Our kids take time, energy, and patience. The ultimate goal is for them to gain independence as we mature together, cultivating young people who are healthy, capable, socially and emotionally intelligent. This results in our offspring being capable of having healthy relationships, managing their emotions, and making responsible decisions. When we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labour, without having to actually labour, is when we’ve done our job.
But what does being independent mean? It means being able to care for yourself, depending on age and stage, as children grow into themselves. Being self-sufficient includes being aware of our actions and how they impact others, having the agency to do what needs to be done for ourselves, as well as the ability to be good citizens. Ultimately self-sufficiency means making good choices, having confidence in your abilities, being secure in who you are, having a stable locus of control, and making good choices, in addition to contemplating the impact those decisions have on others going forward.
As parents over 40, there are many ways that we can help foster our children’s independence. Under our loving and watchful eyes, we must attempt to hold ourselves back from doing things for our kids, even if it’s easier and faster, and allow them to learn and feel the satisfaction of doing it for themselves. This takes mindful awareness on our part to accept the process and allow for extra time and patience. Then, we are no longer checking their backpack for missed homework, sitting beside them helping with math problems, or having to pick up wet towels and dirty socks off the floor.
Equally as important is the process of attaining social and emotional competence. This is how our children relate to others and process their emotions. Of course, establishing routines, creating charts or offering incentives might help, however, children learn, mostly from us, how to identify, manage and express their feelings which are reflected in the strength of their friendships and other interpersonal connections. These are essential skills to consider as they will benefit your child in every aspect of their lives going forward and play a big part in their ability to flourish.
How to encourage independence in your child
It’s important to remember that a human brain doesn’t reach maturity until 25 years of age. This means that even though our children might think they know it all, it simply isn’t true. As midlife women, we have lived experiences that equate to the wisdom that no amount of book reading can ever equal. Utilizing this, as well as extreme measures of self-restraint, emotional intelligence, and boundaries can help in this process.
Here are 10 ways you can enhance your child’s independence and at the same time free up the time, energy, and resources it would have taken otherwise to enjoy this midlife phase of your life to the fullest!
Create small wins
Create a list with your child of things you’re currently doing that they can do on their own, and then grow that list. Celebrate their successes with them and use each accomplishment as an opportunity to add to the list.
Model how your child needs to handle various situations
Remember they are always watching so when you’re dealing with a conflict at work, in the relationship with your spouse, a problem with the family pet, your child is learning from your every move. This awareness helps you rise to the occasion and be the best version of yourself and at the same time teach your child how to best manage these situations in their own lives.
Check-in with yourself multiple times a day to see how you’re feeling. When you’re feeling low, that is not the time for a teaching moment. Wait until you’re feeling strong to have difficult conversations. Tell your child what you’re doing, using thumbs up or down and have them check in with themselves as well. This helps us understand and care for our own needs, as well as those of others.
Becoming independent can be frustrating for a midlife parent and child. It’s okay to get upset or even angry. Every emotion we have is information. The key is not to stay in that feeling and to use it as a learning tool and move through it. You can do this by coming into the present moment and asking yourself why you were triggered. Emotions are energy in motion so remind your child that they are transient, they come and go, and even the difficult ones won’t last forever.
Cultivate the courage to face difficulty
Courage helps us overcome anxiety by incorporating positive action. There are several techniques such as breathing or doing an expansive pose that can help you feel more confident. You can use these techniques during difficult moments as well with your child to learn and practice together how to face challenges and learn and grow through them. This will help your child reframe roadblocks as opportunities for growth.
Respect your child’s feelings
Help your child express their feelings, perhaps by helping them find words to describe their emotions so they can work through them. Otherwise, they will be expressing them in their behaviour and it will be your job to decipher and translate. Hang an emotions chart to remind each other of the importance of pausing to identify an emotion in order to understand and move through it.
Start a practice of your own and encourage your child to write three things they are grateful for in a bedside journal every night and three when they wake up. There is no better way to facilitate a positive, can-do attitude and modelling this habit for your child will benefit both of you. Expressing gratitude for your child’s accomplishments will enhance their self-esteem and self-worth and encourage them to try new things on their own.
Forgiveness is an important aspect of any journey
Forgive yourself when you make a mistake and your child as well when they fall short. Being able to apologize to your child is a sign of strength and will help them be able to take responsibility for their own actions going forward. Forgiving is a way of not getting stuck in anger but being able to let it go for ourselves and others.
Focus on the wins
Pay attention to the things your child does right in their bid for independence and try to let go of the things that still need work. Kids learn quickly what gets your attention and you want that to be a magnet for positivity, not the opposite.
Express your love
Tell your child you love them, every day, even multiple times a day, after a family dinner as well as following disagreement. Your child needs to know that there is a safety net there for them when they spread their wings regardless of the outcome. When your child feels loved they feel worthy and that sense of belonging provides security that is an internal source of strength throughout life.
It is imperative to make sure that roles and responsibilities are clear and that your child understands what is expected of them. Remember, there will be setbacks and mistakes but these are simply learning experiences and opportunities for growth. Helping your child move toward optimism and positivity will help enhance their self-confidence and belief that they can achieve their goals. Most importantly, as independent humans, we want our children to be able to love and be loved. We want them to have the ability to face difficulty as it comes and to learn from it, grow through it, and be strengthened by it. It would benefit the world as well if they could use the wisdom they learned, years down the road, to help others, as their parents did with them in guiding them toward this sense of independence.