller pushing, those were also moments when I felt so connected to them. Weaning them was harder for me than it was for them, for example. I want them to grow up, but not at the expense of letting go of the closeness I felt when they were babies. It’s a lesson, though, that I have to find other ways of staying close to them. (Though not by teaming up to play Pokemon Go.)
Your Parenting Partner May Not Agree With Loosening The Limits
I learned to cross the street by myself when I was nine. So, I decided that my daughter, an incoming fourth grader who turns nine in a few months, should start practicing. My partner, who grew up in the suburbs, unlike the mean Queens streets where I was raised, was staunchly opposed to this. I had to convince him that she should learn, because there needed to be solidarity with us on this particular decision. She had to know both her parents trusted her to do the right thing. It wouldn’t work if one of us exhibited less confidence in her good (enough) judgment than the other.
You’re Criticized For Being Too Lax
I see the looks my small-for-her-age 9-year-old gets when she crosses a street with no parent in sight (since I’m hanging half a block back from her). People seem surprised when I send my children into the fruit and vegetable shop to pick out and purchase apples (as I wait outside). How exactly are kids supposed to learn to do anything if we don’t send them out in the world to have age-appropriate experiences?
The crazy thing is that my kids are even better behaved when they are granted these independent adventures. They innately know that if they pull this one small thing off and prove they’re trustworthy, there are bigger moments they can look forward to attempting.
It’s All You Can Do To Keep From Meddling With Your Kid When They Are So Doing It Wrong
In order to empower your kid to be more independent, you have to back off. This is so hard, especially for Type A parents like me. You can’t just say, “I’ll just do it," because, in the end, what would they learn? Instead of a task, they'd probably learn that you don't have any confidence in them to rise to the occasion, and that they won’t ever have to be independent because "mom will just step in to brush their hair, get them dressed, put their homework in their folders."
As counterintuitive as it is for me to give my kids the space to mess up, I know it will pay off later. Teaching them how to be responsible people in the world is my job, as a parent. I just have to get it out of my head that merely “getting it done” isn’t the point. Practice makes perfect, though I’ll settle for competent when it comes to my six-year-old clearing the table without spilling all the crumbs.
It’s Actually More Work
“If you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.” I have this internally repeated this very saying every day, especially when I’m vacuuming the rug after a quasi-successful attempt to let the first grader spread his own cream cheese on toast. The good news is that if I give him the “independent” task of sweeping up after himself, he may learn to be neater at mealtime. Win-win.
Simple Tasks Will Now Take Twice As Long
Tying their shoes? I can do it in 10 seconds flat. The kids clock in at about three minutes and change, and those shoes never stay tied. Before you get to reap the benefits of having independent children who don’t suck all the time and energy from you with menial life tasks, you have to put in the hours overseeing all their screw-ups. It will be worth it, though. Once my daughter finally learned to do her own hair, the 10 minutes I got back and used to get ready for work in the morning were life-changing.
You Fear For Their Lives
My heart is in my throat every time my daughter steps off the curb to cross the street by herself. I was consumed with anxiety when I escorted my peanut-allergic son, and his EpiPen, to a drop-off playdate for the first time. I guess it gets easier the more they do a particular thing, but with each new act of independence they embark on, I am sweating bullets. I can’t let them see me stress, though, as I'm sure it would knock their confidence. Parenting is a mental workout, and it's hard to check your pulse when your heart is walking around outside of your body, crossing streets and playing with friends.