Cutting the cord to raise strong, independent children (hopefully)
I regularly send my kids outside to play without supervision. That’s right, zero adult supervision.
I don’t plan their backyard activities. I don’t make sure they have water or snacks. I don’t even check to see if they’re wearing socks. As long as they aren’t destructive and return with all the body parts they left the house with, I really don’t care what they do out there—in their very own fenced backyard.
Childhood is the time for kids to explore, create their own kid-type fun and tackle any challenges that arise without adult supervision. My kids are left to manage these experiences less than 10 feet from the back door. They’re free to come and go if they need to pee, load up on books and toys, or grab an apple from the fridge. They know they shouldn’t jump on the trampoline with food in their mouths or run with pointy sticks, but, to be completely honest, I take my chances with those ones.
Whoa, hold on!
Now before you start dialing the number for Child & Family Services, know that my kids have always survived these backyard escapades, fairly unscathed, without my looming presence. Teeth haven’t been knocked out, bones remain unbroken and both of my children continue breathing to this day.
It’s remarkable, really. They return to me all rosy cheeked and wearing grins as wide as the Cheshire Cat's. Clearly, no fun is ever had playing in the backyard. Especially not without me directing their every move.
And are you ready for the truly terrifying part? My kids even walk themselves to and from school most days of the week. Sure, it’s an arduous seven-minute uphill journey (both ways) to the community school, but they make it. I work from home and could easily shuttle them to and from school, but self-reliance doesn’t magically appear.
Where does this parenting come from?
Growing up, I was a latchkey kid. By the age of 10 I was walking myself to and from elementary school with my little brother in tow. We walked about 15 minutes both ways in any and all kinds of weather. We crossed subdivision roads and walked through a creepy tunnel below active train tracks. Twice a day! Sometimes we walked in packs of friends. It was the ’80s; every kid was doing it.
After school, we would phone our mom to check-in, then grab a snack, complete little chores (yes, we had enough responsibility to know that chores needed to be done, even without supervision) and entertain ourselves until she got home. We had about two and a half hours alone, and those hours were awesome. No adults!!!
We mostly watched TV once all the boring stuff was taken care of, but we also learned to manage our time, work together (often reluctantly) and look out for one another (also reluctantly, but we did).
Now that I’m a parent I realize just how many of today’s kids aren’t developing those vital life skills that we learned through a little old-fashioned independence. To help my own kids develop those skills, my partner and I give them age-appropriate responsibilities—things like making beds, unloading the dishwasher, putting dirty clothes in the hamper rather than the floor, getting a drink when thirsty, helping with meals, etc.
Since he’s now in grade six, my big kid can make social plans according to his extracurricular schedule. He knows when his activities happen throughout the week, so he’s learning to manage his time. It’s a slow process, but he is an 11-year-old boy after all.
He also runs errands for me when needed. He sets out for the local bakery or grocery store armed with a list of needed items and some cash—often grumbling, but whatever. He figures out the rest. These tasks often result in a call home to clarify something, but get this—he asks to use the store phone—not his own. Remember when we had to do that? It’s tough stuff, but he rocks the half kilometre trek, the item location, the payment, and the polite human interaction every time. Every. Single. Time.
Sure, I worry about all the terrible things that COULD happen to my kids when they aren’t with me. I’m a mom, not a monster. I think of bullies and molesters and bad drivers and kidnappers and all manner of evil people plotting evil deeds. But then I think of much more realistic dangers, like childhood obesity, type-two diabetes, and my kids growing into those lazy, entitled, Smartphone-addicted teenagers that we all know and love.
And so, despite living in a pretty wild world, I refuse to bubble wrap my kids. Even though bubble wrap would be so much easier than all the work and worry of instilling independence and responsibility.
Like everyone else, my kids will navigate a life that isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Thick skin and common sense need time to develop, so I’ve opted to ease them into the “real world” with a little guidance and plenty of opportunities to learn from their mistakes.
My kids are constantly testing the water—dipping their toes before diving right in. Because that’s the way they learn how to swim.