Letting go one step at a time.

It seemed so much easier when we were younger. For a rather protected child, it seemed like I had all the freedom in the world. My cousin and I would walk next door to the pizza place to pick up our order when we were just 6 and 4. A year or so later, we were allowed to walk along a fairly busy road to the supermarket that was a couple blocks away. All through our childhood we were allowed to ride our bikes through the neighborhood or play in the woods for as long as we liked, just as long as we let our mom know what we were doing. We didn’t have to check in, we didn’t have to be back by a certain time (other than “by dinner”).

But now that I’m trying to figure out how to handle the same issue with my own daughters, the idea of trusting them alone – and trusting the world we now live in to behave itself – seems so much trickier! Today’s world isn’t the same as the culture I grew up in. Unfortunately, the reality is that we worry about letting our nine-year-olds walk through our neighborhood alone to a friend’s house. (It wasn’t just me – the friend’s mom had the same reservation.) I don’t let the girls go alone to the bathroom in certain stores because it would be so easy to snatch them when the front doors are right there. It’s tricky – you have to learn as a parent how to walk the fine line between being cautious and being too controlling and paranoid.

The Ex and Stepmom and I have talked a lot about the subject this past year. Gracie will be ten and is certainly ready for a bit more independence. Bee will be eight – not a baby, certainly, but her temperament is very different from her sister’s. She isn’t as focused and mature as her sister. She’s fabulous and quirky in all the best ways, don’t get me wrong; Bee just isn’t as ready as her sister. If you dropped them both off in the middle of downtown and told them to find their way home, Gracie would be home before I knew it, completely unscarred. Bee would chase a butterfly, get distracted by a shoe sale, lose her sweater (and her homework) somewhere, and convince a live band on a patio to let her play the guitar. And then I would hear for the rest of her life about the time I was mean and “abandoned” her, even though she had the time of her life. You know…in the pretend scenario that is somewhat off-track now. Ahem. The point was that the grown-ups all agree that the girls are ready to start learning to be a bit more independent, but to also make sure we’re not forcing anything on the girls that they aren’t ready for just because we are.

So what does that mean? It means that I’ll keep doing what I have been doing – leaving the girls home alone when I run across the street for short visits. I let Bee decide whether she wants to wait in the car when I run inside to pick up Gracie from her after-school program. I let the girls visit different sections of the store, as long as they tell me where they’re going to be.

And there will be new levels of independence – like leaving Gracie at home yesterday for the 20 minutes it took me to go get Bee from daycare. (In full disclosure, that decision was helped along by the fact that Gracie was still throwing up from the stomach bug. So.) But Gracie’s the easy one. She’s the one who excels at problem-solving and stays calm in a crisis. Bee…she’s going to need some coaching. I mean, she can’t even keep our cell phone numbers straight yet. (Scattered, but dazzling – that’s our Bee.) So on Friday afternoon, I decided Bee was ready for a small step. We were home because Bee had been sick the night before with the stomach bug, but she had been fine since mid-morning. I told Bee I was going to go for a run and she would be home alone for about 40 minutes. I went over the safety precautions – don’t open the door for anyone, only answer the phone if she knew who it was, and to call me if there were any problems. I wrote my cell phone number on a piece of paper and showed her where it was.

And then I changed, told her I was leaving, and walked out the front door. Just like that.

Halfway through my run, my playlist stopped and a call came through on the cell phone. Bee wanted to know if she could have a snack. I told her she could have crackers and water, made sure she was okay, and told her I’d be home in ten minutes. I knew the call wasn’t really about a snack – it was Bee making sure she could call me. I liked that. I like that she (er, um, and I) saw that our system worked just like we said it would. I finished my run, showered, and that was that.

Small steps. Baby steps. And so many other, bigger steps in front of us. But that’s how you have to deal with this parenting thing, I think – prying one finger at a time off the illusion of control. Otherwise I’ll end up with two very needy adults living in my house long after they’re grown, still expecting me to drive them everywhere. If that’s not the perfect motivator, I don’t know what is!





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3 Responses to “Letting go one step at a time.”

  1. Kathy Says:

    I remember those days. It is so VERY hard. The Boy and I have been discussing how much more independence he will get this summer; living in the city makes it that much harder to let go. But, we have decided that if we bike a route together a few times so that he know the best and safest way to get from our house to his destination he will be allowed to bike alone provided he has his phone with him. He is so excited. I am so terrified.

  2. Mrs. E Says:

    I remember this time, too. It is the first step in letting go.

  3. Kim Says:

    I love Kathy’s trial runs – I bet that will work wonders with Bee, who is far more experiential a learner than Miss Molly!

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