I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Independence Day

I have a love/hate relationship with my children's growing independence. On the one hand, it makes my life much easier that the 3 of them can walk home from the bus stop, let themselves into the house, and get themselves showered and fed and organised (mostly) before I get home from work. On the other hand, that they can do all of this without me is bittersweet, and there are times when I find myself wishing they were not quite as independent as they are. As a result of my internal struggle with this, I find myself doing all sorts of strange things on either side of the independence coin. So - for example - today at the mall, I went and did the supermarket shopping while the four of them (my kids plus an older friend) went and had a look round at the shops which attract pre-teens (eg those which stock stationary and/or really crappy costume jewellery.) It's the first time I've let them be on their own in the mall - and it was in a group, they were phone-contactable, the entire elapsed time was about 45 minutes, and they got a whole lecture about sticking together - but still. Off they went, happy as clams - and I got an earful of whining when it was time to leave because they were having a grand old time. I was so proud of them (and a little bit scared for them) for having their very first 'on their own in a shopping megalith' experience.

And yet - I am certain that I will sit and cry bucket loads of tears the day DD2 does NOT burst into my room of a morning, complaining bitterly that I am not up yet to help her do her hair for her (she has yet to learn to self-braid her hair, and she wears braids nearly every day.) I love that my not-so-little girl still wants her Mum to do her hair. I love that she HAS such long hair to play with in the first place (something my own Mom never allowed) and I love that it's something we do together every single day. I'm secretly hoping that when she's 21 she will still let me braid her hair for her once in a while (and then as now she will complain that I'm pulling too hard, that it's too lumpy or uneven, and that I didn't get up in time.)

Interestingly for me, as time goes on I am reminded that DH and I are actually quite liberal in our thoughts about independence. I have often used the expression, "We give our children two gifts in life - we give them roots, and we give them wings," to explain our parenting philosophy as it comes to independence - but I've recently come across examples of how other parents do things which reminds me that we do not necessarily have it either right or wrong.

I'm in no way saying our way is better or worse, I'm not sitting in judgement here - I'm just saying that it's interesting to see how others do things. To whit:

We recently had dinner with friends at their home- and their 17 year old son insisted that his Mum serve him his vegetables because he "didn't know how much to take." The boy got increasingly insistent about it - pretty much wheedled and whined at her - and god bless her, but his Mum stood up from her spot, went over to him, and served him his vegetables. Me being me, I had to open my big fat mouth and ask WHY he needed his Mum's help. Was it because he could not gauge his own hunger? Because he was not sure what the polite thing to do was? Because...?? His answer was that he "...just never knows how much to serve himself and she does." I have to say, that one left me kinda speechless.

This child is one lucky kid to be as loved as he is - because if I'd pulled that stunt on my parents, I never would have survived my childhood.. As for my own kids - I would understand it if my kids asked (as they often do), "How much may I have? Is there enough for me to have 2 or 3 bits?" but to need to be served like a baby? ....at 17, not knowing how much to serve oneself seems a tad ridiculous. I truly think this boy is blessed to be as well looked after as he is - and there is something to be said for a Mum who will go so far for her kids. I found it quite amazing.

Then I met another couple - who live out in country Victoria, 3 1/2  hours outside of Melbourne - who for the last 4 days have let their 15 year old son and 13 year old daughter look after themselves entirely while their parents were working in the city. These kids had to get themselves to/from school, out to social events, cook for themselves, etc - on Saturday night they went to a footy game which was 80km  away from home, on Friday the son had to get himself home via two trains and a bus, etc. Now admittedly, we are talking about country kids - where independence is a much more common thing from a much younger age and in a small town where everyone knows everyone (and therefore the kids were being looked after even if they were not being "looked after").

I spoke to the Mum about this at length - and she simply said, "Well, they need to learn how to look after themselves. I've got a phone, they've got a phone, they know what to do in an emergency, they can always resort to cereal for dinner if need be, and that's pretty much it." She was so nonchalant about it all - I asked he if she ever felt sad that they were so capable and independent. "Not really," she said, "Because I grew up like that, too. If I made it home for dinner in time, nobody asked any questions about where I had been or what I'd been doing...and if I was up to no good, my Mum would hear about it eventually from one of the neighbours, so there was no point in getting up to no good!"

Fascinating, fascinating stuff in BOTH of those situations. City kids versus country kids, coddling versus setting free, cultural differences, generational differences, socially acceptable 'rules' and so on - so MANY factors go into our parenting decisions. The old 'different strokes for different folks' saying is so true in the parenting arena. We each just do what we are comfortable with, and ultimately hope our kids grow up into decent and responsible human beings.

For my money, though, I want my kids to be able to serve themselves but need Mum to do their braids every morning until the day they die. Surely that's not being unrealistic?

1 comment:

Rachel said...

My eldest is 14 (today!) and he is pretty independent. He can cook his own dinner, has to help out round the house and at the weekends we don't see him much as he is usually out with his friends for most of the day. My 8yr old though, is still very dependent on me - he has Aspergers so I think it will take him longer, but I am very aware that he needs to start learning how to do more stuff for himself (even if I do want him to stay my baby forever!) I think once they hit double digits then kids do need to start spreading their wings a little more. I am amazed at that 17yr old! What on earth will he do if he goes off to college?!