Nurturing Independence in Our Children


Those of us who live in the States are anticipating and preparing for the celebration of our nation’s independence on July 4th.  For many it will be a weekend of outdoor cookouts and hometown parades, of family and fireworks, of reflection and gratitude.

No matter where you live, perhaps the next few days could be a time for each of us to reflect on nurturing and encouraging a spirit of independence within the children we are raising.

Encouraging independence within our children can be a tricky endeavor.  The Western culture seems inordinately interested in promoting independence for our children, and if this trend is contrary to your parenting style then the idea of fostering independence may cause you to bristle.  Or perhaps a barrier to an embrace of autonomy in the life of your family is the alarming truths we are faced with in the world outside of the safety of our homes; on some level, we don’t want to release our children to run free for fear of what they may run into.  And sometimes an independent spirit within a child is just plain old inopportune for the adult who is caring for him – any parent of a spirited, naturally independent child can testify to that!

But isn’t the end goal of thoughtful, involved parenting to raise children who have the confidence and life skills required to be happy, healthy, courageous, self-assured adults?

As I reflect on my personal roadblocks on the path to raising independent children, I can see there are three main issues with which I struggle:

1. Inconvenience

One of the first notable situations in which each of my daughters has had a desire to assert her own will is in choosing which clothes to wear.  In the beginning, this means lots of mismatched outfits that grate against my aesthetic sensibilities.  Yet, how will they ever have the confidence to choose that which looks right to them if they aren’t given the opportunities to practice within our home?  Likewise, encouraging my preschooler’s growing desire to help with household chores (a lovely indicator of her desire to be more “grown up”) means the bed will not be made the way I like it and the forks may be need a second, secret scrubbing to fully remove the left-behind bits of broccoli, but in allowing these bits of freedom, I am nurturing a healthy sense of “I can do this!”  The remedy for my attachment to my own convenience is to foster a spirit of acceptance within myself.

2. Fear

I have to confess to you that with my oldest, I was Queen of the Hovering Moms at the playground.  I was fearful that she might go down a slide and face a too-hard landing, I was afraid that the older kids might push past her too roughly, and Iwas basically just apprehensive of what might happen if I took a few steps away.  Eventually I realized that all of that hovering spoke this message to her:  I don’t trust this environment and I don’t trust you to be okay without me.  No wonder she was fearful and clingy in new situations!  When our younger daughter became old enough to join her sister in navigating the playground and I could no longer hover as effectively, it became very clear to me that each of them were capable of much more independence than I had given them credit for.  The antidote for the fear that inhibits independence is trust – trusting my children to be be okay and trusting myself to recognize when they need me and when they need space.

3. Sentimentality

Now don’t get me wrong here.  I am one of the most sentimental people you will ever meet, but left unchecked sentimentality can spawn an unwillingness to embrace the natural evolution that takes place in family life as my children grow from utterly dependent babies into young adults who are equipped and excited to experience life beyond the walls of our home.  I remember when my oldest finally started walking at fourteen months – I was filled with enthusiasm as she achieved that monumental milestone.  When our younger daughter began pulling up and standing at nine months, everything within me wanted to sit her back down because I was fully aware that those first steps mark the beginning of her journey away from me.  Instead of getting caught up in the sadness of watching this healthy and necessary transformation, I must be mindful to celebrate these steps away from us as assurance that we are doing our job well.  The cure for a hindering sense of sentimentality is a joyful remembrance that nurturing independence in my children is one of the highest callings of parenthood.

What does encouraging independence look like in your home? Do you recognize different barriers to promoting freedom and autonomy in your own life? How do you overcome these things?

photo courtesy of melissa rudick photography