Recently I was made to consider whether my children were turning into independent adults! It was an interesting question when contextualized in a framework of independence vs financial support, but independence isn’t just about money is it! And so I’ve been musing! And I conclude that overall bringing up children to be independent is flawed! It’s even more flawed if that means you think independence comes from throwing them in at the deep end and shouting to them to swim or sink! Withdrawing support, for instance, when they are 18 years of age and saying “you’re on your own now” isn’t the answer either. But neither is facilitating a cash-cow or magic porridge pot. And this is why I think so.
Independence in the true sense of the word has a multifaceted meaning. The dictionary covers the adjective in many ways
- not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself: an independent thinker.
- not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free: an independent businessman.
- not influenced by the thought or action of others: independent research.
- not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.
- not relying on another or others for aid or support.
- rejecting others’ aid or support; refusing to be under obligation to others.
- possessing a competency (www.dictionary.com)
So, a fair conclusion would be not being subjected to an external influence but having intrinsic competencies. So why in that case do I say it is flawed.
The reason comes from a lack of understanding about the human condition which intrinsically is a social beast in my opinion. Although, there are some who prefer to deny this or equally survive well out of the social arena of community, to a larger extent, we all depend on others for most of our lives. When we are born we are solely reliant on our family and carers, through school we rely on our educators to instruct us, into teenage years we are influenced by our friends and social circles, in adulthood we rely on others for our businesses to function, on others to care for our health needs, on others to negotiate many other arenas through to our senior years where we rely on the kindness, compassion and generosity of others to support us in our daily living. I appreciate that this isn’t always the case and the norm deviates somewhat in many instances, but critically a generalised view can align with this.
We thus are social creatures – negotiating life through our interactions with others. Is it therefore at all feasible that we can do this without being influenced by these interactions? I think not! A cursory glance at teenagers and their propensity to be influenced by those with whom they befriend provides just one example but also consider the employment arena. Here we must behave in a manner that is considered appropriate in line of the environment that we are in. If we do not, then we get fired, lose our job and our wages on which we rely to provide us with life’s necessities vanishes in that instance. Is that then independence? We may feel we are living independent lives, away from home, striding out and making our mark on the world but truly independently? I think possibly not quite as much as we might think!
Therefore, it follows, what does it mean to bring children up to turn into independent adults? And this is where I believe, what we really need to do is bring our children up to be adults who have a high degree of autonomy. In biological terms, autonomy refers to growing naturally or spontaneously, without cultivation. The organism that grows autonomously still requires a set of prescripts to survive – water, light, the right temperature, homeostasis etc, but intrinsically it grows naturally and spontaneously and that I believe aligns well with how I believe we should bring up our children.
That said, we need to give them the set of rules early on to do this. In the first seven or so years of life, they need a strict code to adhere to in order to provide a firm basis in which to further develop. In the next seven years, I consider that they need to learn what autonomy is, how it can help them in their daily lives, in their decisions and their planning, their behaviours and choices before the moving on to test the rules (the schema) that they have developed in the latter years of childhood into early adulthood. The numbers are arbitrary but the pattern holds true. By the time then a child has reached their majority and indeed moved into their early 20’s, they should have the tool kit that autonomy offers to be sure that they can navigate and manoeuvre through life from now on with a good degree of reliability and confidence.
This doesn’t mean they don’t need to still turn to others nor does it mean that they won’t be influenced by others, but hopefully they will have the ability to check their actions to see what is truly driving them and to make choices from the feedback they receive. Autonomy is a powerful tool for children to have. It enables them to make their own decisions but more importantly it provides feedback so they can check those decisions against other criteria. And thus it helps pave a way forward that is critically evaluative – that understands the consequences and seeks out better and more sustainable ways of operating within the prevailing culture or even choosing to step outside the culture.
A child then who grows into an autonomous adult, will been empowered to make decisions; to make choices and to assess the consequences of those choices. They will understand how their network helps or hinders. They will be able to consider what they need to facilitate the choices they make and over everything else they will have a cultural tool that challenges them to take responsibility for their actions; to be respectful of themselves and others and to handle their lives with care, compassion, kindness and a savviness that can only come out of true intrinsic autonomy.
And so, are my children turning into independent adults? To the person who asked this, I think I would answer “no!” They are autonomous young adults who know where their strengths lie but also their weaknesses, they understand the power of having good networks that support and build up and are aware of the pitfalls; they work with a toolkit that allows feedback, that corrects and enables them to move onwards making the best of everything and they take responsibility for their lives – the good, the bad and the ugly and seek out ways to improve constantly. And that is good enough for me! Some may call it independence, and certainly self-reliance and free choice is part of it but moreover, I prefer autonomy having the “freedom to determine one’s own actions, behaviour, etc.” whilst appreciating everything else that goes hand-in-hand of having the best chance of a successful adulthood.