Having just celebrated our nation’s independence, it got me thinking about my boys and their level of independence. In our family structure, since I am mostly a full-time stay-at-home parent, I often wonder if they have age-appropriate life skills in place. They rely heavily on me to guide them through their day-to-day life and I have to learn how to step back. At this point, a lot of what I do is for two reasons: habit and efficiency. The good news is a habit can be changed. Therefore I am trying new ways to give them more freedom. The downside is that efficiency suffers. That’s why I have decided to only tackle one task at time.
One way that I have helped establish the beginnings of their independence is with their academics. Starting at around third grade, a bit earlier for my older son as every child is different, I gave them total responsibility for their school work. Since that time they have been in charge of all their assignments, studying for tests, alerting me of upcoming projects and bringing their daily planners to me (with a pen in hand!) so that I may sign them. If they had any issues with the work they brought home, it was up to them to ask me for help and often I was able to redirect it back to them asking their teachers. There are too many new rules and requirements with school work that I find that I am a very under qualified middle man. Going to their teachers directly with questions has seemed to be the best way to get homework misunderstandings resolved. This again reinforces my boys’ sense of personal responsibility as it is up to them to follow-up with their teachers. I have found that the more freedom I give them, the more invested they are in the outcome.
This approach works well if your children seem to be mastering what they are learning in school. In some cases, such as kids with attention issues or learning disabilities, it makes sense for parents to stay more involved. If you aren’t able to step back from their academics, I still encourage you to have your kids take charge of the logistics of their work as much as you can. Even the simple act of having them bring you their daily planner and/or folders will be a great stepping stone towards teaching them more responsibility.
While not without bumps and missteps, I have had more ease letting go of my boys’ at school. Unfortunately my micromanagement is still in full force on the home front. Being that it is summer and there isn’t the pressure of a school schedule, I’ve been trying to get them more involved one task at a time. We recently returned from a trip. As you know packing for a family trip can be a huge production. To lessen my load and to get the boys invested, I sat them down and they helped formulate a list of what they needed to pack. While I did supervise from a distance, they packed everything on their lists and then were in charge of making sure their bags made it to the car. They also were in charge of all their things once we arrived at our destination and had to pack them all back up as we headed home. As I mentioned before, the efficiency of it wasn’t as streamlined as if I had done it myself, but it gave me hope that it will get easier over time. I’ve also had my twelve-year-old learning more about helping with laundry. This at times has been helpful and entertaining. Let’s just say, I think he finally knows without a doubt the difference between the dryer and the wash machine! In addition to this laundry ‘help’, both boys are now in charge of stripping their beds and remaking them. I’ve had to make peace with their beds not being ‘perfect’. So, my choice here is keeping my high standards or letting them do things their own way. The shocker is it’s THEIR life so ultimately however they do it for themselves actually IS perfect.
The more you can delegate to your kids the better. As they began to grow towards adulthood and gain mastery over life, you will begin to get slivers of your freedom back, too. Basically freedom gives as much as she gets.
Happy Independence Day to all of us!
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent