Recently, I asked a younger single friend about whether something was appropriate for my daughter. I told her that I had so many things about parenting figured out before I became a mother, and now I needed her untethered wisdom to give me some perspective. I am not sure if she realized I was serious. I was.
There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in being a parent. Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees; sometimes little problems make it tricky to keep your eyes on the big picture. A little outside perspective can help: a parenting book, a respected friend, a younger person who has recently learned independence; an older parent/grandparent who has seen success and failure. If you, like me, struggle a little, here are some practical steps to think about as you help your children climb the ladder to independence:
- Can they manage time? Is your child conscious of deadlines and limits? I send my son with a watch and an end time when he plays at friend’s house. We set a deadline a few weeks in the future for a project. Middle-schoolers should begin to understand the concept of setting a specific amount of time to read a book or write a paper, and you should gradually quit reminding them of those deadlines. I recently purchased a pocket calendar for my son to help him with project and paper due dates. I also have him get up in the morning on his own and put himself to bed at a reasonable time. I'm not afraid to let him stay up too late. . . . it's better he figures out what it is like to function on three hours’ sleep while still at home than when he is living on his own and capable of REALLY getting into trouble with limited brain function.
- Do they exercise self-control? I’m still learning this one when faced with chocolate truffles. Whether it is completing chores before playing or abiding by limits on computer gaming, this is a huge rung to master on the path to independence. If you must ask three times for your child to turn off the X-Box or get off the computer, then they're not passing this test. When you can leave home for the afternoon, and tell them to get off after an hour—and know they will—they have mastered a big test.
- Are they responsible for personal care? Can your child remember to brush, floss, shower, dress in appropriate-to-the-occasion (including weather) clothes, and be ready on time? This one has surprised me, as these things came more naturally to me. Most females will get this one down earlier rather than later; most males probably will be a little delayed. Take heart!
- Can you leave them home alone? Talk through what to do in certain situations. Stranger at the door? Lights go out? Fire? God forbid anything happens, but knowing whom to call, what to do, and being clear-headed are milestones to independence. Most kids are ready for this while still in grammar school, but do check the laws in your state. Oregon, Ohio, and Illinois have some specific laws, and other states could give you trouble.
- How do they manage money? There are various money styles and priorities, and both kids and adults will handle money differently from others. However, being able to think long-term and recognize that spending money immediately is likely not wise is a huge step to independence. Understanding the implications of what money can do without letting it rule you is a huge step in life that some adults never achieve.
- Are they able to find their way home? Hopefully, your child can do more than find their way home. In a world of GPS, this is more and more of a challenge. But a general directional awareness is helpful and indicates an interest in being independent. My youngest is currently paying a lot of attention when I take a different route to a familiar place, and will frequently comment and ask questions.
- Do they take responsibility? There are all kinds of ways that tweens and teens learn to take responsibility. A volunteer position, church responsibilities, and a part-time job are all good steps beyond household chores. My daughter volunteers in our church nursery and babysits for a local Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. My son is an acolyte at church and volunteers to help with the summer reading program at our local library. The added benefit for homeschooled kids is the opportunity to work with other authorities (besides parents).
Guiding your own children up the ladder toward independence can be difficult—and a little scary. That’s why I found it helpful to run a tough decision by my wise, clear-headed friend who didn’t have parenting angst getting in the way. Preparing our children to leave home is part of our job, and knowing they are capable and will be fine without us will give us peace of mind when that day comes.
Note: For more on this topic, read my earlier post: Up the Ladder of Independence.