Today was a big day in the Sutton household. After months of nagging, and now he’d finally turned nine years old, I let Dexter walk to the shops on his own.
We’d been building up to this moment for what has seemed like years. He’d ask if he could go to Game whilst I browsed in Dotty P’s next door. Then he’d ask if he could to the other end of the indoor shopping centre on his own. Then he wanted to go round the corner from Costa to Tesco … and so on. And with each little bit of extra responsibility I gave him, the prouder he got.
However, inside I was a complete mess and panicking every … single … LONG … drawn-out second he was gone.
I know that every parent reading this will understand exactly how I feel. The thought of letting your child out on their own fills us all with a little dread. When’s the right time? What is the right age? Is it safe? (Is it ever safe?) What could go wrong?
Every time Dexter passed each ‘test,’ my confidence in him grew. The thing is, it was never really just about whether he could cross a road safely – although he now understands that instead of just shaking his head from left to right to make it look like he’s looking for traffic, it’s kinda helpful if he actually does look – it is, of course, also the dangers of him coming into contact with REAL LIFE STRANGERS.
Now, I’ve lived in the town I currently live in my entire life – all 25 years of it. Born and bred. It’s a typical small Kent town and I know a lot of people and, consequently, I think a lot of people have come to know Dexter and I. But … it’s still a massive step for both of us.
I’ve been through this all before of course, with my eldest son who is now aged 18! But I remember the day I let him go out on his own for the first time like it was yesterday – to the very same shop in fact. And, just like today, I stood at the end of my short driveway and watched him walk up the road, independent of me.
Today, I didn’t give any thought to what I was wearing and found myself standing by my front brick wall in vest and shorts, sans underwear, arms crossed, trying not to scare the local children, whilst watching Dexter walk up the road, happy as Larry. I, on the other hand, was babbling nervously to my next door neighbour who regaled me with stories of how difficult she too found it when she let her daughters out for the first time – all of them now in their thirties.
I hadn’t realized how much I’d been holding my breath but when I finally saw him safely cross the road and make his way back down to me, swinging his bag of sweets in the air, I let out a big sigh of relief.
And so it begins.
Dexter will, of course, want to continue to push the boundaries and demand more and more independence and I, of course, will continue to worry about whether I’m making the best decisions for him.
I am the sole responsible guardian for this amazing child. I would protect him with my life. But when children want to spread their wings, it’s a tough call. The boundary between wanting to protect them and wanting them to grow as individuals is a thin line.
Being a parent is HARD. Being a single parent is HARDER. I spend each day worrying whether I’ve ‘got it right’ or not, without any support. But I think we all, as parents, worry if we’re ‘getting it right.’
I’m aware that some people might think Dexter is too young to be let out on his own (even with me watching,) but today, I think I got it right.
Just look at his face.