Sometimes I have serious concerns about my boys. On trash day, I decided I was going to get them very involved in the process of getting our garbage curbside. I had this fantasy that in one day I could easily teach them the protocol and from here on out, this could become a weekly responsibility for them. Since they are old enough (8 & 10) I would be helping them learn about what it means to take care of a household, and it would be one less thing for me to worry about.
As I talked them through it, I became more and more concerned. One didn’t know how to tilt the can to utilize its wheels properly. He did a sort of sad, stop-and-go, zig-zagged pattern down our driveway all the while looking very defeated. I coached the other boy to the area where we keep our boxes that need to be put out. His eyes glazed over and it was as if I was speaking in a foreign language. Eventually, he found the boxes and very slowly, walked them to the end of our driveway.
How are they ever going to survive without me? That is one of parenting’s most frightening questions.
The best thing we can do is to encourage independence in them as early as possible. Here are some ideas I have to build up their autonomy:
Let them work out conflict
I make sure to stay out of as many scuffles between the boys as possible. Of course I intervene if there is an injury, but for the most part, I keep out of it. If one or both come to me with a perceived injustice, they both automatically get a time-out in their rooms. This took a while to sink in, but for the most part, they work things out themselves and I get to avoid lots of unnecessary sibling drama.
It’s ok to let them be bored
As soon as one of my kids says they are bored, I have to fight my natural tendency to rescue them with a series of entertaining options. Being bored is okay. If they tell me repeatedly, then again, I suggest they go to their room for some quiet time. Magically, they figure out a way to entertain themselves and it’s a win-win for everyone.
Allow some freedom
This one depends on the ages and maturity of each child. It also depends on how much your parental psyche can handle. Recently, I have begun to allow my boys to ride their bikes to friends’ houses in our neighborhood. Yes, it is a little nerve-wracking for me, but I’ve built up a good network with the other parents of these friends. We try to text each other to announce arrival and departures, and sometimes, I’ll request the boys’ call me when they arrive or are on their way home. I can tell my boys relish this type of independent freedom.
When I see my boys feeling confident and becoming more self-sufficient, it gives me hope that they will make their way in the world after all. However, they might need to hire someone to help them take their garbage to the curb.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent