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.