henry will

As I like to walk; I like my kids to walk; I believe it’s good to walk, especially in a place where it’s not hard to rely upon cars. My kids like to walk, too, not that they have a whole lot of choice in the matter.

Sometimes, my preschooler, who has recently turned five, walks ahead of me. When she gets to the corner before me, the real thrill is to cross the street… ahead of me.

Save for the big streets, which I demand we cross together, we have a from afar conversation that goes something like this:

“Can I cross by myself?” she asks.

“Did you look both ways?” I call out. “Do you see any cars?”

She says she doesn’t, but she looks again, both ways. “No cars!” she concludes.

“Go ahead,” I tell her. Once she’s across I call out, “Good job!”

I have plenty of friends who demand their children hold hands with them when they cross the street, so that our loose street crossing practices put us into free-range territory. I understand the urge to keep our children close. I feel it in many ways, too many ways I bet.

When a friend says their child can’t be trusted to cross the street because the kid is too “spacey” there is a slight self-fulfilling prophecy at play. Unless you practice something responsible like crossing the street, you can’t learn to do it. If street crossing isn’t your “job” and thus there’s no reason to pay attention when you cross the street, why would you pay attention? So, I guess, I think, like so many other things I haven’t encouraged nearly well enough at all, the only reason to learn some particular responsibility is because you then receive that particular responsibility (so logical isn’t it?).

The reasons I decided to follow my children’s lead toward this particular independence have to do with the fact that it was their lead and the way this particular bit of competence increases our ability to walk, together for now, and solo later on. And by later on, I don’t mean so much later on, either. Her next brother began to walk to close by friends’ houses in kindergarten and occasionally from the playground toward the end of first grade.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer and blogger whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain Child Magazine and Salon the Huffington Post, Babble and Ceramics Monthly. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies including The Maternal is Political and Wait a Minute, I Have to Take Off My Bra. A writer for Preview Massachusetts Magazine, she keeps a personal blog, Standing in the Shadows at the publication’s news site, the Valley Advocate and a tumblr Refractions. She is a sometime contributor to Momfilter. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows or Pinterest.


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Comments (3)


  1. Posted by: Caroline

    Kudos to you for encouraging your children’s independence. It takes courage for a mom to let go of her child’s hand and allow them to do things on their own. It is an important rite of passage, though, for a child to do these things. And it tells them, more than words ever could, that you believe in them, and that they can do anything they put their minds to.

  2. Posted by: Lex

    I’ve loved seeing you and your family walking all across town over the years!

    Two bits:

    1. My kids (even my “big” 10-year-old kids) do sometimes act spacey when we’re crossing the street together, like when I’m *with* them, and it drives me absolutely nuts. BUT, they are a completely different way about it when they’re on their own (I once spotted them from afar, checking both ways at least a dozen times before heading across a busier street). I liken it to the way you can be a passenger in the car and not really pay attention to how to get from point a to point b, whereas once you become the driver, you learn the map well.

    2. Getting my kids to be more independent about walking around on their own, crossing streets, etc. wasn’t so much about following their lead as it was about PUSHING THEM OUT OF THE NEST and trusting that they’d know how to fly. Just as one of my sons would have been content to wear velcro shoes all the way until college (I bet) if it weren’t for my insistence that he learn to tie, my kids did not volunteer to become more independent in matters of walking about town, even when they were well-past capable. But once I insisted (the big guys (10 yo twins) now walk a mile home from school by themselves), they quickly rose to the challenge, and delighted in it.

  3. Posted by: sadie

    Beautifully put!

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