For many of us, letting our kids go is really hard. I see this play out all the time.
At the beginning of eighth grade, my son’s school takes the students on a five-day retreat to an outdoor education center near Yosemite. Following a parent orientation session for the trip, I found myself walking across the school campus with the mother of one of my son’s classmates.She lamented that parents were not allowed to go on the retreat and told me that she had been on “every other school trip” with her son over his last eight years in school.
I was slightly alarmed—and, finding it hard to take off my camp director hat, I told her I was excited for the trip and thought it would be a lot of fun for the kids to be without their parents for a few days. I explained that I run a camp wher2e even small kids attend for two weeks without their parents and that I see a lot of growth in them during their time with us. She looked straight at me and said, “I would never send my son to summer camp. These years are too precious and go by too fast, and I want to spend as much time with him as possible.”
Despite my normal tendency towards being effusive about the benefits of camp and the independence kids learn being away from us, I was speechless. This mom, like some others I have met over the years, sees her ever-presence with her child as her calling, and I wasn’t going to try to convince her otherwise.
I understand the feeling of loss many of us experience when our kids venture on without us. For some empty nesters, there’s a deep sense of mourning over not having the children at the center of their home and schedule any more. Even with two teenagers still at home, I am keenly aware of the empty chairs around our dining table. Many years after my oldest child left home for college, I relish those few nights a year, usually around holidays, when we’re all seven gathered around the table together. As a parent, it can feel easier emotionally when our kids just stay put and choose not to go away. But that is not always what’s best for our kids.
Regardless of how hard the process of separating and becoming independent will be for our kids and for us, unless they are severely disabled and unable to care for themselves, one of our most important parenting tasks is to help them learn to face the world without us. Parents of children with special needs—such as a severe food allergy, disease, physical disability, or mental illness—have a more challenging process to navigate in helping their kids become independent young adults, but it is still equally important. Regardless of how difficult it will be for our child to learn to navigate the world on their own, they need to learn to be their own person and take care of themselves.
Until you give your kid a little independence, the notion of letting go can be terrifying. After all, you have been with your child and your child is safe. You have no evidence that if you are NOT with your child, he or she can STILL be safe.
This excerpt from the book Happy Campers by Audrey Monke looks at what happens when parents step back. In the book it's Camp Secret #4: All Kids Can Be More Independent (Even Clingy Homebodies!)
I don't think Audrey is saying the only successfully launched kids live far from their parents, or even leave for college. Just that they are confident and capable, however much or long their parents are still in their lives.
So, readers, is there some technique you've devised (or stumbled upon) to make giving your kids some independence easier for YOU? Please share!