Feighan: Letting kids be independent means letting go

Maureen Feighan
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Somewhere between 7 1/2 and 8 , a light bulb switched in my son’s head. Holding mom’s hand was not cool.

It happened so subtly. One minute it was totally OK to take his hand on the walk to the bus stop in the morning or in the grocery store parking lot. The next, it wasn’t.

“You don’t want to hold my hand?” I asked, trying to sound as casual as possible when I’d reached for his hand one morning and he shook me off.

He smiled, his perfect toothless smile with one missing on the top and another on the bottom. He sounded like he had a lisp when he talked.

“Do I have to?” he said gently, clearly not wanting to hurt my feelings.

We’ve reached that age where my little guy is clearly not so little any more. He’s all boy, on his way to tween-ville, obsessed with cryptids such as Bigfoot, writing his own stories on the computer, even insisting that he’d prefer to read on his own at night rather than be read to.

Earlier this week, with his 8th birthday quickly approaching, he told me he was going to order some things for himself from Amazon. He’d just put it in the cart and hit send. My husband and I laughed, scoffed and scrambled to change our passwords.

It’s hard not to grieve this stage — that stage where our kids say, “Hey, back off! I want some independence.” I keep looking back at photos and videos of him as a baby and toddler when he so willingly sat in laps, had to have his back rubbed every night at bedtime and loved cuddling in mom’s and dad’s bed.

My son truly has been a dream come true. He was the first of my kids to say “I love you” or even “mom,” the first to wear a tiny cap for preschool graduation and the first to sing in a spring school concert (where he tried to pick his friend’s nose mid-song. I was horrified).

When my son first started saying “I love you,” he did it in true book-nerd fashion. “You’re my mother. And I love you,” he’d say, quoting right from one of his favorite books at the time, P.D. Eastman’s “Are You My Mother?”

I’ve loved every stage, even the challenging ones where we’d have to sit in a chair in his room every night until he fell asleep. Move an inch to scratch your nose and you were back at square one. “Mom?” he’d call out. “Mom?” He needed to be sure of us.

But I’m trying to encourage his independence. He loves riding his bike and I’m getting more comfortable with him riding on his own. He also walks home from the bus stop in the afternoon.

And there are times when he’ll relent and still let me hold his hand. In April, we went on our first ever mother-son trip, taking the train to Chicago. He agreed that in a busy city like Chicago, hand-holding was acceptable and safe.

That weekend was the first time it had ever been just the two of us for more than a couple days and it was such a treat to step into his world for a bit. We had long conversations about mummies, cryptids, Sue the dinosaur at The Field Museum and what he’d do if someone was chasing him and he came to cliff.

“I’d just turn around and go the other way,” he said simply. I had no idea it was so easy.

Last week, I tucked him into bed, still getting used to our new routine where he reads to himself at night and all we do is switch off the light, give him a kiss and say goodnight.

“I love you,” I called out as I reached to turn off the light.

“I love you too,” he called out. “Psych!”

“Psych?” I said (I’m still adjusting to the incredible overuse of “psych” as in “Psyched out” in a young boy’s vocabulary.)

“Psych psych,” he said. “I psyched the psych so that means I love you.”

The mind of a nearly 8-year-old boy is fascinating.


Twitter: @mfeighan

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