“Mama, can I go to Nanny’s house?”
It’s a simple request from my seven-year-old. Her Nanny, my sister-in-law, lives in our neighborhood only three blocks away. Her cousins are also homeschooled, and a quick text to my sis-in-law confirms that they are finished with lessons for the day, and it’d be okay for her to come play. But today I can’t escort her there because her younger sister is napping. I have two options. 1. I could keep her home. 2. I could allow her to ride her bike the three blocks by herself.
We live in a safe neighborhood. She knows the way. She knows our safety rules for riding bikes in the neighborhood. Ride on the edge. Get in the grass when you see a car. Proceed with caution at driveways in case someone is backing out. But she’s SEVEN! Is she old enough for this?
Giving independence to our children is insanely scary. What if she encounters an out of control driver? What if someone lures her into their home with a puppy or candy? What if she gets distracted and forgets the safety rules?
But then, what if NOTHING HAPPENS and she arrives safely at her Nanny’s house? This is the most likely outcome. And I must remember that she will not be a child forever. She’ll grow into an adult, and I want her to be competent and independent.
What does adulthood have to do with today’s decision to allow or not allow her to independently ride her bike three blocks? Perhaps very little. But maybe a lot. Giving children independence is like a toddler learning to walk. We don’t bring our infants home and hold them for a full year and expect them to suddenly walk. No, we put them on the floor, and they learn to roll over, crawl, pull up, cruise the furniture, take some wobbly steps, and then before we know it, they are off at a full run! Baby does not go from our arms to running without reaching other milestones first. And they fall. A lot. Skinned knees and bumps on the forehead are painful, but that’s part of the process of learning to walk. But soon the pain is forgotten, and there is deep pride in taking those first steps for both mother and toddler.
My mommy gut told me that today would be a good day to let my daughter reach one of those milestones before becoming a fully independent adult. I allowed her to make the three block ride without an adult. My sis-in-law and I took some precautions. I stood at the end of my street, and she stood at the end of her’s, so that my daughter was within the eyesight of a trusted adult at all times. It was similar to when my husband and I used to sit a few feet across from each other and hold our arms out as our daughter wobbled unsteadily between us while taking her first steps. We were there in case she needed help, but she was doing it all on her own! Along the way to her Nanny’s, my daughter encountered one vehicle. I watched my daughter do exactly as we had taught and pull into the grass until the car passed. The driver was very courteous and slowed down and gave her a friendly wave. Before I knew it, my girl was out of my eyesight. A few minutes later my sis-in-law sent me a text to assure me that my daughter had safely arrived.
The world can be scary for our kids. Scratch that. It can be scary for US, the parents. Our children are ready to take on the world, but we must help them learn to navigate, slowly but surely, giving them a bit of independence when the conditions are right. Send her to check the mail alone. Require her to ask the librarian for the book she wants. Let her go alone to the counter at the fast food restaurant and ask for her own refill. Give her a list, and send her go to the next aisle in the grocery store to get a few items. Allow her to cook her own scrambled eggs. Watch her succeed. Watch her fall and get up to try again. Watch her grow. Watch her fly!