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Kids, dogs, and letting go of the leash

for The Brooklyn Paper
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People keep telling me I can’t compare my dog and my kids, but I seriously disagree.

It is clear to me that I can learn a lot about raising my boys from how I handle dog.

I let Ginger toddle along unleashed down the sidewalk. I say her name low and serious when she veers toward the street. It’s a warning and she heeds it because she trusts me. She stays on the sidewalk, stops on the curb, comes back from inside the fenced-off areas in Prospect Park when I call. She wags her tail happily and smiles big when we head out the door. She knows. She gets to be free, to make herself happy, to do as she pleases, not as I please.

Are there dangers? Could she get into a dogfight or run into the street? Yes, and yes. There are risks to letting go.

But the risks of holding on tight are so much greater.

So why is it so difficult to let my 11- and 9-year-olds do the same?

We recently took a drive up to the Catskills to ski, and I put myself to the test.

My boys skied while their friends snowboarded, sometimes with an adult, but mostly on their own. They were carried on chairs through the air and careened down icy mountainsides, on their own. They practiced “tricks” and jumps. I was nowhere to be found.

They came back to Brooklyn new people, more independent, more capable, and more inspired.

Now, skiing is great, but this is not a public service announcement for the National Ski Areas Association. Rather, it is a ringing endorsement for freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all children, outside their parents’ reign.

That’s right. What I’m saying — and what I have to say it to myself a million times a day — is “back off.”

Which, of course, isn’t easy to do at the slopes as people got carried down the mountain in stretchers.

But I say it to myself anyway, knowing that they will thrive under their own guidance.

Besides, I still hold plenty of sway, considering they still rely on me for food and shelter, for electronics bills and birthday parties.

I guess I just see that my sway is more authentic if my kids can differentiate between themselves and me, between what they really think and want, and what it is that I have to say about what they should think and want. Control is not my aim so much as collaboration.

Long-term, leashes don’t provide much in the way of support. When the kids move beyond my grasp, as they already do, every day, for school, I have to trust that they can make their own way, that they can trust themselves.

The risk of leashing anyone — animal or human — is that you very literally hold them back.

And then you are to blame.

That’s why I let go — of my dog and my boys.

Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.

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