Monday 14 January 2019

How Much Freedom Should A Seven-Year-Old Have?

It takes a while to settle into a new job role, doesn’t it? At first, you feel unsure of what you’re doing and terrified that the rest of your colleagues can tell. And then your confidence starts to grow and people start asking you for your advice and, eventually, you feel like you belong. How long that takes varies from job to job, with parenting, it takes more than seven years. I have now been a mother for seven whole years and I am no wiser (but plenty older) than I was on day one.

The thing about parenting is that it’s constantly changing. As soon as you think you have the hang of something, the world spins and everything you thought you ‘knew’ comes crashing down around you. I remember that so well from when my firstborn was a baby. I knew when she would sleep and how to soothe her and how often she would feed, and then a regression would hit and it was as though she’d been switched for a completely different baby.

I’ve noticed that parenting gets both easier and harder at the same time. Toddlers might sleep a little better than newborns, but they also put a lot of energy into trying to escape from your grip when you’re walking down busy roads. They may not leave you with chapped nipples, but they will throw a bowl of tomato soup at your once-white kitchen walls. Four-year-olds can be reasoned with, but they are also capable of biting other kids on the heads when they don’t get their own way. Six-year-olds may be the perfect companions for days out and restaurants, but they will shout that they hate you when they’re mad at you.

My eldest daughter turned seven this week and, for some reason, this feels huge. Seven is on the cusp of something, isn’t it? Seven isn’t big or mature, but it’s heading in that direction. It feels, to me, a world away from six. Seven seems like the right time to start giving her some freedom, to let her out into the world to make decisions and mistakes for herself (with me, pressed up against the front bedroom window, watching intently, probably). To me, she still seems so little, but she isn’t really. She’s growing up fast, and it’s important to me that she grows up feeling sure of herself and I think independence is an important part of that.

So now, as a parent, I have the tough job of navigating this awkward in-between stage somewhere little and desperately wanting not to be. She isn’t yet demanding things older kids have, there are things she would like, sure, but nothing she is desperate for. She isn’t begging to do things by herself, but I don’t necessarily think I need to wait for her to reach that stage before she gets some independence.

One thing I feel very aware of at the moment, probably because it’s January and we’ve been spending a lot of time indoors, is how little freedom Ebony really has. We live on a fairly busy road so she can’t play out on the street. I asked about independence over on Facebook and quite a few parents said their kids were allowed to play out with kids on the street. That sadly isn’t an option for us because we live on a busy road. And that causes problems with the other things she could do because crossing that busy road is necessary to get most places she could go. I think I will work on her road crossing skills over the coming weeks and then reassess.

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