The Gift of Independence

“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.

9 thoughts on “The Gift of Independence

  1. Very, very wise words. Thanks for sharing them, my parents luckily raised me the same way and I will be forever thankful, but I didn’t even think about it until you wrote it down here. They must have been really proud to have such a cool kid, and they must be even more proud now when they see the amazing woman you’ve become.

  2. You should write a book about the issue “How to fit for life in freedom and self-responsibility” or give lectures for uncertain parents when you are back somedays.

  3. A different kind of childhood circumstances has led to my strength and independence. As you, I also know many women my age that are too scared to step outside their comfort zone and I often wonder why I feel so at home travelling solo and living as an expat in Turkey.
    Another point Id like to make Shirine, is I agree the kids in the Eastern Turkey and Georgia work on the farm and help out at home, but independence is a different thing, I think.
    Here in Turkey, for example, I see such a strong dependence on parents in 30’s and even 40’s. Perhaps the parents overprotect their children, but major life decisions like work, study, even marriage cant be made without parents consent and approval. I saw a 32 year old male friend of mine still being spoon fed by his mother, literally spoon fed! I had a friend who at 28 turned down a job with Turkish Airlines because her mother would disown her….I have so many examples of how young adults are still so dependent on parents to make their decisions. Obviously I am generalising, but there aren’t too many young Turkish guys and girls who would do what you are doing and experience the complete freedom and independence that you have….but its their choice. I guess economic circumstances could be a factor also, but I look at my children, independent young men who always value my opinion but ultimately make their own decisions and live their life as they want…like you!
    Best wishes

    • Just add this into the reticle.. You are so right and I have seen this so many times that though the children may have more options, they don’t as adults.
      “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.”

      • Wonderful article and a great subject for discussion. You, Shirine, are an inspiration and a truly great role model for todays youth. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  4. Yes! So true. I am able to adventure for the same reasons. When I was 5 years old I would cycle alone to the bakery 3km (2miles) away to buy bread for breakfast. When I was 6 years old I walked to school 3km (2 miles) in the opposite direction. When I was 12 years old I accompanied my mother to a different city and just explored it with my 9 year old sister while our mother went to meetings for work (during the daytime … she took us other places at night). When I was 13 years old I got a horse that I rode all through the woods near home and also 40km (25miles) each way to a friend’s house. When I was 17 years old I took a bus for 2 days to go on a horse riding tour in the mountains with my then 14 year old sister.

    Just yesterday as I was cycling a mountain pass here in Korea I was thinking the same thoughts as your post. I am so grateful to my parents for letting me become an adventuring person.

    • Yes! It definitely makes a difference. Sure, people who didn’t get as much independence still survive and can thrive as adults, but they certainly won’t be cyclng around the world alone!

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