Who is becoming independent from whom?

Apr 24, 2008 at 3:00 a.m. ET

We've had some interesting afterschool jumbles recently. I have to be one place - or three - with the younger kids, and Alfs needs to be somewhere else, or just needs to get home. I've been forced to have him wait for me or meet me in places and ways I never had before. He's done fine; I'm the one who needs more time.

I worry about being overprotective of my kids. I want to protect, but not smother. I don't want to be one of those clichéd mothers who never lets her kids out of her sight. (I think there's no faster way to completely push them away.) The past few days, I've been driving all over creation taking care of this, that and the other thing, and I've been a little bit panicked, trying to get to Alfs as quickly as possible. Once, I didn't see him at the prescribed place right away. My heart skipped a beat and my stomach flip-flopped. Then I saw him. I tried not to show my anxiety, but clearly failed. He was perfectly calm (and quite close by), but I needed a moment to bring my blood pressure down. He looked at me like I was crazy, of course, as a pre-adolescent is supposed to do.When I was in sixth grade, the grade Alfs is in now, I actually had far more freedom than Alfs has right now. I rode my bike home from school (and had for years) and if I took a detour to a friend's house or the corner convenience store for a candy bar, my parents rarely knew. I'd always make sure I was home before my mom arrived home. There were hours and hours at a time when my parents didn't have precise tabs on me. I did not have a cell phone, of course, as many kids do today.  It was in part the circumstance of the neighborhood we lived in and in part the time we lived in. I bet you never thought someone would be nostalgic for the '70s, did you?

Times have changed. Or have they?

What was OK back then seems less okay now. With greater media coverage of the bad (and the good), we know more about what can and does happen. When I was 12, the relative ignorance of what probably was happening in a small radius from our little world definitely was bliss. Although we knew the guy in the house a couple streets away was creepy, we didn't know the extent of it. Now, often, we do.I don't think the world is an inherently more dangerous place than it was 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. I don't know that it's safer, either. I think we know more about what can and does happen, even in "safe" neighborhoods, and we know more about ways to keep safe. As with everything, finding the balance in that is tricky. Whether the world around us in inherently safe or unsafe, we still need to find ways to live in it, and not hide from it, and teach our children to do the same. We need to teach them to live in the world, not hide from it, with both the good and the bad.

An inch at time

Just as our parents did with us, we talk to our kids about safety and awareness and consider circumstances carefully -— and slowly let out the tether. I'm sure for Alfs, it's far too slow a pace. If feels to fast for me. Sometimes I find excuses for not letting go a little more; sometimes those excuses are valid and sometimes they are not. Alfs has met every challenge of this emerging independence. I'm the one having the struggle. He's supposed to be separating from me and learning this, and I suppose I continue to try to teach and let out the tether in spite of myself. I just need a little more time.