Navigating independence

Written by Amanda Coop

“This parking situation is getting ridiculous,” I told the kids as we sat waiting with all the other school traffic queued through the carpark and surrounding streets. “I think, one of these days, we might have to start walking home.”

“Walking?!” Mr 6 responded in a tone that made it sound more like I’d just suggested he jump off a cliff into a sea of hungry piranhas. “I don’t want to walk.”

“Me neither,” added Miss 10 in that surly, after-school, I-don’t-want-to-do-anything tone.

OK, I kind of get it. The weather’s still hot. His backpack is nearly as big as him and hers is nearly as heavy as her, thanks in part to her gigantic new water bottle that could probably sustain us all for a week if we did wander horribly off track on the way home and get stranded in the unforgiving suburban wilderness (read: a bit of overgrown grass here and there). They’re always tired at the end of the school day and ready to just flop down for a while.

But, as I reminded them in that annoying parent-y tone, we would actually get home quicker most days by walking rather than driving.

And, as I also like to remind them in that annoying parent-y tone, I used to ride my bike to school on my own when I was Mr 6’s age. Well, actually, that’s not true. I did have the supervision of my then-eight-year-old brother.

Now besides the fact that it’s probably illegal these days to walk unaccompanied at their ages, my kids have much busier roads to traverse than those of the sleepy town where I spent my early years.

So, I’m not necessarily suggesting they should go it alone. Given I’m also not doing any paid work at the moment and have both the time and ability to take them to school, it seems a bit … dare I say … irresponsible to send them off like tiny but less nimble Sherpas with their huge packs.

But am I actually doing them a disservice by not shoving them out into the big, wide world to fend for themselves? In this particular instance I’d say no, I’m not, I’m just keeping them alive, which is, I imagine, parenting goal number 1 for most people. It does make me think, however, that it’s time to loosen the apron strings in other departments, and maybe we could start by walking home from school together, even if that does require me making the ultimate sacrifice (exercise, that is, not death, although I imagine the two feel quite similar).

We all want not just to look after our kids, but to give them the ability to look after themselves when the time comes. When they’re very little it’s easy because they just go everywhere with you.

Navigating their independence as they get older is trickier. I feel it’s somewhat disempowering to be everywhere with our kids, whether that’s physically or at the other end of a mobile phone, but on the other hand I see my kids so much more confident and articulate than I was at their ages and I think it can’t be all bad. Each can approach a shop assistant, ask and pay for things on their own and speak clearly and politely with adults, whereas I peed my pants in Grade 1 because I was too shy to interrupt the teacher to ask to go to the toilet.

So perhaps I shouldn’t be worried about them walking without me, perhaps I should be worried about walking without them. We might need to stop and ask directions to the nearest bathroom.