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Freedom to fly (or fall)

As you begin this week, may you remember to hold your children loosely, with open hand and outstretched fingers, rather than white knuckles and clinched fist.

School’s out, days stretch long, and it’s an ideal time to explore…discover…seek adventure.

While I’m encouraging you, I need to encourage myself just as strongly – I’m living in the days when this is so hard.

Yesterday my middle child turned 19.  Nineteen!  How can it be I just held my first-born son for the first time, and yet in August he’ll be heading off to college?  He thinks 19 is a “boring” birthday – it’s no milestone like 16 or 21 – but a mama realizes it means that once he leaves this time, returning home will only be temporary.  (wince)

And my baby, 16, is striking two off his bucket list in a single week:  last week I watched him soar in a tandem hang glider (yikes!), and today he’s en route to South Africa to serve orphans during a ten-day mission trip.  What will change more?  Him, or the pieces of the world he touches?

Holding your children loosely looks different, of course, depending on their ages; the point is to be aware of their need for independence.  We aren’t raising adult children, after all; we’re raising eventual adults.

For a pre-schooler, it might mean letting them choose their outfit for the day; for a grade-school son, it could mean letting him go into the men’s restroom instead of the ladies’ with mom; for a tween, maybe it’s a movie and the mall with friends for the day.

Cultivating your child’s independence is a gift to him or her.  To continue to micro-manage your children’s choices is a disservice to both of you…and may breed resentment in a teen, and an unhealthy attachment for both of you.  Gaining age-appropriate independence is essential to your child’s well-being.

Sometimes encouraging independence will be harder on you than your children, so a gradual approach is likely better than ripping off the Band-aid.  It’s crawling before you walk before you run; or as I learned with hang gliding, beginning with a tandem instructor tethered to a plane that releases you, before running off a launch site on a solo flight.

Your toddler instinctively knows this – I can still hear a faint echo of my babies declaring, “I do it!” to demonstrate they were old enough to do whatever it was they insisted they could do.

So this summer, why not let your littles fly?  If they fall, you’ll be nearby to scoop them up; and if their wings catch wind, they’ll soar strong and free.

Just whatever you do, don’t blink; because then it won’t be your littles flying…it will be time.

Reading Time:

2 minutes





  1. Heather

    My oldest just turned 5 last month, and it seems like it was yesterday that she was just a little itty bitty baby. I am trying to hold onto these little years a wee bit tighter these days, and maybe not being as concerned about the messes that seem to pop up all over the house 🙂 Great thoughts!

    • Maryann

      Help me Robin! My son is 15 and wants to go to the beach alone with his friends. I’m afraid – of the ocean currents, of sunburn, of others bringing beer. My son asks “why, don’t you trust me?” I do trust him – he’s a good kid. I’m frozen in indecision – between what’s okay for him to do now & what could wait until he’s a little older. I know his teen role is to inch forward & my mom role is to budge, but it’s hard. What would you do? : )

      • A

        I know you asked for Robins opinion. But, thought I would give you mine for what it is worth…as I have been there as well. If there is not a parent, that you know and trust going, I would not (and have not) allow my child to do this. IMO 15 is too young. My boys, at that age, were very trust worthy, as they can be at this age, and mature. But, if I didn’t know who was going and trust the supervision…it wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my kids as much as not knowing/trusting the other participants. I know it is hard! But, they have plenty of time to do all that stuff.

      • Robin Dance


        Your son is going to hate me but we didn’t even let my son who just graduated HS go on a trip to the beach without parents. I can remember feeling sorry for the kids in MY graduating class whose parents wouldn’t let them go…but now, as a mom, I applaud their unpopular decision.

        Here’s my take–teens love to use the “You don’t trust me??” line; but for me, that’s not the issue. The issue is not putting them in a circumstance where poor decisions are made (with the help of peer pressure, freedom, etc.) all too easily. My 19 yo is a “good kid”; not perfect but never made the kind of decisions that have hurt him/others. And soon enough he’ll be away at college, where we won’t be there to help put up guard rails.

        All those kids who went to the beach are “good” kids; active in youth group, respectful, HS athletes, good students, but they made choices I’m thankful my son wasn’t there to make with them (drinking, tattoos…those are the ones I DO know about).

        Maybe it will help for you to remember you aren’t your son’s friend *yet*. It’s okay for him to be angry with you and disagree with your decision; let him know it’s HARD for you to say no, that you understand why he wants to go; that nothing will probably happen but you aren’t willing to put him in a situation that might have an environment where he makes destructive choices.

        Also, I play it out in my mind beyond the present; consider what it might look like into the future. I ask myself “Which will I REGRET more down the road–saying yes (especially if “something” happens) or saying no (where nothing happens beyond having a mad kid for a while). Sometimes that helps if I’m on the fence.

        • Karen

          Our youngest son just graduated and will be heading off to college in the fall. He too wanted to go to the beach with friends….no parents. We said “No”. We also got the you don’t trust me line.

          We laid out for him all the many ways we show that we DO trust him. Then we laid out again all the many reasons why going to the beach was not a good idea. We have NOT once regretted the decision to be “those parents”. Our man-child gets a lot of freedom, but he has not left our nest just yet!

          He was not happy, but ……

          Stick to your guns, mom!!!!

          I am thankful to have a husband who can stay very calm and not be moved in these situations. I sometimes want to let my emotions take over, but not him! At this point, these things are dealt with “man to man”!

      • tammy c.

        Can I please give you advice I got from a blog. They said ” Our children may do wrong but they must not do wrong with our permission.” deep right. that is what I mean if you think he is going to go drinking you should say that I don’t like that. You are not old enough to drink or smoke or to have sex . Stay being a kid just a little longer don’t grow up to fast before you know you’ll be going to work having a family. Don’t forget you are the parent he looks up to you even if he doesn’t show it.

      • Sharon

        Just the other day I was sitting with my oldest daughter(24 years old), she told me “Mom, you know how you told me I couldn’t run cross country with just a sports bra on like all the other girls? (she was right when she said “all the other girls do”, I saw ALL the other girls run thru neighborhoods and rural fields with the team in really short shorts and sports bras)

        She said “thank you, I really didn’t like that rule but now that I am a teacher of middle school kids AND a track coach I understand why you had the rule. It is so demeaning how MY girls dress for practice sometimes. I have to carry a sack of decent shorts and shirts for them to put over their clothes.” She went on to comment that she was surprised that even after talking to the girls about keeping their dignity and self-respect the girls just wanted to keep on dressing provocatively. I explained that kids are under authority for a reason, they don’t always make good judgements and need someone to look out for them even when it is as simple as clothing choices.

        As far as going on trips, parties, dates, etc we had to set a simple rule– until you have graduated from High School and hold a full-time job or are enrolled in college if you live in this house you will be supervised at those functions by people WE consider to be responsible adults. This was one rule that was NOT bent or to be broken without dire consequences.

        As soon as one child graduated they asked to go to an unsupervised graduation party, we went back to the “and” part and said if you are enrolled in college or hold full time job by the time of the party you can go. OF COURSE no job and college was still to come so no party. At that particular party there was alcohol served and it was raided. All the under- age kids were given citation and had to go to court. Not a good way to start adulthood. I was really glad we said no but I tell you I had one angry child at home for a few days.

        Make your rules, stick to them but always be willing to listen. None of our rules were written in stone but we thought them out and there were only very few occaisions that the rules were changed. Putting them in writing helps remind both parties also.
        Last of all keep praying for wisdom!!

    • Robin Dance


      I always tried my best to remember during those HARD little people days (and make no mistake, Littles are HARD!) the big picture–whatever was going on that challenged me was only a season, temporary. It helped a little :).

  2. Susan

    I loved your Monday morning writing and thought you would appreciate this short story that so relates to what you are saying about raising your children in a more independent frame of mind.
    Thanks for all your good words.

    The Crab Mentality

    It is said that if you keep a solitary crab in a bucket without putting the lid on it will have no trouble escaping.

    But if you have a bucket full of crabs, whenever one gets to the top and is about to escape, the rest of the crabs will reach out and pull him back down to the bottom with the rest of them.

    It sounds like a lot of workplaces to me.

    Someone comes up with a great idea, an innovative solution or wants to leave for greener pastures, others come in and “bring them back to earth.”

    Often with a thud!

    I’ve also seen a lot of managers subtly sabotage the aspirations of their people because they think that they can’t replace them, so they find ways to keep them where they are through false promises, poor references or terrible advice.

    Don’t let that be you.

    Don’t be a naysayer.

    When you see someone aspiring to live their dreams, instead of finding ways to bring them back to the pack, encourage them in their endeavours and allow yourself to be inspired by them.

    Instead of pulling them back into the bucket, give them a helping hand to get out.

    And when you look around, make sure that you’re not surrounded by crabs.

    Find people who will assist and guide you to be the best version of yourself.

    Find people who have escaped the bucket and are living the life that you want.

    You may have been impacted by the crab mentality in the past, but that doesn’t need to continue.

    Break free and help others to do the same, because we weren’t meant to live in a bucket.

    • Robin Dance

      Thank you for your kind words about my post, Susan.

  3. Sheri

    Thank you for speaking to moms of teens! I love all the cute toddler and younger-children stuff, but honestly, sometimes I’m thinking, “You ain’t got a CLUE until you have a teenager!” I just let my 17 year old drive an hour and a half on I-40 for a concert and it was his first time on the interstate without an adult. There were three other kids in his car. I didn’t sleep the night before or the night he was out, and I hugged him so tightly when he left and then cried for a good 10 minutes after. The next day my 14 year old was at an amusement park two hours away with a friend and her mom (are they good drivers? do they talk and text?) and she rode rollercoasters until the park closed. This mama is thinking how in the world do I get through kid number three as a teen (she’s 9)? I don’t want the 14 year old to drive or even get in cars with other teens! Sigh…. The letting go is so very hard, and when the parents don’t always agree on limits, it’s even harder. If you’re the mom who says that midnight is the curfew and the other moms say 1 a.m., it’s difficult to stand one’s ground. The stakes are so high at this age.
    I look forward to reading more of your posts on teen parenting!

    • Robin Dance


      Thank YOU for your encouragement this morning! If you’d like to read more thoughts I’ve share on parenting teens, you can always click on my name at the top of the post and it will take you to all previous posts. Also, I wrote a series on teen parenting (though I didn’t quite make it to 31 posts…!):

      You won’t agree with everything I’m sure, but some of it might be helpful :).

    • Emily

      I laughed when I read your comment, “You ain’t got a clue until you have a teenager!” It is SO TRUE! I have an 18 year old, a 16 year old, and a 12 year old. It is a whole different ballgame once puberty strikes. Finding the balance between freedom and boundaries is HARD. I keep reminding myself that independence is good to a point, but that teens still need Mom to say “No” when their requests are too much. Not setting boundaries translates to “I don’t care what you do/I don’t care about you” in teen-speak. I hope my kids know that I don’t set boundaries to be mean, but because doing so shows them I love them.
      One more thought… In my tenure as a mom-of-teens, one lesson I have learned is the importance of being The House. By this I mean having a home where teens feel comfortable hanging out. I often have a living room full of teenagers eating pizza and watching movies. I love it! I know my kids friends and they know me. I figure that if I give them a cool place to go, where they can relax and be themselves, they will come here and not go to other places where trouble is more likely.
      I applaud all moms of teens. Teenagers are a lot of fun, but they will challenge you in ways you cannot even imagine until you have a few of your own.

  4. A

    I have three older children and one younger. My oldest has spent a little over 18 months all over Asia during the last several years. Youngest son heads off to college this year and plans to spend a significant amount of that time studying abroad. All have traveled over seas at some point. My MIL who used to say things like, “I never thought those children would detach from your hip”. Now says, “please, lock your doors so they can’t leave again”. But, I am so proud of them and proud of myself (and Dh) for raising independent adults who dream and aren’t afraid to pursue those dreams. And I (sincerely) thank God for Skype! Cause I still need to lay eyes on my little chicks every now and then 🙂

    • Robin Dance


      You should be proud of them and yourself–their living so far away is HARD on a mama! Last year we lived in Germany for 10 months, and at times I was separated for months from one or all of our three children. Skype was my very best friend so I know exactly what you mean! Well done, freedom giver!

  5. Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha

    Lovely. My children are still little… and are always saying “I want to do it!” Thanks for the reminder to encourage their independence, even if it takes twice as long for them to do it without help. Helpful words for a sometimes-impatient mama.

    Happy birthday to your son!

    • Robin Dance

      Oh, Sarah…sometimes it IS easier for us to just do it! Good for you for recognizing the value in letting your littles assume more responsibility. And it doesn’t have to be every time, but when it best serves them…and you :).

  6. Whitney

    Thanks for this post! I share your philosophy on independence, as my parents held too tightly (and yes I was resentful for a while). Its hard to let go but great to see them soar on their own. I am anxious to see how mine turn out!

    • Robin Dance


      Isn’t it interesting how the way our parents parented us affects the way we parent? In many ways, I make choices SO different from the way my dad did (my mom died when I was 9 so I can’t remember a lot about her parenting). Good for you for harnessing your short-term resentment into something positive for your own children.

  7. Jenn @ A Simple Haven

    Such a good reminder to let home be a place where they have the freedom to fall/make mistakes, because we’re there to catch them.

    We are working through “age appropriate independence” with our 3 year old. It looks like lots of layers of skirts/dresses/pants worn at once :).

    • Robin Dance


      You win for giving me the biggest grin this morning! I need a piccha!

  8. Dee

    Love this. I see many parents hanging on too tight these days. They watch (too much) news and see awful things they are sure will befall their kids. But keeping them under constant watch and on a tight leash has its own dangers. If you encourage independence little by little, they will learn. But if you wait until they are some perfect age, they won’t know what to do because they have never tasted it.

    • Robin Dance

      Amen, sistah! Making good decisions is served by practicing how to make them. Great point.

  9. tammy c.

    I know what you are saying. My baby is 13 years old. I remember her when she was so small in her bouncy bounce. Oh they grow so fast. My baby.

    • Robin Dance


      I still call all mine “babies”; but I don’t baby them :). I am SO thankful they never said “I not a baby!” back to me; they understood always it was a term of endearment…and when they’re 50 I will STILL call ’em baby!! 🙂

  10. Ashley

    As always such wonderful advice spoken with love and understanding Robin. Thank you, thank you for sharing your wisdom. I needed this perspective this morning as I worried my way through the morning trying to arrange everyone’s day. Perhaps a little choosing their own clothes and pouring their own cereal would lighten my load and instill some of the independence I know they’re hungry for. 🙂

  11. Shari

    Oh, Robin… I needed this today. I SO needed this. Thank you.

  12. Mominator

    Great post! As a mom of teens, and a high-school teacher, I am reminded every day of the need to let go and let them learn. Our guidance is so important, and just because their eyes are rolling doesn’t mean their earn aren’t working. They will make mistakes, and they will learn from them. That’s ok. Life is live, after all. There are no rehearsals and no do-overs! They might as well learn to face it with confidence and hope, knowing we are always there to help them.
    I am always so surprised by some 17 and 18 year old kids who are not allowed to take the bus, who don’t know how to go clothes shopping, who cannot make any decisions without help. We need to let them become independant. I sure don’t want my kids living with me when they are 25 because I didn’t give them the freedom they needed to become independent and confident young adults!
    I really enjoy your posts, Robin. Thank you!

  13. Alissa

    Thank you! I love the reminder that letting go starts right away. It’s about finding the right level of independence at each age – not holding a death grip until some pre-determined age when we push them out of the nest. My kids are little, but I am always trying to remember that we are parenting them for the future – for tomorrow – for the time when they are adults.

    My oldest starts public school in the fall, and I know I need to keep giving him “safe” places to learn how to use his freedom this summer, so that we are BOTH brave enough for him to step onto the bus in September. Oy!

  14. Denzil Ford

    My son is 8 months old so I am one who still has no idea about teenagers. However, we have our own version of this topic. It starts with my desire to have a Montessori room. So no crib, just a floor bed and a baby that has free reign and independence in a space made safe for him. It worked well in some senses. He is a curious child and has a lot of say in what he decides to do with his day and how he moves through the space of our home. But we realized that the bed part was not working for us. Too much choice for him with sleep space led to him getting out of the bed and continuing to stimulate his mind around the room rather than get himself to sleep. Thus, my dream of no crib has transitioned. We put him in a crib and we don’t have to get out of bed at night. Sleep! So we aren’t dealing with teenage world-exploration or “doing-wrong” yet, but we already feel this pull between age-appropriate guidance and fostering his independence.

  15. Meghan

    Aw, your making me cry. My little guy is just 2, and in the “I do it” phase. I can see life speeding up as I sit here. I want so many more years of holding him tight before I let go. I know it is inevitable, but I’m not ready!

  16. Steph@livingbrilliant

    Oh, you are so right. Time flies by so quickly, and before we know it our kids will be old or too cool or too busy to do summer stuff with their parents. When I am frustrated, I remind myself of what a short time it is.

  17. Cate Pane


    I love your post! My friend and I were having this exact conversation earlier today! She is concerned about her 21 year-old studying abroad this summer. She has had to deal with the anxiety that is common when moms worry about their kids traveling. I told her that it is NORMAL that she is worried. The thing is, worrying isn’t going to change her daughter’s experience. It will simply make my friend miserable!

    At every stage, we are letting go. I mentioned to my friend that it starts when we bring the baby home from the hospital and stop checking constantly to make sure that they are still breathing! We let go and trust that they will be ok…

    God gives us these children to raise, not to keep. It is so hard to do, especially in a world where other parents may give their kids freedom before they are ready to handle it. I was told by a mom of my 16 year-old’s friend that “I will go crazy trying to keep on top of drug/alcohol use. They ALL do it eventually!” Funny thing is, thankfully so far my kids are not making unhealthy choices and tell me all of the details about kids who are “wasting their school opportunities.”

    Letting go isn’t easy. I imagine a balloon with my children’s name on them rising up to the heavens. Sadly, I keep trying to reach the strings and pull them back down. I will probably still be “letting go” on my deathbed!

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