One of the perilous things about having an older child is that they will start to crave space and independence which can be terrifying and sad at the same time. As with everything, the way you handle it can make all the difference. It can seem like the child is pushing away from you but they aren’t, they are going through the necessary process of starting to become adults.
Just like aging for us doesn’t happen overnight, this is a slow and incremental process which you may not even notice at first. Our job as parents is to make sure they do it safely and appropriately and to help them to see independence and growing up as a positive thing.
The first thing to go in our house was the bedtime story, I don’t remember exactly when but around eight years old, our girl wanted to read by herself in her room. She felt very grown up doing it.
Then when she was about nine she wanted to be able to pop to the local shop so we helped her to be able to do that, my heart was in my mouth and I watched out of the window the whole time! She was fine and she loved it and felt grown up and trusted. Soon after that came sleepovers with friends and that was fine too.
Now she is almost twelve and we are facing new challenges everyday, she recently expressed a desire to catch the bus home from school alone (a 40 minute journey) and she likes to meet friends and have a milkshake! I found this terrifying at first but she has relished it and been in the main hugely sensible. Like most people, it is not that I don’t trust her, more that I cannot control how the outside world behaves.
However, she is going to be out there on her own in the world one day (sob!) so she needs to learn how to negotiate it. Most of the time people will be fine but sometimes they won’t and part of life is finding out how to deal with that. We understandably want to shield our children but they need the skills to navigate the world or they will never be functioning adults.
Soon she will go and stay with her nana three hundred miles away for a week and I can’t control what will happen or be there if anything goes wrong. The thing is though, she wants to go so she understands that she has to cope with anything that may happen and that we are always on the end of a phone.
I don’t like it, it makes me feel very nervous but I want her to embrace growing up and independence and so I will take my cues from her as long as I consider they are appropriate. Sometimes I say no, she is still young and I know what she can handle and my job is also to hold back challenges she is not ready for.
The thing is about taking this approach, your kids will love you for helping them spread their wings and they will have moments where they will want to go back. This morning, my daughter threw her arms around me and asked me to go and pick her up from school today.
She has recently started to ask me to read to her in the mornings while she eats her breakfast. I am delighted to do so safe in the knowledge that she is learning to grow up at a pace that suits her but that sometimes, she is still my little girl.
By Suzy Colebeck
Just goes to show how the ‘two steps forward, one step back’ thing just keeps on going – starts at birth, is really noticeable in toddlerhood and possibly never ends! I certainly see my eight-year old doing the same as Suzy’s daughter – desperate to be grown up and then suddenly desperate to be my little girl again. Would love to hear readers’ experiences – please comment.