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Family Matters

The One Thing I Really Want for My Kids

One mom shares what she hopes to give her family

My mom died when I was in high school. She never met her three grandkids, but the way I parent is defined by my losing her.  

Case in point: My oldest daughter came downstairs this morning in shorts—even though it’s rainy and cold. We’ve had this discussion a million times.  

“You always tell me I pick the wrong clothes. If you hate them all so much, why don’t you just pick them yourself?” she asks. It’s only the tenth time she’s said that. This week.

But I won’t pick out her clothes. I won’t grab her hair ties or search for her lost folder, either. And it’s not because I’m the mean mommy she insists I am. It’s because I love her and I want her to be able to fend for herself.

My mom was 45 when she died—my sister and I were 16 and 7. You lose a lot when your mom dies young. She didn’t see me graduate from college or walk me down the aisle. But most of all, I lost having her—and after years of having a mother who did everything for me, it was a harsh awakening.  

Our kitchen has a green step stool. My 3-year-old knows just where it goes to get her applesauce. She knows how to get her cereal and pour it into a bowl. She can brush her own hair and while sometimes I put socks on her pudgy little feet when we’re running late, many mornings she puts them on herself. “Me-self! Me-self!” she cries.  

“I can’t believe you let her do all that,” my friend told me one day. Her own kids tend toward needing their mom. If they want juice or fruit or cookies, she’s up, she’s slicing, she’s moving. That’s not me.  

I’ve encouraged the same self-sufficiency in my husband. No man knows more about French braids. He knows the after-school schedule, current snack preferences, and, often, the location of the missing lovey.  

I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I felt my family couldn’t survive without me. Because my first family was lost when my mom died. No one remembered what my sister’s favorite lunch was or knew the names of my best friends. My dad has no idea what age I was potty trained or when I lost my first tooth.  

The surprising upshot of my family's independence is that it makes me a better parent. I feel safe running upstairs to take a shower knowing my kids can hold down the fort. And when I'm with them, helping with their homework or seeing a movie together or holding dance parties in our living room, the time is that much richer because I haven't been micromanaging every detail. My head space is clear for a lot more fun when I'm not worrying if I remembered to cut up the strawberries for their school lunch (My 10-year-old takes care of that).

My mom may have left us unprepared when she died, but she instilled in us the strength to figure it out on our own—which we eventually did. 

So I try to give my family the gift of independence. And I give myself the peace of mind that comes from knowing they could do this all without me if they had to.