My 10-year-old son announced he wants to trick-or-treat with his friends this year. This upsets me. I mark time in two ways: my yearly tax appointment during school February vacation and our traditional family trick-or-treat outing every October. I look forward to both of these events because even though they are very different experiences, each gives me a sense of continuity from year-to-year. Now my son wants to upset the pumpkin cart and change it all, and I’m just not ready.
My kids are growing up fast. Fifth grade is more than halfway to the day my son might leave to further his education. And ten years old is close enough to those dramatic early teen years where my love for him won’t change, but on certain days I won’t like him very much. Where does this leave me? It leaves me with two or three more years to enjoy our family time before my kids make a mass exodus and leave their parents in the dust.
These rumblings of independence I know are normal. I remember from my own childhood how fun it was to scamper around the neighborhood with just my friends, trying to fill our bags with full-sized candy bars—much bigger than the “nuggets” my kids come home with today—and other Halloween treats. My parents let me go without their supervision, probably because they knew my lust for candy would keep me out of trouble. (Who has time to knock over pumpkins or scare even younger kids when there’s business to conduct?) I took my “task” seriously because I knew I would be comparing loot with my brother and sister soon after I arrived home. After dumping the contents of our bags on the living room floor, we’d sort everything and then start counting. The victor would get bragging rights for an entire year, which was pretty sweet for me since I was the middle child and rarely got to boast about much, due to my precarious position in the birth order.
When my son announced his Halloween intentions this year my wife and I gave each other the “eye-roll.” She and I agree that we need to give him more space and allow him more freedom. But before that happens we also agree he’s in sore need of an education. Not that he’s not getting a fine one in school, but he needs the kind of education they don’t cover in the classroom, primarily because there’s only so much his teachers can do within the confines of four walls.
So at the end of this past summer we began to educate him on a few topics we felt he lacked some basic knowledge in—knowledge that he would need upon entering fifth grade. Sure this is arbitrary; every parent needs to decide what information their child needs, and also when they feel comfortable conveying this specific information. The best I can say is we took our cues from him. After hearing countless stories at the end of last year about the bus and playground, and also recently hearing certain words coming from his mouth— words that we knew he didn’t learn at our house—we felt it was time.
Of course our initial conversation led to other conversations which led into other topics that maybe we weren’t quite ready to discuss with him—like contents of R rated movies and You Tube Videos, school gossip, and the like. But the conversations were positive, because not only did we get to peer into his world, he also got a glimpse into ours, which only further strengthened our connection with him. Naturally, after he received all this new information and felt emboldened by it, he was ready to go trick-or-treating without us.
I realize my job as a parent is to parent myself out of a job. I know I need to teach values, lead by example, and give my kids opportunities to think for themselves so they can make their own decisions and mistakes and grow from them. And hopefully by the time they’ve gathered and digested all of this information they’ll be perfectly capable and functioning people. On paper this all makes perfect sense, but when you’re in the trenches it’s a lot more difficult, because letting go of the reigns means giving up control; and without control I no longer can determine outcomes, even though I intuitively know that trying to control anything is an illusion.
My wife and I haven’t decided what to do about Halloween this year. I think we’re comfortable allowing my son to go trick-or-treating without us, but I don’t know if I’m ready to let go. I realize today’s world moves faster than the world I grew up in, but I think my son is just going to have to deal with a sentimental dad who wants him close for a few more years.
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