“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
I am where I am today because my parents let me lead the way to the milk store fifteen minutes away from our house, so that by the time I was ten, I could go there on my own. I am comfortable in my ability to travel because my parents always made my brother and I walk in front of them through every terminal so that by twelve, they had enough confidence in me to let me fly alone, unaccompanied, to visit friends in a neighboring state. I felt no qualms about leaving to backpack through South America alone at eighteen because my parents had prepared me by showing me through their examples – from how to do my homework to how to run the dishwasher – before expecting me to compete these tasks by myself. If I ever needed help, of course I could ask for it, and if I ever felt scared, of course it wasn’t forced, but by expecting me to do certain tasks by myself when they felt they had given me the necessary tools, I was able become the self-reliant and independent person I am today.
At the age of three I came home and announced to my parents that I would be attending a sleep over at my friends house down the street and went to pack my little bag for the night. After my parents had called to check that the adults, and not just the children, were aware of this plan, they proceeded to walk me down the street to her house. Of course that didn’t last long since I wanted to go alone, so hovering by their window, my parents watched me walk all the way around the cul-de-sac (like they had always taught me) before meeting my friend’s mother on the other side who then escorted my three year old self across the street. Independence, as you see, came pretty naturally to me, and instead of holding me back, my parents enabled me to flourish by granting me my independence progressively throughout my childhood.
One of the things I love most about the “non-western” world is that the children here are able to grow and learn as they should. It’s not uncommon to see six year olds herding their goats back home because no one here has realized that they “can’t,” and of course children are allowed to run freely around their villages… Why wouldn’t they be? Children here are expected to help wash the dishes, bring water to the house, or watch over their siblings, and from these responsibilities they learn the underrated skill of self-reliance.
That being said, there are not many girls or boys here in Georgia who would be allowed to do what I am doing. Though they may have received the gift of independence as a child, by the time they are young adults, it’s often their parents making the discussions about who they marry or what job they accept. My parents encouraged independence as a child, but perhaps even more importantly, they have continued to let me take more and more of my life into my own hands, so that now at twenty-one, I can truly decide how I wish to live.
Of course, no one wants to see their child hurt. No one wants their child to fall out of a tree, get bit by a dog, or crash their bike, but that doesn’t mean they should be kept indoors surrounded by cushions and rainbows, it simply means that we need to give them the necessary tools to pick themselves back up when they do fall. And children need to fall, maybe literally when they are learning to walk, but metaphorically throughout life as well, because by falling, they learn to pick themselves back up. By taking risks, they learn what works and what doesn’t, and by experiencing pain, sorrow, and hurt they figure out what they like and dislike. Beside love and support, the greatest gift my parents gave to me was independence, and because of that gift, I am where I am today – thriving in various cultures and situations as I cycle around the world.
I think about how much my own freedom has meant to me – from riding my bike around town at twelve, to riding it around the world at twenty – a lot. I am always trying to come up with answers as to why; why, unlike so many others my age, have I chosen this path, and what in my childhood prepared me to succeed. This article, “Are We Raising A Generation of Helpless Kids” does a wonderful job explaining how overprotecting our children does them more harm than good, and in turn, demonstrates to me once again that by raising me to be self-reliant, my parents opened a whole world of opportunity for me.