“You’re so lucky”, sighs my sister-in-law, struggling to contain my 10-month old niece while she pulls away from her mother’s hold. “Your boys are past this stage; they’re so independent now. You have your life back.”
I reflect on her observation. Yes, we’ve come a long way. From diapers to bathroom independence, breastfeeding to watching them fetch their own snacks, my boys have achieved a certain level of autonomy that comes with the passage of time. And it is likely the main reason I know my family is complete; I revel in their independence, and am keenly aware that I no longer want to change diapers, burp babes or breastfeed.
Still, as excited as I am to have a small – but significant – piece of my life back, I fear that a child’s independence does not always arrive on mom’s terms, often sneaking up on us as we continue to cut grapes in half and check on sleeping children at night. It’s the day Ryder talked back to me, surprising me with his clever rebuttal and acute sense of injustice. It’s the pair of scissors that Reid reached for, not out of curiosity but because he wanted to strategically cut his art project in half. It’s the routine walk through the school playground without a backward glance as they both make their way to classes. The constant space between our lives that grows and grows until one day, I wait for a hurried weekend phone call, listening as they assure me they have clean clothes to wear and food to eat.
While some moms fear the emotional and physical distance that naturally comes with independence, I acknowledge that the trait is actually made up of several qualities, all of which I wish my sons to have. Independence inspires individuality, confidence and competence. It offers children the freedom and objectivity to make decisions and choices that they will undoubtedly learn from, which toughens their resolve and builds self-assurance. And after I allow them to make those choices, I’ll be there – offering support, love, and advice… but never “I told you so.”
My boys’ independence begins in the kitchen. With the start of the new school year, I have encouraged them to take a more active role in preparing their snacks and lunches. This means that they select their own pre-cut fruit from the fridge, portioning it out into their lunch boxes. Sandwiches are assembled together assembly-line style, with them adding the meat and fixins’ just before I close and cut the sandwiches. They are in charge of placing juice boxes in their lunch bag, with the understanding that a forgotten juice box means a trip to the water fountain at school. In short, this half-hour of meal preparation helps build the foundation for a day when they’ll prepare their own meals from start to finish… maybe even their entire family’s meals. …