Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

So there is some irony in writing this blog, the third in my series on raising independent children (read about Derek and Kyle). One might think that, because Kira (who just turned 28) lives with us, we haven’t actually succeeded on the “raising independent children” front. My struggle isn’t in telling you that she is independent; it’s in finding the eloquence to properly describe just how amazing I find her to be.

Kira is probably our most independent child – and not in the wayward, irresponsible sense, either. She doesn’t live with us because she can’t get her act together or isn’t financially responsible; quite the opposite: She lives with us because it works for all of us and our long-term goals. Could you put up with living with your parents that long? I couldn’t. She (and her husband) are quite patient.

But that’s now. It’s getting Kira to the amazing woman that she is today that was such a roller coaster ride (the angel-devil costume pictured below wasn’t a far stretch). What’s fun is seeing her experience it from the other side, with her own free spirit of a daughter.

Kira has been a free spirit her whole life. The day I met her is forever etched in my mind; she jumped up on the coffee table and grinned at me – no front teeth, wild hair, and an exuberance for life that made me fall in love with her almost as quickly as I fell for her dad.

How do you raise a daughter to be strong and independent – to foster that free spirit – while providing boundaries and refraining from going so far as to break her spirit? Believe me, there is a reason I say boys are easier than girls. Kira is that reason.

But as we did with all of our kids, we tried to hang on for the ride, keep her safe, and still let her explore and have control of her life as much as possible. And we communicated.

There were fights, and arguments, and stress, sure. There were worries, and once, there were even police called by a nosy neighbor when Kira went running out of the house in a teenage fit and Dave carried her back in. But mostly, there were conversations and encouragement, and allowing her to be who she wanted to be.

But every step of the way, there were glimpses of the intuitive, kind, and strong woman Kira was becoming, even when she was young, like the time she used the lid of her sandbox to make a boat to float in the irrigation ditch, or the fearlessness with which she tried everything. We saw that internal strength grow and evolve over time, like the summer she spent out on our front lawn, teaching herself how to do a backflip so she could try out for the college cheer team. Or the time she¬†felt slighted by the Marine recruiters who came to her school, who didn’t believe she was capable of holding her own, so she did the most push ups of all the students just to win a water bottle and leave them all with their mouths hanging open. Or the time she had the courage to talk to a counselor about a friend who was contemplating suicide. Or the time she got up in the middle of a college math class and said, sorry, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to follow this career path; I’m out of here…and changed her own future. Or the time she moved herself to New York City with no car and no job to attend grad school and made it happen on her own. Or the time she called us and told us she needed to come home because her boyfriend of 4 years was an evil abusive asshat who deserves a couple of nights in prison with “Bubba.”

What’s the point of my ramble? Well, I told you I was worried about finding the right words to say what I wanted to say…but the point is, when you let your kids guide you about where they need and want to go to fulfill their dreams, they become really amazing people.

Kira became who she wanted to be – and like all of us, she is still becoming. All we did was lightly hold the reigns along the way, cheered her on at every turn, and let her change her mind and her direction to keep pursuing what made sense to her, for her life. We didn’t make her feel guilty when she disagreed with our viewpoints on things and in fact encouraged her to have her own opinions and beliefs. Often, she taught us a few things and shifted our perspective. We didn’t judge or shame her when she changed her mind about what she wanted to do with her life, instead recognizing that it was her life and her path to follow and she was pretty good at achieving her goals. We didn’t try to stifle or control her; we were simply there for her.

If you want independent kids, you have to let them try things without catching them every once in a while. You have to let them make mistakes, change their minds, and find their way – and never stop being in their corner.