How Much to Hold On (to our kids) or Let Go?
Have You Heard of “Free-Range Parenting”?
In March 2008, a mother by the name of Lenore Skenazy gave permission to her nine year old son to take the New York subway alone from Bloomingdales to home. After that experience, she wrote this article in the New York Sun and was then called the “World’s Worst Mom” by many media channels. Lenore then began the “Free-Range Parenting Movement” and started blogging and writing a book. Her inquiry into the statistics uncovered that even big cities, such as New York, are safer today than they were in the 70’s and 80’s, but because we have so much more information available through the internet, we live in a fear mindset.
How Much Freedom Did You Have As A Nine Year Old? Did Your Parents Hold On?
I was born in England and lived there until I was ten years old. From age nine, I was walking to the local train station after school (about a 20 minute walk) and then taking the train home (another 20 minutes). This was considered normal for my friends and me. My husband, grew up in West Vancouver, and he remembers taking the local bus at age 10 from West Vancouver to Vancouver, to attend a school over town.
Are You Comfortable Allowing Your Child to Take the Bus Independently?
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer for this question. I do think one has to take into account the child’s level of maturity and ability to problem-solve.
- Does your child know how to follow rules?
- Does your child know how to ask for help?
- Does your child know how to problem-solve?
If your child is mature enough, and you live in a generally safe area, I think taking the bus is an excellent task for developing capability. Our daughter started taking the local bus a couple of years ago (she’s now almost 13 years old). Our rationale was that this would show our belief in her as a capable, confident young girl. If she needed help, there would be a bus driver that could assist her. By giving her responsibility, she would become more responsible.
I’ve given this suggestion to many of the families I work with and at first, they often seem surprised. They are so used to driving their child everywhere, that it hadn’t occurred to them that it could be a very positive experience for their child. Sometimes, I meet teenagers who have not yet taken a local bus from one local stop to another local stop. Parents then realize that this would be an important step in developing their child’s self-confidence.
What About Attachment Theory and Holding On to Our Kids?
Nowadays, parenting can be very confusing. In Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Maté’s book, Hold Onto Your Kids, they talk about “creating dependency”. Their thesis is that the power to parent lies in the dependence the chid feels on their parents. When they see kids being “independent”, they see this as the child’s dependency needs transferring to being dependent on their peers.
I wholeheartedly agree that the primary attachment relationship needs to be between the parent and child, and that our influence as a parent is directly connected to the strength of our parent-child bond. To me, the foundation of parenting is all in the strength of our attachment to our children.
I am also trained in Adlerian theory. In Adlerian theory, the belief is to “never do for a child, what he can do for himself”. Do you see how these two theories seem to conflict? A main thesis of Adlerian theory is to focus on encouragement. As children develop their courage, they develop their sense of capability, their self-confidence and require less “service”. The connection of the parent-child relationship is also highly valued in Adlerian theory, but not through “creating dependency”.
How Do I Reconcile “Creating Dependency” and “Creating Independence”?
I believe that we want to continue to create situations where children are dependent on us, in order that we do remain the primary compass point from where they orient themselves.
I believe that some scenarios that achieve this are:
- going camping as a family, with tents and cooking meals over a fire
- going on a family holiday to a new place, possibly where a different language is spoken, to make it even more difficult to navigate
- going skiing on a new mountain, where it’s important to stick together, in order that one doesn’t get lost
- having 1:1 connection time at bedtime to hear about the events of the day and to create the opportunity for social/emotional questions, thoughts and feelings to come up
- having a ritual of family meals being eaten together, for a daily dose of family connection
- baking my family’s favourite treats
- making special meals
- staying committed to family traditions
- going on walks and hikes as a family with our family dog
- giving lots of T.L.C attention and care to my kids especially when they’re sick or emotionally distressed (attachment needs increase when a child is sick or distressed)
- writing love notes to them when I go away
- making them homemade gifts
- supporting them with their passions
- supporting them with their school work
- and more…
When it comes to independence, I want my children to feel capable, even when they’re nervous.
- I encourage my kids to go to summer camp for a week (our 12 year old is currently away on a 7 day school trip to Quebec)
- I want them to feel capable and able to take a bus from our house to a local destination
- I want them to pack their own suitcase when we go away for a holiday (younger children can help pack their own suitcase)
- I want them to learn how to cook a meal for themselves, starting with the simple things and as they get older, learning more complicated meals (for younger children, use a lettuce spinner and set the table)
- I want them to know how to read the labels in clothing and use the laundry machine (for younger children, help put the clean clothes away)
- I want them to know how to empty and fill the dishwasher, vacuum and do other tasks around the house (for younger children, dust and wipe the placemats)
- and more…
I hope this makes sense as to how one can incorporate both independence and dependence.
Over a year ago, I ran a five week webinar parenting course on Heart and Mind Parenting – incorporating our heart (attachment) and mind (developing capabilities) in our parenting. The feedback on this webinar series was very positive and so for the last year, I’ve been recreating this online parenting course to make it more accessible, all year-round, with lifetime access for participants. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing more information about this online parenting opportunity…Toddler to Teen™ Parenting Solutions.
PS. Speaking of confidence... registration is now open for my next round of Self-Empowerment groups starting on March 31st, 2016. The 7-9 year old group is FULL and there are still spaces in the 10-12 year old group. Registration is also open for my next round of Anxiety Management groups – “Brain Science” groups, the 7-9 year old group is FULL and there are still spaces in the 10-12 year old group. For registration, please go online here.
PPS. If you have a friend who could benefit from this article, please forward this to them or share with the social media buttons.
Thank you so much, I appreciate your sharing 🙂
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