Archive for December 7th, 2009

A Case For Independence

In the seventh grade, my teacher asked, “What character trait do you admire most in a person?”  At the time, I remember trying to figure out the answer she wanted most.  I decided she was looking for honesty, so that was my answer.  Honesty was the trait I admired most in a person.  Ironically, that was a lie.  What I knew then and has remained true all these years is the trait I admire most in people is independence and self-reliance.  I love an independent person.  But even more so, I love an independent child.

People who know me understand that this in the way I have raised my older children.  They see that I have always allowed my children to fall but that I have also always been there to pick them up.  On the other hand, people who only know me in passing might think I am too laid back.  They see me standing back while my child tries to climb a tree, instead of giving them a boost up and they think I am being a bad mom.  I would love to say I am a person who isn’t bothered by what other moms think, but I am not.

Instead, I have to remind myself that I have a plan in parenting.  I am trying to raise my children to take chances, hoping that they will succeed but knowing there will be some failures along the way.  Knowing also that these failures are part of the process.  I could have spent their childhood protecting them from every fall, made sure they were safe every minute of every day, but I let them explore and figure things out own their own, make mistakes and learn from them.

Just before I discovered I was pregnant with Zane I found myself in awe of how well this form of parenting had worked out.  I was so happy with the independence that my children had.  At 10 and 12 they were self-reliant enough to take a third of the grocery list and meet me back at the checkout with their items.  They could not only carry their own luggage when we traveled but they could pack it before the trip as well.  It was so rewarding to watch my parenting theory prove true.

When I discovered I was pregnant with Zane, I told my husband I wanted to raise him exactly the same way.  I wanted to teach him to be independent and self-reliant.  Then he was born.  This tiny little baby was placed in my arms and suddenly I forgot all about independence.  I just wanted to protect him.  Every day I struggle with this urge to protect him from everything.  I catch myself doing things for him instead of letting him learn them himself.  But I look at his older brother and sister and know I need to let go and let him take the same chances.

Yesterday, Zane and I went ice skating for the very first time.  I asked him to stand to the side of the rink and let me go around a couple of times to get my legs back before bringing him out.  He stood there nervously, watching me getting my bearings and suddenly that feeling of protection almost overtook me.  Maybe I shouldn’t bring him out.  He might fall and get hurt.  He might fall and not want to get up again.  He might not want to skate again.  But I fought the urge to protect him.  I went over and took his hand and brought him onto the ice.  For an hour and a half we skated around the rink, Zane spending more time on his butt than his feet but laughing every time he fell.  By the end of our time on the ice, Zane was skating without my help and I, fighting the urge to catch him before every fall, skated ahead of him and made small loops on the ice to come up behind him, giving him just enough space to feel independent without feeling alone.  He would fall and try to pick himself up, and if he could that was great, but if he couldn’t, he knew I was right there to help.

Being a mom is hard.  Sometimes I feel like I have made it harder on myself by trying to instill independence in my children.  It would be so much easier to hold their hands and keep them by my side.  It would be so much easier to not worry about their getting hurt because I was protecting them every step of the way.  But would it be better for them?  I have to believe it wouldn’t.  I choose to believe that the falls and failures they face along the way will, in the end, make them stronger, more independent, more self-reliant people.  I will watch him grow into the person he will become, just as I have with the first two, and hope that I am right.


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