It seems to be a given in USian culture that a parent’s duty is to see that their children are prepared to be independent on or soon after they turn 18. Our kids are meant to be able to look after their own hygiene, find and maintain a job, live alone in a house or an apartment (or negotiate a roommate arrangement), and so forth. To these ends, many caregivers of disabled children feel intense pressure to seek out therapies that will allow their children to approach independence by the allotted deadline. They post in parenting groups asking how best to potty train their children, teach them to dress themselves and how to make their own breakfast. They agonize over the timing of developmental milestones and push down their anxiety to support their kids as best they can. But, why?
Take a breath. Slow down. Listen.
Very few people are fully independent, living off the grid, and singlehandedly hunting or growing everything they eat. Humans aren’t built that way in the first place. We are social creatures. We’re meant to live in community with each other. Unfortunately, our consumerist, ableist, White Supremacy Culture has convinced too many of us that our worth is tied up in what we can produce through performance. If we don’t operate in a typical way, we are the weakest link, and we don’t deserve to be included. Absurd. Absolutely absurd. No, we are worthy simply because we are and it is morally incumbent upon other members of our culture to make sure we are safe and cared for.
Independence seems reasonable in a scenario where asking for help is regarded as weak and burdensome to others. I get it. So, reject that mentality. You don’t have to participate. Opt out and teach your kids to do the same. And, when you’re ready, embrace interdependence as a much worthier alternative to independence.
Plug your children into their community and model qualities like empathy, helpfulness, partnership, and justice. Investigate why our culture so prizes isolationism and individualism above cooperation and community, and then help your kids understand. On your way, consider other goals that will serve your children better than independence to the extent that they are able, such as:
- Unabashedly asking for help when it’s needed.
- Locating, navigating, and securing resources.
- Learning how to find the decision-makers.
- Practicing how to ask effective questions and listen actively.
- Becoming powerful self-advocates who will not be pushed to the side.
- Understanding policies and procedures.
- Recognizing and defending their rights.
I’m not saying that our kids shouldn’t be receiving support for self-care and daily living. Not at all. I think children should be given opportunities to gain autonomy and agency. I do not, however, believe that a caregiver choosing independence as a goal for a child is respectful or helpful. No person should be in training to become entirely self-sufficient without their explicit consent. We are an interdependent people. Teach into that reality.