The Goal of Parenting: Teaching Children to Leave Us

As a school director, I watch parents struggle with young children who are hesitant to leave the safety and security of their home & family.  I watch parents debate sending children to sleepovers at their friends’ houses, overnight school trips and camp.  As a parent, I have experienced all of that and the emotional rollercoaster of sending my son to college.  Ultimately, I realize that the struggle was always mine and not as much his.  It was time and all was as it should be.  He wanted to reach away from me and go overnight, then for a weekend, a summer and a lifetime.   It was me who had to cut those strings and send him into the world. 

Parenthood has so many ironies.  We are handed a helpless infant who depends on us for literally everything.  From their first feeding and diaper change, having them become more independent becomes the goal.   We wonder how soon it will be before they talk, walk, potty train and feed themselves.   We celebrate those milestones.  We have to protect them while we teach them to stand on their own.  Our instincts tell us to keep them where they are safe and loved while we put them on the scary school bus for the first time.

The question before each parent is how brave he/she will be as an example of courage for their children.  Do we do our children any favors when we refuse to allow reasonable risks or independent living, even if just for a night or a weekend?  Recently, I sat with a group of parents whose children were in high school.  They were debating the merits of sending them on a trip with the ski club.  One parent said, “I won’t let her go because if anything happens to her, I would never forgive myself.”  When our own fears supersede offering new experiences, parenting has become more about us and less about our children.

The lessons we learn about handling separation anxiety do not apply only to very young children.  They apply to children of all ages.  We give our children messages through our actions.  When we kiss young children good-bye and leave swiftly with a smile, they see that we believe they will be fine.  They gain confidence in their ability to trust others and to cope.  When at preschool, they begin to become critical thinkers and decision makers.  When we tell older children that they cannot have reasonable, properly chaperoned experiences, we give them the message that we don’t have confidence in the very skills that we are supposed to be fostering – independence, emotional development, ability to make decisions and social skills. 

When deciding which experiences our children can have, we need to be sure that our decision is based upon their safety and well-being and not our own fears.  They will learn from their experiences just as we did.  They will find their way.  We have to let them find who they are apart from us.  It is, after all, our job to teach them to go.  

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
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