The number one request from you guys was ideas on how to raise independent kids. I'm going to take the liberty of substituting self-sufficient for independent, because I don't necessarily want my kids to be independent from me. I want them to seek my counsel and take my advice, but I also want them to do it THEMSELVES! So we're going to use self-sufficient if that's okay with you.
I first realized that I, perhaps had a different mind frame when it came to raising kids when my oldest, Zack, was about 4 years old. I was meeting with one of my old bosses from college about some consulting work and since he knew I was home with little kids, he came to me & we held the meeting in my home office. My baby, Max, was sleeping, Olivia was having quiet time with a movie in my bedroom and Zack was heading to an art class being held in the neighborhood. When it was time for him to go, I simply told him to get on his bike and explained where the house was. It was literally on our same street, but it did require him to cross a street within our neighborhood to get there. As I did this, my former boss who is about 10 years older than me, commented that his wife would never have let their kids just go on their own like that at his age.
I shrugged my shoulders and assured him that I was sure of his capacity to accomplish this task. I then remember saying, "If the whole point is for them to one day be self-sufficient this probably a good starting point."
For the record, Zack made it to and from that art class without any problems, and ever since, we've been building on those skills.
The real crux of raising self-sufficient kids, is allowing them opportunities for ownership and to problem solve. Passing the baton, so to speak, and allowing them space to figure it out. Sometimes it works out, and other times it doesn't. It often times includes frustration on my part and theirs and they struggle it out and failure often accompanies these endeavors. At the end of the day, my goal is to allow my kids as much failure as possible within these four walls. While they're here, under my roof, these failures fall into the category of low-risk. I can't drum up too many scenarios where they're failures while living under my roof, are life-threatening or even life-altering. Instead they tend to be of the 'forgot my homework' variety.
For example, on our last family vacation to Mexico, before leaving I simply handed my kids a packing list. I do this every time we travel, but I usually check Olivia's and Max's bag before loading them in the car. This time, I'm not sure why I didn't, but I didn't. Instead, they packed and I loaded. When we arrived in Mexico, we found out that Olivia had forgotten to pack her underwear and Max had only brought one shirt. You can guess we all had a good laugh, did some extra loads of laundry and when that still wasn't enough, Max went shirtless, just zipping up his jacket instead and, on occasion, Liv grabbed a bathing suit to wear under her shorts. I'm certain next time they'll both double check their packing lists. The reality is, it wasn't ever a problem for me, but I'm certain they were both frustrated quite a bit that they didn't have what they needed when they needed it.
A lot of these opportunities for ownership and problem solving are found in play. In early years, this looked like Zack finding a wood palette in our backyard (remember when we all thought we were going to make amazing things with wood pallets? That was awesome.) and deciding he wanted to build his own fort with it. Instead of telling him every reason why he shouldn't, I said, 'okay.' I helped him carry it from the backyard to the front yard, where he leaned it up against a wall, located right along the pathway to our front door. It was pretty classy. He got out the hammer, and I didn't stop him. He got out the nails, and again, I didn't stop him. He hammered and nailed on that thing for weeks. I'm certain he hurt himself a few times, but I'm also certain he didn't dare tell me, in fear that I'd stop all the fun he was having. From what I could tell, no grand fort was ever built, but I guarantee, if I asked Zack and Olivia about it, they'd tell me all the fun games and things they were doing because most of the fun was in their imagination and all it required of me, was getting out of their way.
Now that Zack is a bit older, it looks a little different. He's got more experience under his belt and as such, more is required of him. So much so, that I have to be conscious not to take advantage of him. He often babysits, packs his own luggage when we travel and runs into stores to buy what we need quickly. I've taught him how to use my debit card and how to sign for my credit card. I'm also still letting him ride his bike to anything close enough and not minding when he's torn a pair of pants because he was hopping a fence or climbing a tree. Those are the things I want him doing because it is where they learn to assess and manage risks, then problem solve. Max is a great example of this too and I'll admit, there have been many occasions where he's made me awfully nervous, but over the years, I've learned to step back and let him judge what feels risky. When he was 4, I remember being at the beach and secretly enjoying the total terror he put on the face of OTHER parents. While he was a proficient swimmer in our pool, I didn't trust him in the ocean. Max, however, saw zero risk and charged ahead, keeping up with his siblings. I pulled him back more than once and each time he'd exclaim, "Mom! I got it!" So I stopped and just watched instead. He'd swim out to where he couldn't touch, let a wave slam over top of him (remember he's 4!), I'd hold my breath waiting for his head to pop back up and sure enough, he'd pop up and swim in with the wave...in complete delight with himself. After watching it a few times, I began to feel more comfortable with his new trick. Then, I started watching the other parents watching him. They'd anxiously look at me, time and again, wondering when I was going to rescue my child...in absolute terror when I never made a move.
With each of my kids these opportunities look a bit different, but if I pay attention, they're always there. Olivia, for example, prefers to take ownership and problem solve cooking in the kitchen. Give her a recipe and she's ready to serve you a meal. The only thing you need to master is the over-arching message from you to your kids. It is this: I have confidence in your ability to figure this out and if it doesn't work the first time, that's okay, I'm happy to help. That help then looks like a handful of suggestions or ideas to think about it. Sometimes it is painful not to step in and solve the problem for them, but as I've practiced stepping back, the satisfaction of them figuring it out, is a million times better!
Hi, I'm Amy. When I'm not scouring the valley for the perfect new house, you can usually find me in the kitchen with a gaggle of kids. Chips, salsa and a Diet Coke are usually in hand.