Kids On a Leash

Category: Weekly Columns

Before you start getting upset at me, the title of this column is about much more than those kids we often see tethered to parent by a leash! Walking in a park the other day, my 14-year-old son pointed out a kid being controlled by just such a leash and thought it might make for a good column. Do you teach your children self-reliance?

My first reaction was that it was too limited a topic until we discussed it further and both realized the metaphor this physical image inspired.  So, with full credit to my youngest son, I realized what a great topic this could be given the degree of helicoptering and tethering my generation of parents have employed!

I’ve written a lot about the infantilazation of our teenagers by parents. Please note that “Infantilazation” is the second word in this column that has been rejected by my spell-check program as non-existent. Not even a suggestion of a better spelling for it or “Helicoptering,” yet I am willing to bet 90% of you know exactly of what I speak (or write, to be exact)!

Finding jobs is indeed harder than ever for teens today.  But, given how many of them are spoiled rotten, do they even know the word, “Persistence” when it comes to looking for work?  Both “Finding jobs” and “Persistence” have been subjects of previous “A Dad’s Point-of-View” columns.  Their commonality is the raison d’être for this column.  Teaching our kids independence is one of our first jobs as dad and/or mom. Tying them up with a leash, whether literally or figuratively, is not included in the job description.

In defiance of the PC police, I will declare that I believe there is a bigger tendency towards “Helicoptering” from the estrogen side of the parenting equation. “Hovering,” “Control,” “Spoiled” all may come to play as well. Dads certainly have their share of gender traits that aren’t helping their kids, too. I’ll focus on the general notion of teaching kids to be independent rather than caring whether dad or mom may be the worst offender at this aspect of parenting.

Letting go is hard. But, teaching our kids that ability to not be dependent on mom or dad is essential to maturation and ultimate independence. Teaching financial tools, how to do laundry, basic cooking (and cleaning), are required skills for living on your own. There’s more to raising kids than learning to say “Thank you” and “Please” or to succeed in school and sports.

Faith and trust are not words often associated with parenting. But, in so many ways, if children have been raised with the skills necessary to be independent, then mom and dad should have “Faith” and “Trust” that the children can be independent and survive.

I experienced both faith and trust recently when I left my older son in charge of the house and dogs while my wife and our other son went to visit my in-laws. I chose to give Will the space to shine, the room to grow, and demonstrate his maturity by entrusting him to take care of the house and dogs. I was rewarded with regular check-ins from Will and, sadly, an unfortunate early morning call from him as well.

We have three dogs and one of them was quite old, Tache, and had become both weak and a bit senile and disoriented. Late on this particular evening, Will was looking for Tache late and couldn’t find her. He went outside, turned on the pool lights, and discovered her lying below the surface, in the shallow end. We believe she chose to end her life, but only God knows for sure.

Will called my wife and I immediately, shocked and scared, and unsure of what to do. We guided him through the challenging emotional process of pulling Tache out of the water, wrapping her cold body in towels, and gently placing her in the laundry room. I am writing this column, several hours later, in the waiting area of the airport gate of which my flight home is scheduled to depart.

My son needs my support now – in person. He’s demonstrated his capacity to handle the slings and arrows that life throws us all. I am proud of him for not panicking, not totally freaking out, and immediately knowing that calling us in the middle of the night was the right thing to do.

This is part of growing up. I wish I’d been there when Tache died. But, I wasn’t, nor can I be there for each and every tough time my boys will face. Teaching them to stand on their own is my job.  And, it’s your job.

Don’t be that parent that keeps that baby/toddler leash on any longer than it is necessary. Again, I am not taking a position about the value of that physical leash itself, as I’ll leave that to the parenting experts. I am taking a position on letting children learn, grow, fail, and succeed, without mom and dad by their side every step of the way.  Do your job and they will do theirs…


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