Sharon, “Allow children independence, let them go out and explore the world.” Tip #3
Many memories and thoughts flooded my mind in reading Sharon’s clearly stated tips. The most predominant for me was her message of independence in Tip #3, “Allow children independence, let them go out and explore the world.”
Independence was a pillar in my parenting. I frequently stated it, and openly identified as our collective primary goal. It was a direction we were all working toward as a family.
In my parenting, I explained to Michael as early as age 3, independence was the end game and the basis for all parenting decisions. I would explain, re-explain, and re-explain again. I was not subtle about this. I labelled it, and was completely transparent.
I articulated to him, “It is my job to get you to independence. By the time you leave this house you should be running it. I will be increasing your chores and responsibilities, as you earn the right for me to do so. I will be raising your allowance and add privileges based on your achieved level of independence. Independence will come to you in fun and not-so-fun ways. It is my job to get you there and your job to get there.”
I remember so vividly announcing, “Michael, it’s time for a new level of independence.” He would reply, “Oh God!” Never knowing if it was going to be an increase in an allowance, an extension on his curfew, or a new chore, or responsibility. All changes were under the umbrella of independence.
I thought this to be an honest, clear, sound, and flawless premise to build on. It was a goal we were all excited about. What kid doesn’t want independence? What Mom isn’t looking forward to freedom? Well, maybe there are some; however, in our case, we both were eager and driven toward him reaching independence. Independence was, and is, his ‘currency.’
In 2008, when Michael acquired quadriplegia, it appeared as if he had lost all possibilities for independence. I recall feeling a great injustice, not only for us as parents, but especially for Michael. He had been working hard, and cooperating, his entire life for independence. Now at 16, just when he had almost fully achieved independence, it was ripped from his life, never to return!
What tragic, heart-breaking irony! What an affront to my parenting and all I believed! I felt the world spit in my face, and a wrecking ball smashed my soul and my values. I thought, my God, what had I done!? I’d preached independence and now he has lost it, forever!
The intensity of knowing I had so colossally failed my son was crushing! What was I thinking? What did I do to this kid?! He had lost all independence. All I’ve emphasized as important is gone!
I can’t take back the words. “Independence is the only thing that matters!” My God! I can’t now convince him independence is NOT important! Oh my God!
I remember reliving the hours spent explaining and re-explaining independence. I was tortured with memories of statements such as, “Independence is everything.” “It is my goal to have you completely independent by the time you are 16.” “If you don’t have independence you have nothing.” My God!
How could I have known? I felt as if I should have known! What did I do?!
Any Mom can imagine the tremendous and unfortunate irony which had presented itself! Now my son cannot move. He is completely dependent on everyone for everything!
As I watched him, still in that bed, unable to scratch, with movement only in eyes, the lectures of independence bounced violently off the walls of my mind. I was fiercely tortured by messages I once thought to be brilliant. I had failed, failed miserably.
Although, those moments seemed liked years, I am happy to report they were short lived. It was true, at that time, Michael needed help with all things physical; however, more importantly, mentally he had achieved independence.
In the end, it was a gift to us all that independence had been our focus. Michael was certainly going to need independence now more than ever. Michael’s acquired independence was to be the glue holding us all together.
On the day of his injury Michael said, “Mom, as long as I can communicate, that’s all that matters.” How profound! How beautiful! How strong! What a welcomed and binding perspective.
Within days it was clear to see his ability to communicate, was his independence. Michael may have needed someone to get him a blanket, turn his pages, scratch his itch, and even hold his sandwich, but his independence was ever present. As long as he could communicate, that was all that mattered!
I’ve come to learn, needing help does not make you less independent. Even having to have an entire team of people provide physical support, does not make you dependent on them.
In the face of all this change and devastation, Michael upheld complete, unwavering control and independence. He guided professionals, and all those around him, as to what he wanted and how he wanted it done. He did so with respect, grace, and laser-sharp clarity.
One of my favorite teachings from Michael, “To accept the gift is to honor the giver.” I searched on google to give credit to the individual who coined the phrase, Stephen R. Donaldson. (I know Michael will like that.)
I am absolutely thrilled Michael adopted that philosophy. He does, and will, require help on his journey. More importantly, it is an honor to gift him with assistance.
I still adamantly endorse a strong emphasis on independence when parenting. It’s worked for me, for Sharon, and for our boys.
Thanks Sharon, to you and to your beautiful boy!