Setting them up

published 06 December 2015
Parents are proud of their kids for various reasons. Some are very happy when their children get high honors in school. Some take pride in their children’s artistic or sports capabilities, by their gregariousness, politeness, good behavior—the fact that they do not bring home any trouble whatsoever. 
I am proud of my own children—ages 21, 19, 15 and 13—for the above reasons, and one other thing: their independence.
We began a life of our own when the eldest was 13, or over eight years ago. Since then, it became understood that I was in charge of running the household AND funding the household, such that I would have little energy to spare for each of their growing pains. They would have to chip in. 
Homework, for instance. Some of my friends sit down with their children every afternoon, going over their notes and ensuring that all assignments/projects are submitted on time. 
Alas, I have not been blessed with the predisposition, and patience, to go over their day’s lessons, repeat what their teacher had said, and possibly answer any questions. At best, I can explain one process (so long as it’s not physics or serious math) and give a few exercises. English is a breeze, of course. On that one I am happy to dish out advice, solicited or not. 
So, yes, the kids are left to fend for themselves, ask their older siblings, their classmates, or consult the Internet. What I emphasize is that the real learning lies on how one receives and processes information and then relates it to other concepts. Good grades would be welcome as well. 
Household chores are a different challenge. Just this year, when we moved into a new location, we decided collegially that we did not need househelp anymore. We would each be responsible for our own personal spaces and exert extra effort to keep the common areas clean and livable. As for meals, my job was to make sure there was food inside the fridge or the cupboards and money for emergencies. The laundromat is a few minutes walk from where we live. To each his own, as well. Managing our own laundry has stressed the importance of planning, of sticking to basics. It has proven more economical, too.
For me, though, the most visible manifestation of the kids’ independence is their ability to go places on their own. We don’t have a private vehicle so we are all essentially commuters. Near or far, the key points are: make an effort to know the streets, be alert to how the people around you are acting, and never appear clueless. 
It is a good thing the oldest girl’s office is but a tricycle ride away. She’s been out of the country twice, on her own in the course of her work, and both times she has returned in one piece. 
The second who plays bass for a band is out almost every night on gigs. He does not come back until dawn. When we used to live further north, I would always worry; now that we live in Quezon City, it’s been easier. Often, he brings with him a friend or two. I do not mind at all, because this is how we get to know the people they spend time with when we are not with them. 
The third is a tenth grader whose school is in Caloocan and who commutes to and from there every day. The travel has taken its toll on her energy and grades—but that’s a tradeoff. It was her choice to spend another year with her friends before moving to a different school for senior high. This is a roundabout but effective way to teach her about consequences. 
Finally, the youngest boy. He spends his weekdays in his high school in Laguna and just comes home Friday afternoon for the weekend break. Sometimes, he enlists with the bus that would bring them to UP Diliman; from there he could just hail a cab and be home in a few minutes. 
Sometimes, however, he wants to spend the rest of the day at my Makati office—“where the wifi is fast”—so we could come home together in the evening. He has also learned to travel on his own from the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay to Makati. Thanks to GrabCar, most of the time, but he takes the train and sometimes a regular cab, too. He just updates me where he is and gives me references—plate number, taxi name, exact location—to allay my fears.
There are instances it does not all work out. Sometimes there is quibbling over chores. Sometimes there are tense moments when technology fails us and one cannot tell where a child is at any given time. I expect these things to happen, but I also expect them to get corrected ASAP and not be allowed to happen again. 
Our first instinct as parents is to protect our children and let no harm come to them. Imagine the guilt and the self blame should anything happen to them or should they make wrong decisions after we have allowed them to be on their own. 
As we also go along, however, we begin to realize that protecting our children from external threats will only do them good to a certain point. Do we want kids who would rely on us forever? Have no self-confidence at all in talking to others or asserting what they need or want? 
The real tricky part is knowing when to be there, and when to step back graciously. We should, at the right time and even if we are scared to do it, allow them to go places, make mistakes, get lost and learn hard lessons on their own. 
Ultimately our role is to be dispensable. We set them up so they can make sound decisions and be kind, compassionate, street smart people, even when we are no longer around to check on them.