Welcome independence along with the new school year.
Like most parents, I’m struggling with a variety of parenting anxieties as we settle back into the screen-routine for school. The questions nag persistently in my brain amidst my boys’ cries that Zoom crashed again or that they forgot their password. Will my kids fall behind academically? Is their social-emotional health declining? Are the screens giving them migraines? These are all questions I’ve been asking myself since last spring, but recently a new concern has popped up at the forefront of my brain: are my 7- and 9-year old boys regressing in terms of independence?
As a stay-at-home mom, I’ve had the luxury of being in the trenches with my boys full-time since the pandemic began. I’m definitely thankful that I’m not balancing a demanding career while trying to steer them through these uncharted waters. Still, I am beginning to have serious concerns that my constant presence and engagement could actually be having some adverse effects on their sense of independence and self-confidence.
I have cherished so much about all the time I’ve been able to spend with my boys the past six months, but the reality is that they have barely had to take direction from any adult besides me during this time. Throughout the (long) summer, there were no coaches, camp counselors, or babysitters to present alternative perspectives on leadership. They’ve only had me to assume the role of caretaker, teacher, coach, cheerleader, personal chef, and playmate. Again, I’m thankful I can devote the majority of my time to these important endeavors—but I am worried that my kids are becoming too dependent on me to fill all the voids created by these strange and uncertain times.
My concern began when I detected a few symptoms of this hyper-dependence. Throughout the summer, my 7-year old became despondent and clingy the handful of times that I tried to leave the house without him, and both my boys struggled to entertain themselves without suggestions or orchestration from me. As the school year approached, I started to feel an acute sense that I had to make some parenting changes that would help promote self-sufficiency and independence. I was especially worried about how this growing lack of independence would play out in their academic learning. My personal vow for the beginning of this school year was not to helicopter over their virtual school sessions. I knew that my boys needed to learn to navigate this new mode of school independently and also develop a relationship with their new teachers and classmates. This couldn’t happen as quickly if I was always nearby ready to troubleshoot, redirect, and repeat instructions.
You would think that releasing myself from the chaotic ping-pong tournament of bouncing back and forth between my two boys’ computer stations would be liberating … and it has been in some ways. However, it’s also been incredibly difficult for me. As moms, we are conditioned to help and rescue and soothe and generally make things easier for our kiddos. It’s in our nature to take action at the first sign of distress. As I’ve watched my boys struggle to adapt to this new online format with full days of mostly synchronous instruction, it’s taken all my power to step away and let them rely on their excellent teachers and their own perseverance. This is especially difficult because I know this is not an ideal situation. I know it’s incredibly hard for them to stay focused and seated and glued to a monitor for these long stretches. I want so badly to make it easier, more fun, more dynamic, more “normal”… but I also know that they need to endure this and reach within themselves for coping skills and resiliency. I can certainly guide them to develop these skills and provide emotional support whenever needed, but I know that they need me to take a more hands-off approach.
As I work to resist the temptation to ameliorate all the school struggles, I am also taking a moment to search within myself to dust off latent interests and forgotten hobbies, the self that exists beyond the role of mom. My mantra for the changing season is balance. I’m seeking an equilibrium between nurturing and empowering my children. I’m looking to foster a sense of independence for my boys and for myself.