The title of this post sounds kind of metaphorical, but it's actually not. I'm talking literally about deciding when it's safe to let go of Janey's hand.
Until a few months ago, I held Janey's hand ANY time we weren't in a fenced in outside area. This includes as soon as she got out of the car in our driveway (we live in a very busy street) and in all parking lots, stores, sidewalks and so on. She has been known to bolt, and I live in constant fear of her getting lost or running away. She usually didn't protest the hand holding---it's just the way it was. But suddenly, around November, she started letting go of my hand in certain situations. The main one is when she gets out of the car at school. She seems very, very eager to walk to the school from the car by herself. And so I'm trying, very hard, to let that happen...
It's hard for me. I probably held the boys' hands far beyond when most mothers did. They never minded much, but both of them had naturally less adventurous personalities than Janey does, and less active. She has always pushed things a little further than they did, and I think this is the case even taking away her autism from the equation. So my impulse would be to hold her hand forever, into adulthood, for the rest of her life. And maybe that wouldn't be bad, but she is showing me that isn't what she wants. She is 9 years old, and is starting to really look like a big girl. So I am trying, very very hard, to let go when I can.
We park various places, but Janey seems to know the way to school from all of them. I do tell her to wait as I lock the car and get ready to walk. Then I tell her she can go, and she goes---ahead of me, because I am slow and not as sure-footed as her. She walks swiftly and with purpose. When we get to the crosswalk by her school, I call to her again to stop, and she does---looking back at me with annoyance at my pokey nature. I always wait for the "walk" signal, and always talk to her about it, trying to get her to notice it and understand it. And we hold hands crossing the street---I'll do that until I can't any longer. But then I let go again, and let her walk into the school by herself. Strangely, once we are inside, she again wants to hold my hand as we walk to her classroom, which I am happy to do.
In thinking about this, I realize that Janey has come a long way in this area. She doesn't bolt any more, or very rarely does, or I wouldn't even think of letting her walk on her own. Although I always figured she knew where the school was, in the past if I tried to get her to lead me there, she would just stand around and look blank. Now she seems to have purpose, and to understand navigation a bit more. And she is showing the start of a pre-teen-like annoyance with my overprotective nature.
I guess there is a little metaphor here. I know this kind of issue will keep coming up and coming up. I need to let Janey do what she CAN do on her own. I need a way to figure out what she can do that she doesn't WANT to do, and try harder to make her do those things, and I need to look hard at my own behavior and what I just do for her because it's easier. I need to try, little by little, to let go of her hand more often. But it's complicated. When you have a child you are fairly sure will never live on her own, what are you building independence skills for? I know it's good for her to learn these skills, but somehow, it doesn't seem as purpose-driven as for other kids. So I have to balance, to think hard. Learning to walk without holding my hand is not going to lead to her going to the corner store by herself, probably ever. Do I give up that little bit of safety to let her learn a skill that isn't going to progress on? I just don't now. Those are the questions I know I will be asking for years to come.