Up the Ladder of Independence

2018_2_15 - Up the Ladder of Independence_Rachelle Reitz.jpg

I bought my kids alarm clocks for Christmas. I was cool enough to be sure they had radios and some fun features like a light that gradually goes on 30 minutes before the alarm is scheduled to go off. But these gifts were more than “fun”: it was time for them to get alarms.

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that my kids don’t have to get up pre-dawn to catch a bus and can get the sleep their bodies need to grow and thrive. However, I also realize that for most of us, adulthood, at some point, requires waking up to an alarm. It is time for my oldest two to determine what time they should wake up to be ready for the school day and meet their goals.

At some point, parenting goes from fighting, to let our children be children, to helping them climb the ladder of independence to adulthood. This transition is a little jarring. I’m finding it tricky to get the timing right.

The cultural norm is a mixed bag of pushing kids to grow up too soon, while keeping them from achieving independent adulthood. For parents, life can be a whirlwind of daily decisions and small battles—both with my kids and with the expectations of peers. On many days, I allow those battles and expectations to disturb my peace, even when I know better.

One child moves compliantly, but hesitantly, toward greater independence. When asked to reach toward the next rung on the ladder, he will do so. But I must ask.

Another child skips rungs on the ladder to get to the top as quickly as possible. She needs me to gently pry her fingers from the rung she is hanging from, and move her hands a little slower until she is ready for the next step. The challenge for me is to remember that she may be ready before I am ready for her to take the next step. I might have to push myself.

Neither of these is easy. They require initiative and discipline on my part. My auto setting is not to push anyone too hard, and to fiercely tighten my grip on anyone climbing a little too high, too fast. Doing the right thing takes energy, thought, and time; all of these are often in short supply.

I recently heard myself telling my son to brush his teeth, make his bed, and practice the piano. The next morning, I said instead: “You’re 14, you know what to do. I will see you in 30 minutes for class.” Recently, I transitioned from telling him to get off the computer and get ready for bed to telling him in advance that he needed to pay attention to the time.

Before I had children, I used to work at a college. I watched students succeed or fail based upon their ability to self-regulate. Too many freshmen didn’t know how to quit gaming in time to get papers written, go to bed, or even worse, remember to go to class. I know that learning to exercise self-control and make wise choices takes some trial and error. But starting to develop those qualities before leaving home causes less regret.

My daughter is 11, but aspires to live in a foreign country, serving as a nanny to her little cousins who are missionary kids. I find her reading the Wall Street Journal, trolling internet news, and asking questions—endless questions. She is a planner, so she is thinking about the trip, the responsibilities, and what she needs to do to get ready. To me, the safe thing is to substitute a family vacation to visit the cousins instead. But her desires are good, and success will help her become more confident and responsible. I can hinder her, or I can help her.

So, I outline next steps for her. Some of the earlier steps she has mastered: self-care, personal hygiene, simple housekeeping, cooking, attentiveness to children. Now it is time to take a babysitting first aid course. She needs to learn how to handle the emotional and physical burden of caring for young children by doing shorter, supervised, babysitting jobs. And we need to have a serious talk about trust: whom to trust, whom not to trust, and what to do if she is in a situation and realizes she has concerns. Letting her know she lives in a world of Harvey Weinsteins is a huge step that I need to take; it is a scary one because it truly signals she is leaving behind childhood and becoming a woman.

Homeschooling has allowed me to nurture my children in a healthy environment that allows them to be children. It has allowed them to learn key skills while also fostering their individual personhood. For me, the next step of the journey is preparing persons to be adults—to take their unique, creative selves out into the world, and to make it better.

So now, they need to learn not to sleep through their alarms.

-Rachelle

Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis.

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