Monday, 24 September 2012

Independence Day

My little 4 year old girl has just started school. It's a big step for both of us and one where I can see her gradually starting to take little steps forward in her independence. Of course it is wonderful to see her manage things on her own that before she would be asking me to do but it has also started me thinking about the value that we put on children gaining their independence and I do wonder if we have started to push them out of the nest earlier and earlier- maybe before they are really ready to leave?

It begins at birth. In the hospital with my 12 hour old baby sleeping in the cot beside me I asked the nurse to pass him over to me as I wanted to hold him (I had a c-section so I couldn't lift him myself). "Oh no!" she replied "he will never be independent if you pick him up all the time". I still insisted that he was given to me and she did so with a tut and a very quizzical look.

Then of course there is the issue of co-sleeping which seems to be the bete noir of health visitors at the moment. I was told how dangerous it was and yet if done correctly it is perfectly safe. However again it seems that in todays society babies should be encouraged to sleep independently away from their parents.

Even the age that we are sending children to school is getting younger and younger, and we are often told that it is so good for them to "be independent from their parents". A couple of years ago my daughter wouldn't have even been at school now as there were two intakes and the younger children started in January. Go back 20 years and she wouldn't have started until she was 5 - a whole year later. In Scandinavian countries children don't begin school until they are 6 or 7 and of course in the third world children are by their mothers sides most of the time when they are growing up, this would have been the natural way in primitive times.

I remember watching a very sad television documentary a while ago about people sending their children to boarding school aged only 7. The children sobbed their hearts out when their parents first left. When the programme visited them and their families after a term their parents talked about how their children really enjoyed it and had become terribly independent. I didn't see this though. I just saw children who had to cut off their emotions and to become more distant to deal with the hurt they felt.

Maybe this big push for independence has also come at the cost of a warmer and more co-operative society. After all as humans we are not independent but rather we are inter-dependent. We need others to survive and asking for help or not wanting to be alone is totally normal and not something to be ashamed of.

So whilst we shouldn't hold our children back we shouldn't push them before they are ready either. Rather we should hold their hand and walk by their side on the long road to independence.

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