By: Erin Taylor
Recently, I shared a story about giving responsibility to my 13 year old for getting himself up in the mornings for school. He has wanted this responsibility for quite a while now but it has taken me this long to realize it. We made an agreement that I would no longer wake him, but instead only go in and turn his light on so that it became a little easier for him to wake himself up. I also agreed that I would give him this responsibility but if he overslept, we might need to take a closer look at the time he was going to sleep at night (which is currently 10pm). Things have gone great with this new plan with the exception of one day; my daughter had a doctor’s appointment first thing in the morning and so I allowed her to sleep about 30 minutes later since she was not going to school as usual. This particular morning, my son also overslept. He kept sleeping as his wake-up time came and went and he kept sleeping as his school arrival time came and went. Finally, he awoke in a bit of a panic and I ended up dropping him off at school on my way to take his sister to her appointment. After school (certainly not in the moment he was feeling rushed) we talked about his oversleeping that day, and he informed me that he was using his sister’s wake up time for school as a cue for him as to when he needed to be awake and moving. Since she was not moving in her normal time frame, he did not either. That seemed reasonable enough. Plus, I realized that because I did not realize this was his system, I did not let him know the night before that she would not be getting up in her normal time frame. It was a simple gap in communication that allowed this to happen in the first place.
Now in this situation, I could have easily been primed to say (or at the very least, think) something to the effect of “Aha! I got you! You wanted this independence and you failed! I knew you weren’t ready!” It seems that sometimes as parents, it can be difficult for us to let go and give control and ownership of our children’s lives to our children, but when we do and they stumble, we are ready and waiting to swoop in and lecture them about how they can’t handle it without our help and maybe even punish them for their mistake. Perhaps it is difficult for us to acknowledge and allow our children to naturally grow into themselves because at the same time they are doing that, it means they will need us in lessening degrees.
Instead of swooping right in to give my son the natural consequence of an earlier bedtime because he overslept one time, we talked about it and identified all the fine details that led up to his oversleeping. I agreed that from now on, I would let him know if our morning routine would be different. It has been several weeks now since we began this new plan, and my son has done beautifully. Sometimes, he wakes up with just a margin of minutes to get himself ready, eat breakfast and hop in the car but so far, he has not been late.
And this is what I find over and over again: When I support my children to take ownership of the things for which they are developmentally ready and I take a step back and out of the driver’s seat, they rise to the occasion. When there are the normal stumbles and fumbles, we simply talk it through to see what needs to be tweaked in our system. This is such a collaborative and empowering way to raise children, as they begin to step into the driver’s seat of their own lives with each new day, each new milestone and each new developmental leap. There are no power struggles — rather, there is collaboration, discussion and teamwork. After all, isn’t our goal as parents to raise tomorrow’s adults who can think for themselves and live their own productive, responsible lives that bring them joy and satisfaction as we watch their miraculous unfolding from the front row of the audience?