Parents Perspective

The 4 "Independence Days" of Childhood

parents with baby

Editor's Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, guest blogs once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can "savor the moment" and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.

Each day of a child's life brings new growth and development, sometimes subtle, other times momentous. Among the many "firsts" in your child's life, however, there are four that deserve special mention this Independence Day. Four milestones that launch kids from one stage of their young lives to the next, bringing them ever closer to their own independence. These are milestones for parents as well since each new step your kids take towards independence means a new phase in your lives as well.

Independence Day #1 – First Steps

Rolling from front to back, back to front, creeping, and then crawling are all big news in the life of a baby and her parents, and certainly cause for collecting video memories – but there is no mobility milestone that matches walking for excitement and a sense of accomplishment in the minds of parents and kids. Just watch the face of a baby hurtling upright from one parent to another, albeit a mere 3 feet away. And just watch the faces of the parents! And don't stop watching, because in the blink of an eye, walking becomes running, jumping, hopping, and skipping and then good luck keeping track of them at the mall. That's independence!

Independence Day #2 – First Day of School

For some kids, this may be all day preschool, for others kindergarten, but for all kids that first time standing at the door of a classroom and saying goodbye to mommy or daddy for a whole day is huge. It may involve, as it did for two of our kids, clinging to mom's leg for dear life. Or, as with our other child, it could mean a quick kiss and running off to meet new friends and find new toys, leaving mom wishing for a little more clinging. Vive la différence! Either way, all-day school will become part of your family's life for many years to come, and this first day is a true marker of independence from the comfort and security of home.

Independence Day #3 – Driver's License

Many parents are taken by surprise at the impact their child's driver's license makes in the life of their family. When kids can get themselves to school and the mall, and take their younger siblings to soccer practice, a parent's first thought may be, "hey, my life just got easier." And then it hits you: now they can go just about anywhere they choose, and pick up friends along the way, and use their cell phone in the car, and drive at night. And what if someone brings beer, and what if they do the stuff in the car that you did when you were their age?! OMG, there are all those other drivers on the road that may not be as conscientious as your kid! Suddenly you, the chauffeurs of the past 16 years, become terrified bystanders as your former dependents become freewheeling independents. This is the most telling independence day of all for kids and will say more about who they are than almost anything else they do along the way to adulthood. Driving brings so many opportunities to make good decisions, and such high risks for making bad ones. Buckle up!

Independence Day #4 – High School Graduation

And then it's here. After 18 years, 940 weeks of childhood, they're up and out. Or even if they're staying home for a while, they're officially adults. Old enough to vote and fight in wars. Old enough to say "no" without getting sent to their rooms. This is Independence with a capital "I," time to see your kids for the wonderful people they've turned into. Time to respect their opinions and decisions no matter how much you may disagree. But don't panic. If all goes well, soon they'll begin respecting your opinions and your decisions soon, too. By the time the "fog of adolescence" lifts in their early 20s, your kids will be your new best friends. Friends you will want to be around and who will want to hang with you again. Really.

May all your kids' Independence Days be happy and safe!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

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