Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
There are many strategies that single parents – or any parents – can use to raise independent children. Independence is a process that begins shortly after birth. Children naturally quest for independence at a very early age. Struggling to sit up, crawl and walk are all part of the search for independence. Think of how early we hear our children utter the words: “No!” or “Do it myself!” Disrespect is not intended; it is part of the quest for independence.
As parents, we can encourage or squelch that quest by how we react to our children’s efforts. Some parents are willing to take the risk of encouraging their children to learn and experience, knowing that with that risk comes some potential for injury. There are going to be bumped heads and skinned knees as our children learn to walk, run and ride a bike. There are going to be incidents of bruised pride, minor insult and pinched emotions as they learn to deal with people as they explore the world. We cannot – and should not – protect them from everything.
Let me take a moment to say that I am not suggesting that we cut our children loose out into the world and allow them to suffer as they may!!! Instead, I believe that we should provide them with and support them as they explore different situations – jobs, driving, travel, volunteer work, etc. – based upon their age and maturity levels. We should encourage, caution, guide and sometimes aid in picking up the pieces. We should protect from danger and serious injury, while understanding that some negativity is going to result from their actions and explorations. I don’t know about most of you, but I still have negative effects from time to time that stem from decisions I make. I still encounter “new” situations in which I have to research and learn how to deal. Providing guidance for our children is our job; doing everything for them is not.
As parents, we frequently find ourselves in the role of providing for and doing for our children. However, at some point in time, we have to allow them to begin to do for themselves. For example, my youngest daughter has been driving for a little less than one year. She is a responsible driver and I have been proud of how she has handled paying for gas and insurance for her car. She was involved in her first car accident yesterday. Another young lady was following her too closely and ran into the back of her. The damage to their cars was minimal and neither of the girls was hurt (thank goodness!). When she called me, the first thing I had asked was whether she had called the highway department. I made her hang up with me before she told me any of the details and call the highway department first. While she waited for them to arrive, she called me back to tell me what happened. She would have been very happy if I had left my job to come to the scene of the accident and assist her in dealing with this; however, I simply informed her that I knew she could handle it and that she could call me when all was said and done to let me know about it. She talked with the highway department; she talked with the young lady; she called me back and I informed her that she needed to call our insurance company to file the report – which she did. Today she called me to let me know she was putting the insurance company’s copy of the report in the mail.
I could have handled everything for her and probably with less stress, but what would she have learned? She would have learned a few facts about dealing with auto accidents, but mostly she would have learned that if you call mom, mom will fix it. Mom – or Dad – cannot fix everything in life. Even when we wish we could.
What can you do to prepare your children for independence?
You can start at an early age by getting them involved with household chores. There are little things they can do to help beginning when they are toddlers. Putting away toys and helping to set the table for dinner (napkins and silverware sans knives) are a great beginning. Stress to them that being part of a family means that they have a responsibility to the family. Chores are part of that responsibility. As they get older, they can fold clothes, put their clothes away, and pick out their clothes for the next day. Helping take care of pets is an excellent responsibility that teaches them how others sometimes depend upon them.
By late elementary school they are ready for more household chores such as dusting, vacuuming, raking the yard and perhaps even running the washer and dryer. Ask them for their help in the kitchen. Let them assist you in planning menus for the week. Take them grocery shopping.
By middle school, the grocery shopping trips can double as budget lessons. Tell them that you only have a specific budget for groceries and ask them to help you stay within that budget. If you provide your children with an allowance, give them certain small expenses that must be purchased from that allowance so they can understand how a paycheck is not just easy spending money. If there is a special trip or event upcoming, allow them to earn part of the money to pay for such events. Raking a neighbor’s yard or washing the car may earn them extra cash.
By high school, they are usually looking for major privileges (such as driving) and need to understand that along with privilege comes responsibility. The privilege of driving is expensive! How will insurance, gas, and repairs be paid for? How can they assist with these expenses? See what answers they contribute before you supply them with suggestions. Let them think for themselves and see what innovative ideas they produce. Do not provide them with money every time they want to go to the movies with their friends. Let them earn the money themselves. They will appreciate more and will be less wasteful if they have a stock in the effort of earning their spending money.
As they age, we must slowly take our hands off of our children’s lives. It is not easy for any parent and for some it is very difficult indeed! I could have very easily handled everything with my daughter’s first auto accident myself – and it was painful to refrain from doing so! However, by allowing her to handle it herself – with some guidance from a distance – she learned not only HOW to handle the situation, but gained the confidence that she CAN handle the situation. Isn’t that, after all, the true goal of parenting?