Kids and independence

May 23, 2014 |  Category:   life parenting


The issue of independence is coming up a lot in our household and among our friends with kids the same age.
We talk with other neighborhood parents about the right time to allow our kids to walk to and from school by themselves. We were already doing it at their age when we were young. We had a lot more independence and autonomy at an earlier age than kids do now; it was socially more acceptable to leave us at home while our parents did errands, to allow us to walk to school, the store, our friend’s house. But is the world really so different that it gives us pause as we struggle with a decision that our parents already made at this point in our own kids’ lives? Couldn’t you argue that NY is actually safer than when we were kids? Or is it our generation’s parenting style that has changed (more coddling and helicopter parenting)? I don’t really know. Our kids won’t learn how to be independent unless we trust them with opportunities to be independent, that’s the thing. But letting go is hard. To think about our kids out in the world by themselves is a weird thought–sightly uncomfortable, bittersweet, but also exciting too.


I think about how in a year or two our lives might change if we no longer need to walk our (older) kids everywhere. The afternoon weekday hours are a blur of pickups and drop offs from various after school activities. We’re constantly in and out, retracing our steps multiple times on the same blocks, to the same buildings, in a span of a few hours. We spend so much of our lives in close physical proximity to our children for so long that when they get old enough to start doing things for themselves, it’s an adjustment for us too. Some of these milestones of independence and freedom is a relief. We celebrate when our babies learn to walk, when we get rid of the stroller for good, when we no longer have to help them in the bathroom, when they can take showers themselves, fix themselves their own snacks and breakfast. But other milestones, like when they start to take steps out in the world on their own, make us realize that they are starting to pull away from us. At that point, we learn to become independent from our kids too.

You Might Also Like

  • Vandegee May 23, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Struggling with this same thing right now – or rather, preparing for it. My older daughter (9 1/2) isn’t terribly interested in walking anywhere by herself yet, but that time is right around the corner – a matter of weeks, really. My biggest fear is not about the people she will encounter, but rather the cars she will encounter — the many many cars that do not yield to pedestrian’s right of way on the crosswalk, and may not see a child’s head above the parked cars blocking their view of the crosswalk. That’s my biggest fear, I’m not quite sure why. Maybe because I grew up in a very small town… though it must have given my mother pause to send me off walking down the side of a small windy road. Or maybe it’s my own awareness of how distracted drivers can be, fumbling for cell phones, checking the gps etc. I don’t know. But from our house to school she will have to cross 8 streets, with the guidance of crossing guards on only 2 of those streets. I know she can do it, it just makes me hold my breath a little thinking about it…

    • Jenna May 23, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      Yes, it’s the cars that concern me. There have been a few tragic accidents in the neighborhood over the last year. It did prompt action to lower the speed limit.

      • Brenda May 23, 2014 at 11:04 pm

        I’m starting a campaign to make people more aware that it’s the law to stop at a cross walk. (or at least it’s a law here in Illinois). I’m designing posters, banners, and posting things to Facebook and instagram in order to get the word out. It’s a big issue in our neighborhood. People just need to be made more aware. So, if anyone wants me to send them jogs of what I’ve designed, I’d be more than happy to do so.

        • Jenna May 24, 2014 at 11:42 pm

          That’s great brenda! And knowing you, I’m sure they will be super well designed!

  • Heather May 23, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I am amazed at how often I still do things for my children that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. I bend over to help them put on their socks, I pick their clothes up off the floor, I fetch the dropped toy. Yes, I do it because I love them, because it is faster if I help them, because I just want to clean up, because, because……but I also catch myself and force myself to tell them “You can do this.” We all get used to the status quo, even though they are growing and becoming more capable everyday. I really think you have to practice and teach independence in order for them to become independent, even if it takes small steps in a safe arena to start. But obviously it is just what I feel safe letting them do that needs to be tested. My husband’s mom let him row a boat out in the middle of Puget Sound when he was nine to go fishing by himself. She had taken the steps to teach him how to do that so they both felt ready (still seems crazy to me, but he is one capable, independent man). I hope I can give that gift of feeling capable to my daughters.

    • Jenna May 23, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      I started asking them to do things for themselves a few years ago. They *want* to do a lot of things themselves. It’s often us who underestimates what they are capable of handling. I love the story about your husband, but that sounds so scary to me!

  • Christina May 23, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    I am constantly thinking about this very topic – even more so now that my oldest son will be entering Middle School next year and has already asked to walk to school on his own (and for a cell phone!). I read an article recently (link below) about current attitudes about independence and safety for our kids and I wonder if we’ll ever be able to provide our kids an environment that promotes independence/exploration/imagination given the times we live in.

    • Jenna May 23, 2014 at 9:47 pm

      Yes, it’s the approach of middle school that’s prompting all this. There are some 5th graders (and even 4th graders) who walk to school themselves, so we will be faced with this decision next year when we have a 5th grader in the house. I can’t quite imagine it now! But it’s really just around the corner!

  • Brenda May 23, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    This is a hot topic for me and my fellow parent friends. My son is 11 and we live in good neighborhood of a big city. He is very bright but his head is in the clouds (and not on the street). When we walk together, he doesn’t look both ways – but maybe that’s because he takes it for granted that I’m looking ? One thing that I wonder about is – would I feel differently if he had a sibling to walk with ? He doesn’t, so whenever we are ready as a family, he’ll be entirely on his own. This decision is a really hard one. Every time I’m about to consider it, another letter comes home from school telling us about an attempted kidnapping or something. Just TODAY we got an email from our school letting us know about ‘a man participated in an indecent act’ and to please be careful. I don’t know how or when I’m going to let him be independent, but I know full well how important it is for him to have that independence.

    • Jenna May 24, 2014 at 11:43 pm

      wow. Crime happens here too, of course, but I have to say, we don’t hear about things too often and we’ve never gotten emails about any attempted kidnapping or anything. I understand your hesitation!

  • susan // fleurishing May 26, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Oh man, I don’t face this yet but this certainly gets my gears going for the future.

  • Elisa June 22, 2014 at 11:19 am

    This is such an interesting conversation. I think about this quite a bit, my son is only 3, but if we stay in our house, his elementary school will only be 2 blocks away. We live in Seattle and he’d have to cross one busy side street with no crosswalk or guards. Also found out recently that they have to be 10 to walk to school themselves. Before that they need to be signed in + out by a parent. It’s so weird, when I was a kid I walked to school from 1st grade on. My sister, who is 2 years older walked with me. And we were a good 1/2 mile from school. I don’t remember my mom ever picking us up. Same with camp. I want to keep my son safe, but at the same time, I feel like he’s missing out. I cherished my independence as a kid and all those hours exploring my neighborhood with friends or on my own. Things are so different now.