Grounding the helicopter


I haven’t been the most relaxed of parents when it comes to the outside world.

The kids don’t wander up to the park to play on their own.

The eldest has NO idea how to get home from school, despite living only 10 minutes walk away.

They’ve caught the occasional school bus with a friend, but would be petrified to catch a public one on their own.

I see other kids who have much better life skills. But it can be hard to let go of the apron strings, especially when you’re a news writer for a parenting site, reporting on terrible things happening to kids every day.

The eldest starts high school in a few weeks. It seems appropriate, necessary even – while it secretly terrifies me – to let her spread her wings.

Unfortunately, after 12 years of coddling, she’s a little institutionalised.

The whole not-knowing-the-way-home-from-school thing, for instance.

Or maybe that’s just her. Away with the pixies and all that.

So I’ve been trying to give them some moments of independence. For example, I took the eldest and her friend to the local shopping centre before Christmas, handed them $20 and directed them to a cafe to buy themselves some afternoon tea. They were to meet me at the pet shop afterwards.

The eldest would have been totally lost without her friend, but they made it through the adventure together, feasting on churros with chocolate dip and giggling over puppies.

I thought it was a good start.


Yesterday, at Woolies, I handed the youngest – aged 9 – a shopping basket and her back-to-school stationery list and told her to go for it.

She’s a little more self-sufficient than the eldest and strode off determinedly, spending the next 30 minutes studiously going up and down the aisles searching for her essentials and putting them in her basket.

Meanwhile I went off and did the grocery shopping.

I had to give her the occasional pointer when she couldn’t find certain items, but she basically did it on her own. At one point she greeted a schoolmate who was in the section with her mum and I briefly wondered if the mum cursed me for putting ideas into her child’s head.

I’m thinking not every parent appreciates the idea of their child making those choices themselves. Budget considerations and all that.

But I was proud of her, and myself, for doing it.

Do you ever fret about how much/little freedom you give your child?

Song of the day: George Michael “Freedom”


6 thoughts on “Grounding the helicopter

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  1. Well done. It gets easier with time. My eldest I watched nervously as she caught the bus to high school. Youngest was riding bike 1 km to school by grade 3. Wise mum-in-law reminded me that our job as parents is to teach our kids to be independent peeps who can make their own decisions. Ten years down the track they are living their life

  2. Yes, particularly now she is going off to uni and seems to be lacking in some of the basics. The youngest could leave home now at 16 and would be fine, but the eldest still hands tasks over to me when they get slightly difficult … filling in the youth allowance paperwork, finding out where to apply for a passport, working out the uni timetable … oh god this is a nightmare!

  3. Hi Alana,

    When I was in 6th class, I’d walk to station by myself to meet my friend. We’d hop on the train to Hornsby and go ten-pin bowling, making our own way home again several hours and packets of chips later. I loved this freedom and felt very grown up and proud of myself on these occasions.

    My eldest is also off to high school this year. I, too, struggle with the “how much/how little freedom” question. She’s been wandering into town (we live in Murwillumbah so this would be the equivalent of her going to the local shops in Sydney) with friends for a while now. They go to lunch or the lolly shop or the local pool sans adult accompaniment. She loves it. I draw the line at wandering around alone though. Safety in numbers etc.

    A year or so back, my youngest had her friend over. They were 8 or 9 years of age. She begged me to let them go for a walk up to the watertower at the top of our hill. I relented eventually, on the proviso that they took the dog with them. Off they went! They were gone longer than I expected. Meanwhile, Trish, the mother of my daughter’s friend arrived to pick up her kid. I explained that they’d gone for a walk with the dog. She looked alarmed and said “I don’t even let Cashlin out of the yard!” I felt terrible and silently berated myself for allowing another’s child to go wandering off without me. We hopped in the car and drove up to the water tower and found our daughters safe and sound, happy as pigs in mud. They were studiously adding their names to the hundreds of others that have been etched onto the the walls of the water tower over the years. Trish beamed with pride as she let out an audible, “Awwwww! And her first graffitit!”

    The helicopter has landed!

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