The art of letting go: Getting kids to the leave the nest

C-VILLE KIDS

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We’ve all heard the extreme parenting stereotypes: on the one hand, the “helicopter” parents who hover and smother, and on the other hand, the “free-rangers,” who set their young’uns loose on New York City subways. If you’re like me, you’re in the middle and very confused about how to raise a confident, resilient kid who also doesn’t have a mug shot and hasn’t been abducted by a cult.

My latest lofty goal is to fall somewhere between the kind of parent who turns a blind eye to high school drinking parties in my basement and the kind who enables my grown children to live in my basement far beyond the age at which they can drink legally, a safe middle ground between Tiger Mother-like oppression and never teaching my kids to do their own laundry.

This would seem an easy bar to meet, except that even at their tender ages, moments with my children feel loaded with future consequences that could impact my plans.

Saying goodbye

Tears of abandonment reign during the initial phase of parenting: day care drop-offs; the first time on the school bus; the nightly struggle to make them sleep. In. Their. Own. Beds. Most of these traumas are necessary evils, but then there are the gray areas of parenting self-doubt: Perhaps the new babysitter does look a little sketchy… I’m not sure horse camp was the best way to overcome her fear of horses after all… A week alone with the grandparents? Even I’d be crying!

Throwing them into the deep end

Sure, I think you should try swimming across the pool in one breath… Time to remove the training wheels! Of course you’re good enough to try out for the school play…I don’t care if you don’t like piano anymore—get practicing!

Having them learn to fly means having them feel frustration; the pain of rejection and humiliation; and actual, physical pain sometimes. As a parent, I must decide when it’s appropriate to push and encourage them (lest my children grow up meek, unmotivated and eating out of my refrigerator past 30) and when to let up on the gas (lest they end up in physical or psychological therapy).

Fighting battles

Combat comes early in childhood, because other kids and their parents can be jerks; so can teachers, coaches and other authority figures. Sometimes the world just won’t treat my kids the way they deserve. But when do I come to their rescue and when should I let them handle their own sandbox scuffles? When do I tell them to stand their ground and when to walk away? And how do I teach them to know when fighting for their rights is inappropriate, whether it’s for a test grade or my credit card?

Stranger danger

The days of children running wild for hours, stopping home only for an occasional Kool-Aid break (as I did) seem gone, but when does the cost
of 24-hour kid surveillance outweigh the security benefits? Must I watch my child walk all 50 yards to the neighbor’s house, or is it O.K. to rely on my usual text method: “Hey there. M is walking to your house now to play with A. Text me back if she doesn’t get there…”  Right now the situations are fairly straightforward and the stakes obvious, but what about when it’s sleepovers with the new girl at school? Drop-offs at the movies? Riding in cars with boys?

Whether I’m pushing or they’re pulling, the pitfalls of parenting children to capable adultness seem endless. I’m just hoping that as long as they know their bedrooms are destined to convert to other functions within their lifetimes, everything might just fall into place.

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