Last year, in her senior year of high school, our oldest child decided that the college of her dreams was located in another state 9 hours away from home. Last month, my husband and I dropped her off there and drove home without her. More than anything, it was a surreal experience; this child that has been an intimate and constant presence in our family is now living and existing in another world. I found myself asking, “How did this happen??”
I realized as we drove home that although it seemed sudden and abrupt, the process of preparing for this event started many years ago. In hindsight, I can see that the long journey to independence for our kids begins when they are very small, not when they are old enough to live independently from us.
Certainly there are many, many moral and spiritual lessons that we need to teach our kids before they leave our homes, but there are also a few very practical life skills that they need to practice and master before we drop them off at college. Here are a few (of many) lessons that I’m glad we taught our daughter before she left our home.
- Allow them to talk for themselves This seems so obvious, but it’s hard for a lot of parents. It’s easier to speak for a shy toddler than to remind them over and over to “be friendly, not rude.” From the time that our kids learn to talk, my husband and I try to be intentional about letting our kids speak for themselves in restaurants, at doctor’s appointments, and with other adults. Speaking up, looking people in the eye, and carrying their part of the conversation doesn’t come naturally to many kids, but it’s a necessary skill for school, interviews, and jobs.
- Teach them to manage their calendar Shortly after our son turned 13, he announced at dinner one night that he needed to get his hair cut. That was the day he started managing his own appointments. For kids who rarely talk on the phone, just calling a business to make an appointment can be an unfamiliar experience. We do our tweens a favor when we teach them how to set up a calendar, prioritize, and manage their commitments instead of doing it for them.
- Show them how to feed themselves When my sister hired a teenaged babysitter last summer who wasn’t sure how to boil noodles or make waffles for lunch, I realized what a great gift we give our kids when we teach them basic cooking skills. Elementaryaged kids can learn how to make simple meals like eggs and pancakes, start to follow simple recipes, and learn some knife skills. It takes time (and a lot of messes) to teach our kids to cook, but it’s so worth it! The same goes for laundry and cleaning.
- Let them have some financial independence By the time our daughter left for college, she had her own checking and savings account, she knew how to transfer money online, and she used her debit card to make purchases. Our kids started working pretty regularly when they were thirteen, allowing them to pay for their own clothes, gas, and trips to Taco Bell. Slowly working toward handling their own money (with our supervision) gives our kids great practice in decision making skills and teaches them to value hard work.
Our daughter has been at college for a month now, and she’s faced a lot of new situations without us. She’s successfully filled out lots of paperwork, opened a new checking account, changed her foodservice plan, and talked to her professors about her assignments.
When our kids are toddlers and preschoolers, it seems like they’ll never be able to use the bathroom by themselves, much less leave us to live completely on their own. Looking back, however, it seems like those days of complete dependence on us lasted just a few weeks. If we plan ahead and work on helping our kids gradually master some important skills, they’ll be more than ready when it’s time to be independent.