This month we share the excitement of Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks. But with all the flash and color, it is easy to forget the dedication and sacrifice that created the original reason for the celebration. Our country was founded by people who valued their independence, and were willing to suffer hardship to protect it. The right to determine their own fates was so important to the original American colonists that they were willing to risk everything to earn that freedom.
For parents, independence is also a highly valued ideal. It is the destination of a journey that begins when a child is born. And no, I don’t mean the independence that comes by “finally getting the kids out of the house.” The goal of parenthood is to help mold a child into a strong, loving, compassionate, principled, independent adult. In essence, to be a truly good parent is to do your job so well that you become obsolete. It is not an easy job; it is an ongoing, constantly shifting, daily challenge to establish the delicate balance between holding on and letting go.
There are days when you have confidence in yourself and in your child. There are also days when you question your abilities, because your child has been hurt, hurt someone else, or used poor judgment. At every stage of a child’s life, there are new limits to negotiate, and privileges earned in recognition of achievements or growth. Each of those milestones is a time for celebration, a “fireworks” moment. Forgotten are the hours of patience required to help a child master walking, toilet training, riding a bicycle, learning long division, or driving a car.
The founders of our country did not win their independence in one quick battle. It took years of planning and fighting to prove that the United States had grown beyond being Great Britain’s colony. It really was not until the War of 1812 that Great Britain — and the rest of the world — respected and acknowledged that the United States of America was a legitimate, autonomous nation.
In parenting, this recognition of a child achieving independence is equally difficult. It does not happen all at once. Slowly, through school and extracurricular activities, your child develops a social life that does not involve you, except to supply transportation. Next, you teach him to drive, and you learn to trust that he will drive safely. You are anxious until he arrives home, but this you keep to yourself. When he researches, buys and is able to repair his own car, as well as yours, you realize that he is no longer a child. He is not completely an adult, since he seeks out DWI checkpoints in his car, because he does not drink, and this appeals to his goofy sense of humor.
You are just beginning to accept this new part-boy, part-man, when he makes a choice that you did not anticipate, and that makes you uncomfortable. He has decided to buy a motorcycle. After voicing all your concerns, you have to step back, listen to his reasons for making this choice, and trust him. You have taught him all his life; you have to believe that he listened and learned. He is your child, but he is his own person. He has earned his independence.
On this Fourth of July, celebrate the independence that our forefathers earned for us. Every day, stop to celebrate the steps toward independence that your child continues to make.