On Love and Independence…

“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.”  Dr. Montessori

In parenting, love and independence are often placed in juxtaposition as though they are separate and perhaps rivaling entities. But they are not at odds with each other, being instead immensely, almost inextricably, intertwined.

At birth children are entirely reliant on the adults in their lives. They need us to take care of their every need. We not only provide their food and clothing, we must feed and dress them. As our children grow, they rely on us differently. They begin to feed themselves, dress themselves. However, we often cling to rituals through which we have exhibited our love. We carry our children when they are capable of walking, dress them when they can dress themselves, solve their problems when they can learn to solve them themselves.

Transitioning toward independence can be difficult – we carried and dressed and fed out of love. It’s understandable that we may be slow to give up these signs of love. However, our children grow, change and need us differently. As this happens, our love can now be manifest through a willingness to let them gradually take on the tasks of humanity. We are given the opportunity to love our children into independence.

Each child’s and each family’s path toward independence will look a little different. That said, there are times when particular steps can be made most easily. If we allow children to acquire life skills at the moments when they are interested, we have done them – and ourselves – a great favor. When the child’s internal motivation has passed, skills must be taught rather than naturally acquired and children often push back. On our children’s journey towards independence we’re looking for these choice times when acquisitions are made most naturally. Parenting is made easier by giving your child the right kind of independence at the right time. It serves no one to wait too long to allow children to grow.

The road is, of course, bumpy. We never hit all the magic times, and it can feel overwhelming to try. Here are two hints for finding these opportune moments for your child. First, observe them. When you notice that your child is trying to do something – let them. When you think your child seems ready to do something alone or for themselves – let them try. Second, talk to your child’s guide. There are many acquisitions that happen on a similar trajectory for most children. Guides are masters of this knowledge! Go to parent education, reach out, ask and let your community support you in this endeavor. This is not work you have to do alone.

Only by mastering a skill for themselves (in this case, tying a bow) are children then able to help others. The gift of independence is rich in reward.

Don’t get caught in the false dichotomy of love and independence – it is not an either/or choice. The path of love and independence is a beautiful dance of providing what is needed, of letting go, of being there to hold space for the child as they explore the world themselves and of letting them take off on their own.

My thanks, as always, to the photographic genius of Melinda Smith.