Giving your kids space and responsibility gives them room to grow.
Published: August 28, 2020
By: Kathryn Streeter
I’m a safety mom. In life, as on a ski slope, I continually find myself helplessly speeding downhill trying to keep up with my tweens, while silently screaming, “Watch out for the trees!”
Releasing control doesn’t come naturally for most. For me, personally, the learning curve for parenting tweens-to-teens has been steeper than I’d expected. I want my kids to mature into independent young adults who can make wise choices on their own. I know that means I must let go. But in practice, I’ve found my convictions tested.
For example, schoolwork used to be a big power struggle around our home. I found myself offering nonstop directives and reminders. By sixth grade, I felt that overseeing assignment deadlines would only enable dependence and laziness. I knew a hands-off approach was the right one, but it still pained me when my kids innocently forgot their homework and received a lower grade. I realized that coddling would only hurt them though.
It’s still hard to stay in the shadows and watch my kids successfully dodge one bad decision, only to perform a dramatic face plant when the next major obstacle reveals itself. But how else will they learn?
Just like with homework, it was also hard to resist micromanaging after-school activities. I knew of an influential couple in Washington, D.C., who required their kid to learn a stringed musical instrument and a foreign language. My eyes lit up at the idea; it sounded like an insurance plan to turn out accomplished, polished children. My husband disagreed, and we ended up not taking this approach. In the end, our daughter found her own way.
A natural linguist, she became an advanced French student completely of her own choosing. When she was little, she elected to take piano lessons, but after a few years tearfully confessed that she loved her teacher, not the piano. With our blessing, she quit and later picked up the guitar for fun. Her story ended up including a foreign language and music. Had we forced things, though, she’d possibly have resented us and done less.
Similarly, our son, with no encouragement, has invested hours in educating himself about supercars, affording him an impressive knowledge base. He’s motivated from within, and as his parents, we take absolutely no credit for it. We can’t know now if this will play any part in his future, and that’s not the point. The point is that he chose it for himself.
Giving our kids lots of space to explore electives and hobbies has allowed them to “own” their interests; they haven’t been coerced into satisfying what we put in motion for them. And they have flourished.
Handing over general decision-making authority to my blossoming children has been uncomfortable. But holding on in an effort to keep them on a supposedly safe path would have only hampered their growth and contentment.
It’s true that I am still a safety mom. Sometimes I snowplow. I have been known to hover. But by opening my trembling fists and letting my kids find their own path at their own speed, I’ve given them the freedom to grow up on their own terms. And it’s worth it, no matter how uncomfortable it is for me.
Kathryn Streeter is a freelance writer whose stories have appeared in numerous publications. For her, the soaring begins when the hovering ends.