Fostering independence, or: How to butt out of your kid’s life

For me, the most remarkable discovery upon enrolling my first child in elementary school was the bizarre expectation that ALL parents would attend ALL class parties. Christmas, Valentine’s, you name it.

I grew up in the ’70s. Back then, the only mom who showed up at class parties was the room mom, who passed out cupcakes and helped the teacher ensure that a classroom of sugar-fueled kids didn’t wreak too much havoc before the final bell rang.

But these days, everyone — from working parents to those who stay at home — attends all class parties. Most of the parents stand around awkwardly, hovering over their kids’ crafts with fake enthusiasm or texting desperately on their smart phones.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the need for a couple of volunteers. But to have every parent in attendance, watching as their children make reindeer ornaments or open Valentine’s Day cards? Er, no. Not so much.

My mom didn’t show up at all of my elementary school parties. Neither did my friends’ moms. Because that would have been, like, totally freaking WEIRD.

These days, classroom parties involve a bunch of parents pretending to be enthused by second-grade arts & crafts and kids who are all too aware of this strange, icky over-awareness of every little thing they’re doing.

Which brings me to my point: Let your kids have their own lives. At school. At camp.

Yes, camp. As in sleep-away camp, far away from today’s helicopter parents.

For a kid, nothing is more liberating, more confidence-building, more independence-instilling than a week away from home, a week away from — GASP! — his or her parents.

Seriously. You can see and hear the difference when they come back. They’re full of stories, memories and a sense of accomplishment.

I say this as a kid who went to sleep-away camp every summer. Sure I was homesick. Sure I had to figure out new friendships, try new things, pretend to not be afraid when it was lights out and I went to sleep in a strange, new place.

But the benefits? Life-lasting.

As a Girl Scout leader, I teach my girls to think for themselves, to be leaders, to be willing to try new things. And as a leader, I encourage parents to send their girls to camp each summer. Because I know first-hand what those girls get out of camp.

As a parent, I also advocate strongly for sending kids off on adventures that DON’T include their parents. That’s why the E-man headed off to his first sleep-away camp this summer. Because it was time for him to try out a life without mom or dad in the midst of it. And he had a blast.

I hear so many parents today saying they can’t possibly send their kids off to camp. They don’t trust the counselors. They don’t trust the nurses. Or my favorite: “My little Sally could never spend five nights away from me!”

Actually, little Sally would probably do just fine. It’s the parents’ fears that dictate whether Sally gets to ever to go camp or not.

Today’s children grow up with  so few opportunities to make their own decisions or try things on their own. We’re at their schools, their class parties, etc… They have very few activities to call their own.

Let the kids be kids without parents looking over their shoulders. Quit going to their parties. Send them to camp. Teach them how to believe in themselves and their decision-making abilities.

Because by the time they arrive at the nursing home, you likely won’t be around to help make the doilies or serve tea & cake.

Need more evidence?

This is on my reading list. (Thanks, Leigh!)