Family

Letting My Son Have His Wings

One mom instills personal responsibility in her 10-year-old kid

As we were rushing out of the house for a basketball game last Thursday, I noticed my 10-year-old son Josh had left his shoes by the door.

Granted, he was pretty excited about the game. His team had made it to the second round of the end-of-season tournament in our hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the stakes were high. This game would determine if they made it into the finals. But forgetting his basketball shoes is kind of like forgetting his head — which some days, if it weren’t attached to his body, I’m sure he would.

I grabbed the shoes, along with his water bottle.

“Think you might need these for the game?” I asked him as I handed him the gear in the car.

“Oh, yeah. Thanks, Mom!”

My husband groaned. This wasn’t the first time our son has relied on us to grab something he should have been able to remember.

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“I should be happy,” I told my husband. “He still needs me for something.”

At age 10, Josh doesn’t need me for everything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “Mom, I’m not six anymore,” in recent weeks.

We’ve never been the kind of parents who hover. We’ve always given Josh a fair amount of freedom. But allowing him to have the kind of independence he wants can be scary. Sure, the world is full of good, kind-hearted people, but it’s not completely devoid of evil. Kids get hurt. They get lost. Accidents happen. You hear about terrible things that happen to kids on the news all the time.

So naturally, I worry.

Will Josh pay attention to traffic when he’s riding his bike to school and make it there on time and in one piece? Does he know not to accept rides from strangers? To not let strange people in our house?

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But I can’t keep him in a bubble. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I work full time. I don’t have time for that. And while it would be nice to embed some sort of GPS tracking device on his body so I could know exactly where he is and what he is doing at any given moment, Josh is a smart, capable kid — so I have to trust he’ll make good decisions.

For the most part, he does. And little by little, he’s earned our trust and eased our fears.

We didn’t send Josh to day care last summer. Instead, we filled most of his days with some sort of scheduled activity. Basketball camps, swimming lessons, golf and fishing classes kept him pretty busy.

Other days, he was on his own and had to find ways to entertain himself. Sometimes, that meant finding some neighborhood kids to play with. Sometimes, he went to the pool. Sometimes, he just rode his bike around.

I wasn’t thrilled when he said all he did was watch cartoons and play Minecraft, but I can’t dictate every minute of his life.

Having the freedom to choose what he wanted to do taught Josh a lot — especially about time management.

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One day, for instance, we told him he could go to the pool, but he had to be home by 3 p.m. He texted me to say he was going to eat lunch and then head to the pool. But around 2:30 that afternoon, my husband was driving between two of the buildings he works at and saw Josh riding his bike in the direction of the pool.

My husband flagged him down. Josh said he didn’t leave for the pool earlier because he got caught up watching cartoons on TV. Since he wouldn’t have time to do anything but jump into the pool and leave, Matt sent an unhappy kid back home.

But I’ve also been pretty pleased to realize just how responsible our son can be. A friend invited him to hang out after school one day last week. Nobody would have noticed if he weren’t home right after school, but Josh borrowed his friend’s mom’s phone, called and asked for permission to stay at his friend’s house for a bit.

Later that night, when we were all home, I reminded Josh of how proud I was of him for making good, independent choices.

“See, I told you, Mom. I’m not six anymore.”

No, Josh, you’re not. You’re growing up. But since the library books that are due back at school tomorrow are still on the floor and not in your backpack, you still need me for something — for the reminder, of course, and the cash to pay the fine if you still forget.

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