Most of the time, it feels great to be needed, right?
When our kids are tiny, they need us so so much. They need us to feed them, dress them, bathe them. And then they need us to teach them how to communicate and wipe their bums and tie their shoes and grow up. They need us for everything. We complain about how much they need, but it’s kind of awesome in a way too. We are loved in a way that we’ve never been loved before.
We are needed in a way we’ve never been needed before.
But what about when they grow, and they don’t need us as much? We’ve gotten used to how it’s sort of nice to be that person — the mom, the dad, the one who can and will do anything to make our children comfortable and safe. How do we get over ourselves and face the fact that they don’t need us as much as they used to?
My kids are 5 and 10, and they don’t need me to get them a glass of water, put their shoes on for them, pour their cereal, or tell them how to entertain themselves. They don’t need me to tell them what to wear, what they like to do, or how fast to run at the playground. They do sometimes need me to remind them to be polite and to be cautious in parking lots.
A typically developing 5-year-old (I realize there are diagnoses and other issues that can change the game here) doesn’t need their mom to hold their hand going down the slide. I recently saw this happen: The kid saw all of the other 5-year-olds going down the slide alone, one after another. The mom hovered and chirped at the child and singsonged constant instructions, “Take a step up, now another step up. Okay, now we’re at the top. Okay, I’ll hold your hand. Okay, here we go down the slide. Whee!” The kid was fine and actually begging the mom to back off a bit. I could see it in the mom’s face, hear it in her voice. She needed to be needed. The safety of holding her child’s hand down the slide was no longer for her child.
And I kind of just wanted to yell out: “Just give the kid a damn break, please. Stop hovering.” That child is going to be shocked the moment her mom is not available to give her constant instructions. Real life doesn’t come with a play-by-play, and we are doing our kids a major disservice if we don’t let them have some independence and autonomy while they are young.
When you can’t let go of your own fierce desire to see your child succeed in every way, when you can’t stand to see them fail or fall or screw up or hurt themselves, when you have to be a part of every decision your little one makes, you are taking something valuable from them — their ownership of their own lives and their bodies and their decisions.
We need to let go of our fierce desire to feel like we are the center of their universe and that they can’t accomplish anything without us. Kids are capable. And when you hover and handhold and can’t let go of that lovely, lovely feeling of being needed by them, you tell them in a million tiny ways that they aren’t capable. You are telling them that you don’t trust them, their brilliant little selves, to take care of themselves. That you, their parent, have to be the one in charge of their lives at all times.
They are brilliant. They are capable. Let them be.
I want my kids to feel like they are capable. That I trust them to make good and bad decisions and that, yes, they will sometimes fall off that slide, and other times, they will fly off the end faster than they ever could have if I have been holding their hand — and flying off the end is the best part. That is the gift I want to give them. Not an effort-free, pain-free, mess-free childhood. Not a failure-free existence. That’s not sustainable.
As a parent, you are important. But you aren’t that important. You aren’t them. Let them be the storytellers, the decision-makers, the wrong-doers, the failures, and the success-makers in their own lives. Let them be. Stop inserting yourself so firmly and resolutely in their lives that they can’t find where they end and you begin. You’re not always going to be there, so stop it.
Don’t solve all of their problems.
Give them the gift of utter and humiliating failure.
Don’t burden them with your need to be needed.
Trust those brilliant, capable creatures to fail and fall and hurt themselves so they can learn to avoid failing, falling, and hurting themselves in the future.
And step away from that damn slide.