A few days ago my daughter passed her driving test. She can now officially drive a car on her own. Last night she went for her first drive with no one else in the car. For me this came with a whole lot of emotions; I was very proud of her but also wondering where my little girl has gone as our daughter is very quickly growing into a beautiful, independent young lady!
I remember when this daughter of mine, who is now driving, started Kindy (2 days per week in the year she turned 4). This was her first really big adventure in the world without me. She had been left at grandparents and other people’s houses but starting Kindy was really the start of her leaving me, as such. She had been very confident on her first ½ day with only 4 other children. She was a little more hesitant on her first full day with all 20 children at Kindy and all the other parents as well. I remember leaving her holding very tightly onto Bluey (her favourite teddy & 5th member of our family). Although I was excited that she was moving onto Kindy and this next stage of her life I was also apprehensive. How would she go at Kindy? Would she make friends? Would she listen to the teachers? Would she play nicely with the other children? (I’m sure I’ll have similar thoughts as she heads of to Uni next year!)
It is like they are ours for such a little while. I believe that as soon as the umbilical cord is cut on our children when they are born that we begin letting them go. It is kind of like that they are ours for 9 months as they grow and develop inside of us and then they are born into the world and immediately they don’t just belong to us anymore. We have to let other people hold them and do things to them.
I remember when my daughter was about 5 months old my husband asked me “who are we going to arrange for her to marry?” Of course I answered that we couldn’t arrange her marriage. Much as we would like to control all of our children’s lives and make sure that they marry the “right” person we can’t do that.
As Cloud & Townsend state on p7 in their book Boundaries with Kids, we need to remember “Your task as a parent is to help your child develop inside him what you have been providing on the outside: responsibility, self-control, and freedom.” Our role is to help mold that totally dependent infant to become an independent adult being. Along the way we need to slowly let them or help to become more independent so they will be a fully functioning adult when they are grown.
So how do we let our children go?
I think it is in small stages. It is a continual process from birth to adulthood. First we let other people hold them and trust that they do know what they are doing? We might leave them with grandparents or another trusted individual for a short period of time. Obviously the time that we leave them gets longer and longer and then they start some form of childcare or school and are away from us much of the day.
Learning to let go is not only about physically leaving your children in the hands of someone else but also about helping them grow from helpless, totally dependent beings to independent adult beings. Some children will at times be doing this before you are ready and other children will need to be coaxed along to be more independent. For example I’m sure you will be quite ready for them to start wiping their own bottom when they are toilet training. However it can be different if they want to start walking to school by themselves when they are in grade 1, even if you only live 8 houses from the school and no roads need to be crossed (yes, that was my daughter).
It is much like a mother bird pushes the baby bird from the nest when it is time for it to learn to fly. Of course she is close at hand if she is needed. Sometimes we will need to push them from the nest in some aspect of growing up and at other times we will be the ones who aren’t quite ready as they jump from the nest by themselves.
My favourite analogy that I found when I was researching this topic is the kite theory. When flying a kite sometimes you need to let more string out and sometimes you need to reel it in to keep that kite up in the air. It is like that with our children sometimes we need to let the string loosen and let them try something independently of us and other times they need us real close so we bring them back to us. For example we protect toddlers from a fall, yet we let go of the bicycle seat just a few years later so they can learn to ride. And just like the kite we never fully let them go.
How have we let the string go a little at a time? We left our children with others from when they were babies. From toddlers we generally let them choose what they were going to wear for the day (at times we did want to start a range of children’s clothing called “I Dressed Myself”, especially when my daughter decided to wear all the shades of red in her wardrobe, which also included pink!). I remember when my daughter was 4/5 and she wanted to help prepare dinner by cutting the carrots. Of course I wasn’t going to give her a sharp knife so she used her knife and cut up the carrots. We had some odd shaped bits of carrot but I’m sure it gave her a sense of accomplishment and helped her on the road to becoming an independent girl who will be able to prepare a meal for herself. I made them carry their own school bag to & from home. We did let them walk to school by themselves (together) from early primary school. Later when we moved house they rode to school and I just helped them cross the busy road. They caught the school bus once at high school. When they were early teens we left them at the shops with their friends, which has progressed to catching public transport to the shops to meet friends. From early teens we have left them home by themselves during the day which has progressed to leaving them home at night. Also getting them to help with household duties so they know how to cook, clean, wash clothes etc when they leave home. Even though my children are very definitely becoming independent young people, I’m sure there is still more letting go to come.
Overall I believe that letting go of our children is a lifelong process which will happen gradually as our children grow up. We can help in the process by slowly teaching and expecting our children to develop and use the skills that they will need when they are fully grown.
Ultimately we are not in control but need to leave our little ones under God’s care. We can’t always be with them but God can and we can talk to God about all aspects of our children’s lives and even pray about their futures.
How are you helping your children grow into independent adults?