Parenting

How Much Freedom Should You Give A Child?

son and mom

Trying Not to be a Creeper Mom by Shannon Serpette

For almost 12 years, since the day my son was born, I have had this special, unbreakable bond with him.

While he loves his dad too, he and I seem to share so much – he inherited my green eyes, he’s left-handed like I am, and he shares my sense of humor and love of writing. We’re both way more into superheroes than we should be, and we love spending time together.

Here lately though, I seem to need him a little more than he needs me. He’s growing up and his world is expanding. I used to be the biggest part of his day and I’ve slowly felt that focus shifting. Now, I seem to come in neck and neck with his other interests – basketball, computers, his friends.

That’s normal, I know, but it still stings a little. When I see him race out the door away from me, I feel pride, tinged with a touch of sadness. He’s growing up, but I’m staying the same. It’s like in junior high when you saw one of your friends slowly going on a different path than you were taking. You knew you were drifting apart and that things would never be the same.

Today is a stark reminder of my son’s evolving maturity. It’s his first school dance. Many of his sixth-grade friends are meeting their dates there. Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with the dating issue yet. He says there’s no one he likes, but I have my doubts about that by the way he blushes when he talks about it.

Maybe he’s gently easing me into things, like I did when he was younger and he was learning to swim. First, I took him to the shallow end. With every passing lesson, I coaxed him into inching his way into the deep end. This is our role reversal – I need him now to be patient as I slowly test the deeper waters he’s leading me to.

I’m trying to give him the space he needs, and deserves. I’m resisting the urge to be a creeper mom – the kind who always inserts herself into every aspect of her child’s life. While I’d secretly love to be chaperoning his school dance, or better yet, hide in a broom closet and watch the whole thing unfold, I’m sure he’d rather not have me there, lurking in the background, cramping his style.

It’s healthy to give a child some space. So I’ve let my foot off the gas a bit and tried to loosen up. Here is what I’ve done so far:

  • I’ve backed off chaperoning duties: I used to sign up for every field trip and every room party. Now that my son’s getting older, I think he needs some school outings where I’m not on the bus with him, watching his every move and interaction. So I’ve semi-retired from chaperoning. Occasionally, I still sign up though, especially if it’s going to be an all-day trip.
  • I let him walk to school sometimes: We only live a quarter of a mile from my son’s school, in a quiet subdivision. There’s a crossing guard from the school waiting to let the kids safely cross the street. He loves walking to school because he feels more adult. I love that he crams a little more exercise in his day.
  • Letting him roam our neighborhood: I’ll let my son walk around our subdivision unsupervised now that he’s older. His friends have been doing it for years, but it’s been a new development in our household. There are still rules however – he needs to check in if he’s been gone for a while and I need to know where he is and who he’s with.
  • Staying home by himself: If I need to run downtown to mail something and I’ll be gone 15 minutes, I’ll let my son stay at home by himself. Some of his friends are already staying home half the day by themselves, but that doesn’t work for me yet. I’m taking baby steps with this one.

Here are some of the things I’m not yet willing to budge on. Giving kids a little independence isn’t the same as giving them total freedom. They aren’t young adults, even if they think they are at age 12.

  • Facebook: I’ve received friend requests from some of my son’s classmates, and I always accept everyone that sends an invite my way. But will my son be getting a Facebook account any time soon? No way. That’s a non-negotiable. I’ve written far too many articles about cyberbullying to give in to this request. I see adults on a daily basis who write things on people’s Facebook pages that they would never dare say to them in real life. If adults can’t handle Facebook responsibly, I don’t hold out much hope for junior high kids.
  • Phone: Some of my son’s friends already have their own phones, as do some of my fourth-grade daughter’s friends. To me, there’s no reason in the world for that. I’m not interested in helping my kids look cool. I’m interested in parenting them to be strong, responsible, happy and kind. Phones at this age don’t fit anywhere in that equation. As my son gets older and enters more extracurricular activities, a phone will come in handy. But there’s no need for it yet.
  • Wandering all over town: Walking around our subdivision is one thing, but letting my son walk or ride his bike throughout town while unsupervised doesn’t fly with me. That’s a good way to stir up unnecessary trouble. When I see kids circulating through town in packs, especially junior high boys, they do things they would never dream of doing if their parents were standing right there. I know my son well enough to know he wouldn’t be comfortable in that situation so I don’t let him get put in that position in the first place.

There’s a fine line between being too involved in your child’s life and not involved enough. Hopefully, I eventually find a balance both my son and I can live with. In the meantime, if you see me lurking in the bushes watching my son as he and his friends walk around the neighborhood, just ignore me.

Biography

Shannon Serpette on LinkedinShannon Serpette on Twitter
Shannon Serpette

Shannon Serpette is a mother of two and an award-winning journalist and freelancer who lives in Illinois. She spends her days writing, hanging out with her kids and husband, and squeezing in her favorite hobby, metal detecting, whenever she can. Serpette can be reached at writerslifeforme@gmail.com


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