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Letting Them Fly Out of the Nest
When we were camping a few years ago, we paddled a canoe near a wall of rock that bordered Lake Mazinaw in southeastern Ontario. There, swallows had made their nests in the cracks in the rock, and we watched as several adolescents tried to fly. They'd flap madly and go a few feet before returning safely to the nest. The parents were squawking and yelling and flying and dipping and diving all over the place to try to encourage their little ones, who honestly were trying. Every now and then one of them would make it a little further out, but they always returned.

I'm having a swallow day like that today.

My 15-year-old is taking a train ride to visit a friend. She'll be on the train for five hours, transferring mid-trip in the huge Union Station in Toronto. I've given her my cell phone, I've packed her food (and her favourite, goldfish crackers), and I'm praying over her. But it's time.

I flew on planes by myself at age 7, because my parents were split up and my father lived on the other side of the country. I learned early on that if you cried, the stewardesses gave you chocolate chip cookies. I spent a lot of time crying. At 12 I was taking buses and subways on my own to summer camp or to school. I could navigate the Toronto transit system, find buses that went just about everywhere, and I did fine.

My kids don't have opportunities to practice that because we don't live in a big city, so I often worry that they're not as street wise as I was. I knew the right stance to take to give the message "I know what I'm doing; don't mess with me". My kids more look like they're so excited to be exploring the big, wide world. I've talked to Becca about how she should walk in crowds, and how to avoid unwanted attention. But it's something I had to teach; she didn't grow up just knowing, the way I did, because of my experience in the city.

I'm not really that nervous, because I know she'll be fine. She's a smart kid, and she knows how to protect herself. She's got my cell phone, which is something we never had when we were kids. So all will be good.

But it is time. Too often we raise our kids and they never get a chance to try anything by themselves. When you live in the country, or a small town, you really experience this first hand. In the city, there's always somewhere to walk to, and most kids walk to school. In the country, you get bused to school. In the country, you may learn to drive a car (or a tractor) on your property in the backwoods when you're only 12. In the city you can't. But you don't get to experience being alone among people, and navigating the adult world.

What you do get to experience in more rural areas is going alone in nature, skipping stones, exploring streams, climbing trees. And I think it's important to explore the world on your own, without your parents always there. It's part of growing up, and if we don't let kids do any of that until they hit 18, how will they cope?

So we do need to let go of our bubbles, just for a bit. I let my kids walk and bike to friend's houses that weren't that far away at age 9. Now that they're teens, they can do pretty much what they want outside, as long as they're in groups (they don't get to explore by themselves out in the country).

Is this dangerous? Perhaps. I think the rate of child abduction is actually far lower than we fear. It's just that we hear about all the random ones! But I think NOT knowing how to handle life on your own is even more dangerous. And the confidence that comes from being able to navigate your way around your own city, or handle public transportation and knowing that you can get somewhere and solve problems on your own, is an important part of growing up.

So I'll go to the train station today and hug my daughter good-bye and watch her leave. And I'll be proud of her. But I might still cry, just a little.

What do you think? What age is a good age to start taking buses on your own? What about biking in town on your own? Let me know in the comments!


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At 9:12 AM , Anonymous Melinda said…

Scary day! When my husband first suggested that we let our oldest 2 fly to a Teen Conference last spring, my initial response was "over my dead body" (I know - I was so submissive!) When I finally gave in - they had a wonderful trip (even though I worried the entire time!)I pray the same for your daughter and that you would have a peaceful day!


At 3:43 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

This is very good advice! My children are all under 3 years of age, so I won't be sending them on a bus any time soon. However, I have only once let the oldest stay over night at his grandparents' house. It is so hard for me to even think about them not sleeping under my roof!!! Thank you for giving me a little pep talk!


At 10:21 PM , Blogger shale said…

Wow. This is tough. I think my daughters are close to your daughter's age (13 & 15). I think this probably depends a little on the neighborhood you live in, but the comment you made about experience giving confidence resonated with me. I haven't let my girls really go anywhere out of our immediate neighborhood, even to the 7-11 across the street. It is a very busy main road and though our neighborhood is good, there are a lot of itinerant, foreign workers that hang out, and that makes me nervous. I have let them go there together or down the other way to our ponds and a park about a 10 minutes walk away, but that's it. It might be time to start loosening those reins a little. God, give me wisdom and peace as opportunities come my way. This is horribly hard to think of.


At 4:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

My daughter spent her 15th year living in France, on exchange, with another family. She also got herself from Paris to Beijing to join our family for the adoption of our youngest. And then she got herself from Beijing to Paris to Poitiers (where her host family lived). Did I worry? YES!! But she did it, and she was fine, and she had an amazing year of growth and challenges.
(On the other hand, my parents would hardly leave my younger brother alone in the house at that age! It does depend somewhat on the kid!)

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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