My aunt and uncle have 3 daughters. He always said he raised them so he could drop them off in North Carolina with $5 and they could find their way back to Florida. They are all three unique, independent, self-sufficient and have close relationships with their parents even in adulthood. Instead of escaping their home to go elsewhere, they were the type of girls who invited friends to their house. It struck me as a win win. The girls were independent, but not so independent they didn’t think they needed their parents around. In fact, they actually liked being around their parents.
This got me thinking about raising independent children. I want my children to be street smart and self-sufficient and confident in their problem solving and decision-making skills. I want them to know how to do things for themselves and others. However, I don’t want them to think they don’t need me. I don’t want them to feel like they have no use for me by the time they’re 15 (over and above the normal amount teenagers think their parents are useless). I want our family to be emotionally connected and supportive of one another. I think sometimes parents can foster so much independence that they sever some ties they wish they hadn’t.
Here are some thoughts on raising independent children who still want you around.
1. Talk a lot.
The more you talk with someone the closer you are. Simple fact. As children age they may desire to talk to us less at various times and seasons. I’ve heard relationships are often like rubber bands. To get the job done, the band pulls away and then comes close again. I believe a goal of communication within families should be that the lines of communication are always open, conversations are always welcome, and that the parents seek out meaningful daily interactions with their children.
They may know how to balance their checkbook, set their own budget and build their own desk out of timber scraps, but that doesn’t mean you can’t discuss money, financial planning and power tools with them. You don’t to know everything about their hobby to show interest and connect.
In every area of life, I think follow-up is highly important. Why start if you won’t finish? And, why tell your children to do something if you aren’t even going to check and be sure they have? Be sure they’ll stop doing what you ask if they know you won’t check. It’s the same emotionally. When life gets busy and things get crazy we often forget to go back and check up on the little things. Did your child tell you about a hard situation at school or with their friends? Did you follow it up to see how it got resolved?
It makes me feel so valued when someone remembers and references something I told them previously and asks how I am. How much more so will our children feel valued if we remember the little things they share? As they grow older they will surely “need” us less and less, but the support and love of a parent will slowly and steadily morph from something they need into something they want.
3. Promote independence but always be near for support.
We can’t fight all our children’s battles no matter how much we desire. In fact, I think it will be equally as hard for us mothers (if you are like me, anyway) to back off and let them get on with it, as it will be for them to get on with it. As children grow they will have to learn to take care of various things themselves. If they do something wrong at school, they need to fix it. if they have problems within their circle of friends, you calling the other girls’ mothers probably won’t help.
Of course there will be times when we must intervene, but there will be increasingly more times when we must let them handle things on their own. We must be present, willing to talk, and even more willing to listen. They may not want us to intervene, but they will probably want to talk. I think that we must find a balance (see my post why Balance is key) between really pushing the point that we are there for them while still allowing them – and expecting them – to solve their problems.
4. Maintain your authority.
I wrote a post on Authority and Respect. It is very important that parents establish their authority in the household from Day One. Authority doesn’t mean be a mean dictator. Authority means you are taking responsibility for the well-being and upbringing of your children. You make the decisions. The buck stops with you. It is not because you’re on a power trip, but is because you are able to care for their safety and health when they are still too young to know how. You feed, clothe and clean them.
You teach them the things they need to know to be successful adults. And, though teenagers think they possess all knowledge, you know better. Though you raise them to be independent and to take care of various things themselves, you must maintain your authority in your home. Just because they can read doesn’t mean that all books are up for reading. When parents don’t take their rightful place as heads of the household the children lose respect for them. An independent spirit coupled with a loss of respect will mean they think they can do your job better than you. This does not make for a harmonious household or a flourishing relationship.
I believe that one of the joys of motherhood is training our children in the way they should go. I don’t mean pushing our own agenda on their life, but training them and showing them things that work and things that don’t. Being there for them as they explore their passions and interests. We teach them life skills. We teach them relationship skills. Just like a coach. They teach technique, spend time with each player individually and then stay with them throughout the game. We teach and train and teach and train and then, sit back and watch them in action. All the while right there with them. A player has to play the game themselves, but it doesn’t mean they don’t need affirmation from their coach.