It is the experience of growing up. We think it is all about our children, but it is equally about the parents learning when and how to let go so their children have the space to grow. Best described as a dance. Sometimes we push them to do things they are not quite ready to do, sometimes they push for freedoms that we are not yet ready to grant.
This dance is critical for the relationship between parents and children. This is how children create the space to grow. It is also how parents learn to let go. Yes, we need the practice as much as our children.
Keep in mind that we only get to keep these children for a few short years. It is our job as parents to take them from zero to ready to face the world in about 15 years.
These 15 years are also pretty much pre-decided for us.
The first third goes to basic survival and physical strength. The second third is consumed by school, sports, and community building. The last third is about separating from us so they can start building their own life and family.
During the first five years, understanding when to let go is fairly easy. This phase is all about basic needs, it is well documented in books and other resources, and it is fairly low risk for us. Letting our child play at the park alone does not feel as big of a risk to us as handing our teen the keys to their first car, for example. At the park, they are playing independently, but they are within our reach.
The second five years it gets a bit trickier. Not only do their own personalities start to unfold and work against our efforts, but we also lose them for at least half their days to school and other activities. On top of that, even the time that spend with them, there are no clear instructions in the literature or resources as to how to handle these changes in personality or how much freedom these children should have. We often lose track of our children's growing rhythm during this phase.
Then there is the third set of five years when children have developed enough momentum to build their own independence. Their hormones are pushing them away from us too. This is by design. They are hard-wired at this phase to start breaking away from their family to make room for their own growth so that when they leave to start their own lives and families, they are ready for it.
By the time they are 16, they are often already flying solo and using the family house as a "hotel". They have their own friends, many can drive, work, and travel the world. In some cultures, they even start getting married around this age.
This is why it is in everybody's advantage to practice:
Exercise common sense and judgment,
Creating a social group that they can rely on in our absence, and
Finding their independence
From the earliest age that is safely possible. When we are still nearby and ready to jump in and guide them.
Growing up is not a switch that we can turn on when we are ready. It is a process that takes years to develop and mature. As parents, we are often out of synch with this process but no one is waiting. Children can't stop growing until we catch up. This clock is ticking!
Our children are growing up whether or not we are ready. The sooner we accept this fact and offer them enough space to grow and build the trust that they need to run to us when they need help, the better off we will be - parents and children alike.