Back in March, I wrote about my struggle with letting my son cross a busy road on the way to school, a situation made somewhat embarrassing by the fact that he's 18 years old. I'm happy to report that he does in fact cross on his own now, in a way that does not require an ambulance for his broken body or my hyperventilating one.
But it never stops, does it? You let your kid have a little freedom, and everyone wants you to back off and give him some more. You can damage a kid by controlling too hard, I get that, really. Here's my problem, though: In every instance of independence, the odds of things going well are hugely higher than the odds of things going badly. But the consequences of things going badly are hugely more negative than the consequences of things going well are positive. How do you work with that?
Case in point: a recent news story about a 17-year-old with intellectual disabilities who was riding his bike around his neighborhood -- just the sort of thing you'd urge a parent to allow to foster freedom -- and ran afoul of a police officer -- who had been told about the boy's disabilities, the way you'd do when you were building a safety net. The officer decided the kid was being disrespectful and Tasered, pepper-sprayed, beat, and arrested him. A judge let him go, but honestly, I'm not sure you're ever "free" of an experience like that.
That's exactly the kind of thing I imagine when I'm asked to let go and trust, you see. That, and many more scenarios for which I could probably find news stories. Are the positive benefits of riding around the neighborhood worth something so horrible? Are the positive benefits of, say, getting a part-time job, as has been proposed for my son, worth what would happen if he melts down or gets the out-of-control sillies or really just talks to his imaginary friends in front of customers? Something good can slide into something world-ending so quickly. You don't need to read much about young adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder to get the picture.
This sounds un-hopeful, and that's not what this blog is about. And in fact, I'm very hopeful about my boy, more hopeful than ever. I do believe, with all my heart, that he will be independent one day, or as independent as any son of an Italian family in New Jersey has license to become. He will get there, and so will I. All I'm wondering is, what's the rush?
Terri Mauro blogs at About.com Parenting Special Needs and Parenting Isn't Pretty. She has two terrific kids, a 21-year-old with learning and language disabilities and an 18-year-old with FASD, both adopted from Russia in 1994.