From the moment our children are born we are in a constant state of watching and if truth be told, worrying. From that quiet breath in infancy that compels us to put a feather under their nose to make sure they are still breathing, to the sleepless nights waiting for older teens to arrive home safely.
Of course it doesn’t stop there, though. In fact, any parent will tell you that it never stops.
Watching our little ones fail early on in life is only mildly painful; the tumbling toddler or the preschooler who struggles trying to hold a pair of scissors. As they grow the stakes get higher: the fall from the bike without training wheels, the unsuccessful sleepover, and the homesick camper. Later mishaps may mean not getting into the high school or college of one’s choice, or heartbreaks from broken friendships or young romance. All of these events are difficult and painful for parents to witness but they are necessary to the successful growth and maturity of their children.
I have written frequently about overparenting and the recent article in the New York Times
by Madeline Levine, clinician and author of Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success
, reminded me once again how important it is to let our children grow wings.
We must listen to our gut as parents when it comes to important safety decisions and we should certainly be practical about what limits we place on our young children.
Obviously curfews need to be set and children should not be unsupervised in any setting that could be considered dangerous. But what does this mean?
As Madeline Levine writes, “if there is a predator loose in the neighborhood, your daughter doesn’t go to the mall. But under normal circumstances an 11-year old girl is quite capable of taking care of herself for a few hours in the company of her friends.”
Of course, you might say, we don’t always know when a predator is loose. In fact, we can never really be certain about all the dangers that lurk outside of our supervision. These are the kind of fears that can stifle our children’s growth. We must allow them to take acceptable risks in order to gain confidence and mastery of their own lives.
While every parent has their own comfort level in how much autonomy they allow their child, so often it is the parent’s own anxiety that gets in the way of growth. The parent who says, “my child just isn’t ready for a sleepover, sleep away camp, increased responsibilities, staying alone at home for a few hours (as a teenager)” is usually articulating their own fears. When I discuss the reasons they feel their children, “aren’t ready” they usually describe their own feelings or fears, completely unaware of how they have imposed them on their child. I have heard parents say things such as, “I wasn’t ready for sleep away camp at 11.”
There are obviously situations where certain kids are later to the game with specific activities but most often it is a parent’s worry that prevents them from participating.
It is in those moments that we are stretched just beyond our comfort level, and that our children too experience that stretch, that growth happens. It is when we let our kids do it themselves that they may fall and figure out a way to get up and then learn how not to fall the next time.
No one says it is easy. In fact, it is incredibly difficult to see your child unhappy but it is both in inevitable and necessary.
As Madeline Levine so rightly states, “If you can’t see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business.” It is all part of this wonderful crazy ride called parenting.
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