I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but at some point over the last couple of years my kids became people. Little people with their own ideas, opinions and attitudes. People who can talk, read, write, take a shower, make friends, work electronics, play, eat, and do a whole bunch of other things independently now. Granted they are only 5 and 6 years old, but wasn't it just a few years ago that they couldn't eat, change, or even walk by themselves? Now they can actually think for themselves! Well, that is when I actually let them think for themselves.
Lately I have been feeling one of the biggest transitions in taking care of my children since they were born. I can't believe it, but the letting go is already beginning. I thought that wasn't supposed to happen until you drop them off at their college dorm room? But no. They are becoming more and more independent every day. And less and less dependent on mommy for their every need. Each day, the line between what they need me to do for them and what they can do for themselves gets a little less clear to me and I find myself struggling at times to figure it out.
When they were babies and then toddlers, my role as protector was very clear. I was the armor between my babies and the rest of the world. No one was going to harm them with me around. If I didn't like how someone was treating my little ones, then I would swoop them up and pull them right out of the situation. I got to say whom they did and did not play with. It was simply my job to decide what my children ate, what clothes they wore, what toys they received, and who their "friends" where.
But it doesn't completely work that way anymore. All the sudden my children are choosing their friends and the games they want to play. Sure. I am ok with that. I can stand back and watch my kids play with their friends on their own. Until of course, I witness my child being teased or treated unfairly. Then I want to step in like a mother bear and take care of the situation pronto! And here is where I am struggling with that fuzzy line between what my kids should be doing for themselves and what I should be doing for them.
Part of me can listen to another child not want to play with my son or daughter, take his or her toy away, boss him or her, or say something mean. Part of me can listen and wait to hear how my child will handle the situation. Wait and see if she or he has the skills and the strength to take care of it on his or her own. And then discuss it later when we are alone to praise how it was handled or to figure out a better way for the next time.
But then there is the other part of me. The part that wants to get right in there and take care of the situation immediately. Solve the disagreement or end the mean behavior right away. And....I'll admit it... make that child who is hurting mine STOP!!! But unless my child is in physical danger, is that the best decision?
My first year of teaching, I was on playground duty during recess one day. (I taught in lower Manhattan, so by "playground" I mean alley-way.) A few minutes in, I noticed a man walking rather fast and furious towards the children. He traveled through the maze of kids to find the one boy he was looking for. When he found him, he picked him up by his shirt collar and began to yell into his face "If you ever bother my son again, I will find you and hurt you." I couldn't believe it. How could a grown man treat a child this way? As a single, childless, 21 year old, I was horrified. Then I became a mom. And now? I'm not as horrified.
Now don't worry. I'm not going to attack any children at a playground anytime soon, but I definitly understand his anger and his need to protect his child against any enemy - even another young child.
To try and figure all of this out, I have been conducting some experiments over the last few weeks with my own favorite "lab rats". I have been waiting longer and longer before I intervene in thier disagreements with each other or with their friends. I have been letting my free thinking children try and figure it out for themselves before 'super mom' comes to the rescue. Allowing them to stand up for themselves and explain their needs and wishes clearly and effectively. And for the most part, I have been happy with the results. They are learning to solve their own problems. Standing up for themselves and finding solutions to disagreements and behaviors that they don't like. And we have been talking about these events later after friends are gone, and it is amazing what they learn from experiences they handle all by themselves.
Thankfully, I am also finding that they still need mom too! Some problems are just to big for their growing brains to handle yet. And one of the best things I can teach them is to begin to determine for themselves which problems they can handle on their own and which ones need the help of their parents or others whom they can trust to love and support them.
If we want to worry less about our children, and have them worry less, then we need to give them the skills and the strength to solve their own problems and make their own decisions. If they are confident in their abilities to handle situations on their own, then they will have less worries throughout their lives.
But children will also have less worries if they have the support and love of trusted adults. Parents who will always be there watching and waiting to lend a hand or a hug when needed. And a mamma who would be willing to face the biggest and meanest bully in the playground just for them!
May your heart be at ease,