I am just back from bringing my daughter to “college” in Los Angeles. I put that in quotes because she isn't going to a traditional college. It’s a very small, newish, BFA conservatory program. They don’t offer any housing. She is living in a furnished apartment, private student housing nearby. She also doesn't have a meal plan so will have to cook her own meals. This is all not a problem because I have been preparing her for this day for years.
When people meet my daughter for the first time they usually comment on how independent she is. I never quite understood that because most of my friend’s kids are also pretty independent. I am realizing we may be an anomaly in the era of helicopter parenting. Having met her new college peers over the last week I am beginning to understand how unusual it is that she is eighteen and totally ready to be on her own.
Since I often get questions both about how it came to be that she is so independent and how I am so confident in letting her follow her dream, I thought I’d outline a few things I have done over the years.
Trust Your Instincts
When she was a couple of days old we had our first doctor's appointment. Her doctor gave me his home number and told me to call it anytime. I asked what criteria I should use to determine what would be a call to the doctor on call vs calling him at home. His answer was the best piece of parenting advice this new mom needed. “Trust your instincts. If you think there is something wrong there is.” That advice gave me the confidence to trust myself in all aspects of parenting.
They Can Do More Than You Think
My parenting coach has a great mantra “If they can operate a phone/ipad they can manage a dishwasher and washing machine.” I really took this to heart and when my 7-year-old complained to this working mom that she didn’t have clean clothes, I took it as an invitation to teach her how to do her own laundry so she’d never have to wait on me for clean clothes. She’s been doing it herself ever since. Likewise when in second grade she complained she didn’t like the lunches I was packing, I told her to write me a shopping list and had her start packing her own. She’d leave notes on the fridge when she was running low on things. Of course that also meant I had to give up control of what went in her lunches. She learned that a lunch of snacks wouldn’t fuel her through the afternoon pretty fast.
We intentionally raised her in the city because at some point we wanted her to be able to get around without having to rely on us to drive her everywhere. Since we knew the goal was for her to be public transit capable we started early letting her navigate the neighborhood. She started walking to a friend's house down the street around six, to the library a few blocks away around eight, and a little further to the grocery store around ten. By the time she was eleven she felt totally confident and capable of riding the subway to school. When she was twelve she was flying home alone from Canada to Boston and asked if she could fly “without that flight attendant babysitting me.” We explained that more was involved than just the flight as she would have to go through customs. She asked if there would be people there to ask for help? And so it happened that she flew internationally alone and navigated it all with no issue.
Ask for Help
This skill I think some grown ups could probably stand to learn. The reason she knew she could find someone to help her at customs is because we had been teaching her to advocate for herself for years. For example, ordering for herself in restaurants and asking about her food allergy, and talking to her teachers about accommodations for her learning disability. We taught her to figure out who to ask and then be comfortable enough with adults to ask.
Seek the Right Advice
The important thing about asking for help is making sure you ask the right people. With literally hundreds of parenting “experts” out there be sure to find the one that is a fit for you, your values and your instincts. Two of my favorites are parenting coach and author of Duct Tape Parenting, Vicki Hoeffle and free range parenting guru Lenore Skenazy.
It’s Their Life
People regularly seemed shocked that I am ok with my daughter moving to LA and entering a career as difficult to break into as acting. Here’s the thing - we exposed her to many experiences, music lessons, dance, acting, softball, swim team and water polo and then let her determine what she enjoyed. Her passion for acting was clear from the beginning so we just allowed her to explore that. Would I have chosen this for her? Probably not but it’s not my life. She’s been completely driven and working hard towards this for years though. We are providing a safety net while she pursues her dreams. We also know that because of all of the above she has all the tools she needs to succeed. On the other hand if your 18-year-old doesn’t know what their dream is yet, that’s ok too. That's what these years are for.
So if you still have kids at home decide now - do you want them to be the ones standing around the kitchen trying to figure out how to heat up a slice of pizza or the one who shows them how to do it. (true story!)