As my son leaves his teenage years behind him I find myself struggling with allowing him to find his own way, because I’m so “sure” I know what’s best for him. I am his Legal Guardian, but I want him to eventually live independently – after all I’m not going to live forever, and my hope is he outlives me. It’s a Catch-22, and I’m confident I’m not the only parent living it.
There’s a term, helicopter parenting, that has been applied to parents of children without disabilities; it shows how challenging it can be to let our children find their own way. We want what is best for them, and I won’t argue this is a good thing. However, learning comes from making mistakes; and we have to allow our children (yes, even those with disabilities) the opportunity to “fail”.
Be judicious, and be ready to resist your first inclination. I’ve found myself all too often ready to jump in to “save” my son before he even gets started (it’s why I had someone help me teach him to cook). Consider the worst possible scenario (the realistic one); unless there is a significant chance of an emergency room visit see what happens. If they don’t succeed the first time it doesn’t mean they never will, rather I believe it may mean they either need more practice or to take a different approach.
Think about you learning new skills, I know I didn’t succeed right away. When well-meaning people did something for me I let them – after all one less thing I needed to do. And yes, I am saying our children may have similar thought processes; because it’s not something we consciously decide (taking the easy way); I believe it’s how we’re programmed.
I’m not suggesting every family needs to set their child up to live alone, people need a varying degree of supports. What I’m saying is allow your child to rely on supports – rather than doing it for them. It’s going to be more work (in many cases), but the long-term benefits (in my opinion) are worth it. For many of us our children will still be here when we are gone, and we cannot guarantee those who come after us will have the same passion as we do to help our children. So let’s put aside our skepticism and see what our kids can really do.