Today's post comes from Adelia Moore, the mother of four grown sons, grandmother of five, and a clinical psychologist whose new book Being the Grownup: Love, Limits, and the Natural Authority of Parenthood is about the natural authority implicit in the parent-child relationship. In it she weaves together moments of family life as well as ideas from psychology, anthropology, family therapy, and neuroscience to help parents have more confidence in their ability to make decisions about what is right for their child, their family, and their parenting philosophy.
In 1986, with neither the benefits from nor the extra scrutiny of social media, I allowed my 10- year-old son to walk 15 minutes in a busy city neighborhood from school to his chorus rehearsal. I don’t remember if he asked me to do it alone, or if I suggested it. Either way, it was going to make my life easier to have one less pickup and drop off. But I hesitated, not because of weird strangers – that didn’t even occur to me – but because I thought he might lose his way or not pay enough attention crossing the street. And it would be my fault.
Why was I so worried? I had taken the bus home myself from downtown Indianapolis in the dark during rush hour at age 10 in 1959; my husband’s great-great-great-great grandfather came from Ireland on a ship alone at 8, for goodness’ sake. But I can still feel the self-doubt I had when making this and other similar decisions as a mother.
This son was a little spacey. And I was the grownup; I had what I call the natural authority of parenthood; I had to decide. My husband was okay with it, but he broke his arm four times as a kid and was inclined to encourage things that made me uncomfortable, from jumping off boulders to watching violent movies. So, there I was: a busy but somewhat anxious and guilt-prone parent of a slightly spacey but perfectly competent son who felt ready to be independent, with the support of my co-parent. I took the leap, making sure that he knew the route by driving it with him, talking it through until I felt he knew the way, and then trailing him in the car. Finally, I let him go. He made it, and my life was a little bit easier.
This particular story has no arrest and no nosy neighbors. But I remember it vividly over thirty years later, along with similar moments from my other three boys, each when they too were 9 or 10. Although I could criticize today’s anxious parents who hesitate to let their kids go, I know that I had plenty of anxiety myself as I learned to let each boy grow up. I can see that it was an important moment in my development as a parent, as much as a moment in theirs. But here's the point:
You can do it too! It may feel scary in the moment, but kids usually know what they can manage, and will tell you if they aren’t ready.
My sons are in their 30’s and 40’s now, and my grandchildren are arriving, one by one, at the point in their development where they want and need more independence. With the perspective of a grandmother and the training and clinical experience of a psychologist, I feel confident when I urge you to give your kids a chance to do more on their own. You won’t regret it, and they will thank you. Mine have.
There you have it! Advice from someone who's been there, understands the fear, and has counseled many others over the hump. Parents and kids both gain confidence from trusting the kids with a bit of independence.
There are plenty more stories and discussions like this in Being the Grownup. Adeliamoore.com @BeingtheGrownup #BeingtheGrownup.