Resources for the Intentional Parent

Building Independence vs. Connecting with Your Kids

Parenting with balance is a moving target! It is dynamic, not static. Our children start out absolutely helpless and we must adjust along with them as they take shaky steps toward independence all the way until their young adults launching from our homes.

When my kids were first born, they couldn’t do anything for themselves. They needed help to eat, have their diapers and clothes changed, be soothed to sleep, be moved from point A to point B. They needed constant attention to reassure them in their new, strange world. The first three months outside the womb have been referred to as the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy because the helpless baby still feels very physically connected to their mother (and the mother to baby!). These months are a transition period from womb to world.

But little by little, these helpless creatures begin to do things for themselves. Each developmental milestone yields a tiny bit of additional independence: They roll over, crawl, sit up independently, eat solid food, feed themselves, walk, run, skip, jump. They start out heavily dependent on their parents, experiencing separation anxiety when the security blanket of mom and dad walks away. They fear their parents will not return, but then they learn that mom and dad do come back. And then one day, mom drops them off somewhere, and they don’t cry. And then there’s the day we send them to school...

There is a great tension within our hearts as parents. We long for our children to grow up and to not need our undivided attention every second—and yet, at the same time, we dread them becoming independent. Every time they need us less, we fear we just won’t be relevant to them anymore one day.

But if we’re going to be successful parents, we need to (as my mom always said) “work ourselves out of a job.” We have to let go, inch by inch, so that our children can grow into mature adults one day.

But how does this work out in everyday life? For me as a mom, finding a balance between allowing my child enough—but not too much—independence is very difficult. I might think my daughter is ready for a step of independence, only to find out the step was too much too soon. Or I may think my son needs more protection than he actually does.

Parenting is a lot of trial and error. As someone who likes to have everything figured out ahead of time, I find this to be really challenging!

Then there is the challenge of figuring out how much connection is enough and how much is too much. Sometimes I hover too much, overestimating my kids’ need for connection. And sometimes I get in my own independent world, focused on accomplishing tasks and trusting that my kids are fine. That might work ok for a little while, but if I neglect connection for too long, I start to notice that my kids are acting up or really grouchy or kind of lonely. Again, this is a balancing act, and I almost never feel I am doing it perfectly.

(Once in awhile, I say to myself, “I am killing it with this mom thing!” and within about five minutes, something happens to show me the kids have changed the rules again and it’s time to adapt again.)

Finding the right balance of connection and independence requires constant experimentation and the ability to give ourselves lots of grace as parents! Because our kids’ needs for independence and connection are constantly moving around, while our own disposition and circumstances are also in constant motion, we are probably never going to find that exact “sweet spot.”

Success isn’t measured by perfection but by the ability to stay attentive to our kids’ needs and to our own needs. It’s measured by the ability to adjust when things aren’t working. It’s measured by the ability to laugh at ourselves when we mess up. It’s measured by the ability to keep trying stuff, to keep experimenting, to keep improvising. This is the stuff of life.

By Rebecca Miller, Kudoso Kontributor