Raising independent kids

Just last week at the YMCA, I watched my 14 month old daughter wander away from me to greet people walking into the building (and maybe figure out an escape route) and I joked with my friends, “It’s so sad how kids never learn to become independent unless you put them in daycare.” I, of course was being completely sarcastic. Unfortunately, there seem to be some people who actually think this is true. Over at the Washington Post, there is a blog about working and stay at home moms by Leslie Morgan Steiner who just wrote a book called “Mommy Wars”. In today’s installment, she actually writes that only a stay at home mom could coddle her kids enough to prevent them from becoming independent based on a conversation she had with a friend. Apparently her friend who is a stay at home mom is a complete freak who thinks that by telling her daughter that she will put her to bed every single night for the rest of her life she will ensure that the child never ends up in therapy. Obviously, this is both a bizarre claim to make and completely not typical of stay at home moms. Ms. Morgan Steiner, however, takes this one odd ball and declares her life as a working mom superior for creating independent kids because in the chaos of their lives, she can’t be as controlling over her kids as us control freak stay at home moms. Isn’t it well past time that this ridiculous stereotype was put to its proper death?
There are two problems with this stereotype. The first is that it’s simply not true. If anything, because we’re not scheduled to death, my children are responsible for large portions of their own time. They have to figure out what to do with themselves without the constant structure of schools and after-school programs and lessons, practice and what not in the remaining few hours of the day. One of our objectives in homeschooling is that our kids will be the sort of people who can figure out what they want to do and how to get it done rather than people who wait to be told what to do. Having the freedom which me being home and us homeschooling allows us gives them a chance to learn just this.
The second problem with this stereotype is that it completely ignores the high price of having kids who are not supervised reasonably. Research has found that kids who are so “independent” that they are left alone after school are far more likely to use drugs or alcohol, be sexually active, and have other problems. (For a good review of how our daycare-make ’em independent of parents-latch key kids mentality is hurting kids, check out Mary Eberstadt’s “Home-Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes “.)
Another thing I have noticed about these “kids with stay at home moms are clingy and overly dependent” conversations is how callous people often are to the legitimate needs of children. 30 years ago, a kindergarten teacher knew that for the first few days of school she would be dealing with a class full of unhappy kids who wanted mommy. This was seen as a perfectly normal “right of passage” and dealt with. Today, the kindergartener with the stay at home mom who is unhappy about mom leaving him/her at school is used as an example of how having a stay at home mom creates clingy kids. How is it that we are so callous towards the needs of our kids that a very small child, a good 13 years away from adulthood, is seen as flawed if he/she hasn’t gotten over being left by mommy at the ripe old age of 5? When my son was in a government school for kindergarten, some teachers actually said they preferred kids who came from a daycare setting because they were used to being in a more institutionalized setting and not being able to do what they wanted. Sure it’s easier for the teachers, but what about the kids? And I’m sorry, but I don’t think either being able to leave mom and dad at a very young age without any distress and accepting another person controlling your time are traits which are real conducive to becoming well-adjusted adults who are leaders and in control of their own lives!
Yes, we all want our kids to grow up and be independent. However, let’s not pretend that kids aren’t kids and don’t need their parents around to raise them. People sometimes ask me how I can homeschool 2 kids, care for a baby, and keep the house running (however feably) and have time to blog. It’s really because I have independent kids who I don’t need to spend 100% of my time “interacting” with. I’m here when they need me, and I’m aware of what’s going on so that I can step in when they need help or correction, but they are perfectly happy to spend a good part of their time doing their own thing. They don’t need to be clingy – they know I’m here if they need me, will step in and make them do things when they don’t want to and that it will be the same tomorrow. That’s the reality of stay at home moms raising independent kids!

2 thoughts on “Raising independent kids

  1. I am a dad (stay at home) who naively ran into this issue while in the observation room at gymnastics.

    One of the stay at home mom’s made a comment about attending a gymnastics class in the evenings with the working moms. I didn’t think anything of it until I mentioned it to my wife (a working doctor). She immediately berated the commenting mom, posted about it on a web forum and received several replies about how awful a person the commenting mom was.

    Aside to which side produces better adults (stay at home is easily the winner). This is definitely a topic I will avoid bringing up around opinionated people.


  2. “One of our objectives in homeschooling is that our kids will be the sort of people who can figure out what they want to do and how to get it done rather than people who wait to be told what to do.”

    I teach a lot of college freshman in the library computer lab and I when I give an assignment that isn’t Step 1… Step 2… Step 2a…, if I don’t use the exact same words that are on the computer screen (I used “peer-reviewed journals” instead of “peer-reviewed publications”) they get lost. On some questions I have to explain I am not looking for exact fill-in-th-blank words, when it whould be obvious. That and those who are so bored with education that they don’t care.

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