God desires for our children to mature into independent human beings. This model of independence stems from our personal accountability to Him.
I have five kids. Despite the many attempts, I have yet to raise the perfect child. So, I’m cautiously optimistic when someone compliments my parenting. My tongue-in-cheek response is usually “A little neglect goes a long way” [Cue the side-eye or gratuitous chuckle].
What I’m trying to convey is that, perhaps as much by necessity as by design, a big family has the inadvertent benefit of fostering a certain type of child. Whether these observers realize it or not, what’s likely garnering their attention is my kids’ independent nature.
God desires for our children to mature into independent human beings. This model of independence stems from our personal accountability to Him. The Apostle Paul explains this in Philippians 3:12: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Our children are expected to make their life their own and mature into the person God intended for them to be.
Accordingly, our parenting objective should be to rear independent children. It just so happens that the experts agree. Dr. Jim Taylor confirms, “One of your most important goals as a parent is to raise children who become independent and self-reliant people.”1
Thankfully, rearing independent children does not involve any level of neglect. You don’t have to have a big family. In fact, rearing independent children can be achieved by anyone committed to the task.
To that end, here are five things independent children wish their parents knew:
1. Micromanaging Kills Our Confidence
“Bring out the micromanagers!” You might imagine little plastic people enforcing arbitrary rules, supervising your every move, correcting your perceived mistakes, and redirecting your rogue thoughts back inside the box.
You wouldn’t be wrong.
We love this plot line from the original Lego Movie. Ironically, these micromanagers worked for Lord Business, who in reality happened to be (gasp) . . . a parent.
If we’re given over to our own desires, parents make great micromanagers. Let’s face it, we parents want the picture-perfect life for our child and we will superglue our meddling to secure that outcome.
What we actually do, however, is chip away at our child’s self-confidence. The very thing we want to achieve by stepping on our kids’ toes we undermine by pulling the rug out from under their perception of their own abilities. As perception is reality, if our child doesn’t believe he or she can do it, they likely will not be willing to try.
If anything is a confidence killer, it’s nitpicking parents. While we are fussing over their every move, our children learn that they can’t be trusted to do it themselves. They also learn that false perception means more than real substance, especially if that substance is born of adversity or imperfection.
So, put away your micromanaging alter ego. Guide and support your child to make his or her own decisions, for better or for worse. Let them problem solve when things don’t turn out the way they planned. Help them understand the value of their attempts, even if at first they don’t succeed.
2. Boundaries Build Us Up
The pendulum swings in the opposite direction when it comes to parents who completely let go and hope that their children figure it all out for themselves. Parenting independent children isn't so much about eliminating the rules but enabling them to find the right rules and live freely within those bounds.
1 Peter 2:16 says it this way: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
Our independent children want us to know that they feel safest within a moral framework wherein which they can test their creativity and intellect. Boundaries communicate a concern for their safety and well-being. We set the standard by which they are to operate, but we let them do the operating. And when they cross the line, which they will, our goal is to redirect them to the scaffolding of truth we built early in their lives to get them back on solid footing.
In short, the objective isn’t to let out all the ropes at once in a sink-or-swim scenario. The objective is to let out the right ropes at the right time to help rear independent children. Our child’s confidence will soar knowing they have the freedom to make the good (and bad) choices on a sure foundation that is strong enough to support their imperfect path to independence.
3. Our Gifts Are Different Than Your Gifts
Do you know the parent who lives vicariously through their kid? The one who is intimately invested in every relationship, grade, and achievement? If you don’t, you might want to take a moment and reflect. That parent might be you.
What’s the problem with caring so much? Well, Romans 12:6 tells us: “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” As hard as it is to admit, our children are not an extension of us. They are their own person with their own unique giftings. Scripture teaches us that they are accountable to exercise these gifts according to the measure of grace they have received.
To best rear independent children, our role is to train them to know the grace that God has given them so that they can recognize and exercise their gifts. If we see our kids as an opportunity to capitalize on our unrealized potential, we damage their potential.
Take heart: God is not done with you and your purpose for Him. Now is the time to pick up a personal hobby or passion you once enjoyed. Your independent child will thank you for it.
4. Our Peers Respect Us
A mother once told me the best thing you can do for your child’s social maturity is to leave them alone. She said that peers are great at training the socially awkward behaviors out of each other. What’s more, our children are the best at choosing their own friends.
That was hard to hear. I wanted to intervene, fight their battles, defend my child (even if I wasn’t there), and be the teacher’s pet on their behalf. I even wanted to cherry-pick their buddies.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for this, just not all the time in every situation.
Nothing kills peer respect like a parent who cuts in on these normal coming-of-age experiences. I say normal because bullying is not normal and must be stopped. There’s no excuse for emotional or physical harm.
When we let our children sort out what works for them socially, they learn to trust their instinct and ability to manage people without losing themselves.
Children respect their independent peers. They may even wish their parents allowed a little more independence in their lives. Keep an open dialogue with your child so you can monitor when the normal social turn abnormal. But otherwise, trust them to learn from their social interactions and adjust (or not) accordingly. These lessons will pay dividends as adults.
5. Our Mistakes Are Stepping Stones, Not Stumbling Blocks
You might be tempted to hide or disguise your child’s mistakes. Resist that temptation. The Bible tells us to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
How can we facilitate this counter-intuitive process? We nurture self-reliant kids when we make the choice to put our meek foot forward. Said differently, rearing independent children is a parent’s exercise of exhibiting strength, but under control. The real struggle, therefore, isn’t indulging our parenting privilege to cover their mistakes; it’s often exercising restraint so they can reap the benefits of personal accountability.
We would rather have our children mature into adulthood having learned the ropes from early mistakes, rather than stick their necks out for the first time when the stakes are much higher. Therefore, we can ease our children into adulthood by seeing each trial now as a stepping-stone for later.
No parent wants to watch his or her child be called to the carpet or face the consequences of a bad choice. Yet, the skills developed from there form the building blocks of independence.
There’s much we can learn from our independent children. We are called to foster the gifts God intended for them to exercise, not exercise them on their behalf. Independence breeds confidence. And confidence can lead to a brighter future for our children, not to mention the world they influence.
1 Jim Taylor, “Parenting: Raise Independent Children: Are you raising responsible or contingent children?” Psychology Today, November 17, 2010, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-of-prime/201011/parenting-raise independent-children.
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Sara B. Anderson is a Christian writer and speaker with her Juris Doctorate and Masters of Divinity in Christian Apologetics. She is the founder of Fruits of Faith Ministries and author of The Best Is Yet to Come: Facing the Fears of Today with God’s Hope for Tomorrow. Sara lives with her husband and five children in Austin, Texas.
If you’re interested in learning more about parent apologetics, sign up for Sara’s Parent Apologetics Course at sarabanderson.com/resources.
Sara would love to speak at your next event. She also offers premarital counseling and parent coaching. You can reach Sara at https://www.SaraBAnderson.com or email her at email@example.com. You can follow Sara’s ministry at https://facebook.com/fruitsoffaithministries.