I will never forget what it was like teaching my firstborn how to tie her shoes. In my daughter’s typical headstrong and independent toddler way, her only response when I tried to help was, “No, Mommy – I do myself!” It drove me crazy. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the importance of her mastering this skill on her own, I really did. But this surge of confidence most often occurred when her baby brother was on the verge of a meltdown or we had to be somewhere in the next five minutes. And, my adult self really did know how to do it faster…and dare I say, better?
It’s funny how this scene continues to play out with this same girl, who is now fifteen. We’re just not talking about how to tie her shoes anymore.
I wish I could say it’s gotten easier to step away and let my kids “do themselves” as they’ve grown. I imagine most parents would agree it only gets harder in big kid territory. In a blink, our children breeze past navigating playground etiquette and dive headfirst into the more nuanced waters of friendship, dating, and life-impacting decision making. They start facing grown-up situations that they’ve never encountered before and let’s be honest: they don’t really know what they are doing.
But, with decades of life experience, the gift of hindsight, and a fully developed brain, guess who does? You got it – those of us who are parenting them.
It’s no wonder it’s so difficult to let go and allow our kids to make their own way.
I’ve got to be honest: I’m a huge culprit of this. My struggle is multi-faceted, but it lies primarily in the pressure that I feel as the stakes get higher for my older children. Big kid mess-ups can bring about big consequences, and there’s major fear wrapped up in that for me. But, even little missteps can get our kids into situations that make their journeys harder for them. It’s difficult to watch our children stumble, especially if we know that they’ve brought it upon themselves.
The other aspect of this, though, rests solely in my pride. I can’t help but worry about how my kids’ behavior reflects on me as a parent. And, it doesn’t have to be a serious offense for this to be true. It can be as simple as my child managing a friend situation in a way that is contrary to what my adult self knows is best. Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect that our still-learning children navigate these moments in the way that wise and healthy grown-ups do, but my fear of judgment often tempts me to step in too far.
So, where does this leave those of us who are towing this fine line?
Here’s what my heart knows for sure: Even though there were times when it would have felt “easier” to just tie my toddler girl’s shoes already, she would never have mastered it if I hadn’t given her the freedom to do so. In the same way, if I don’t allow my kids the leeway to call their own shots as they inch toward adulthood, they’ll never build the emotional muscle necessary to navigate the sticky parts of life. And, worst of all, they will miss gaining the confidence they need to believe that they really can do hard things.
I simply can’t do this growing-up thing for my kids.
But, I can talk them through the situations that they aren’t fully equipped to navigate without guidance. I can model what it looks like to treat others with kindness and respect while serving as an example of someone who also respects herself. I can encourage my children to be brave and take chances and trust their instincts. I can create guardrails to prevent them from getting too far off track, and re-set those boundaries if they are unable to safely navigate their freedom. I can remain a soft place to land if they take a misstep and lose their footing. And, I can support and extend grace to other moms who are on this journey along with me; goodness knows, we need each other.
It’s interesting how we really do come full circle as parents sometimes. This hit me the other day when I realized that my daughter still has a catchphrase – it’s just evolved. Her trademark now: “I’ve got this, Mom.”
Most of the time she does, and sometimes she doesn’t.