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The Amish have an interesting tradition when it comes to parenting. Their children are raised with tight controls when they are young; strict discipline and harsh standards of appropriate behavior are imposed from infancy. However, when children turn 16, they enter a period called “rumspringa.”

Suddenly, restrictions are lifted and the teenagers are allowed to swim in the tempting and deep waters of choice. They are free to drink, smoke, go to parties, date, and even marry; generally to behave in ways that horrify their parents. Some take full advantage of this freedom and cross all boundaries testing their newly granted freedom in every way. Most don’t.

During this period of autonomy and experimentation, they are even given the right to leave the Amish community if they choose. But if they stay, it must be in accordance with the community norms and order. In the end, the majority accept the heritage of their families, not because they must, but because they choose to.

My mind is filled with questions. What are our culture's rites of passage into adulthood? I don’t think we have any; parents and their teenagers are left to figure these things out on their own.

What are the milestones of “letting go” that must be experienced by parent and child before the child stands completely on their own? Is the power dynamic between parent and their child ever the same as the dynamic between two peer adults? Should it be?

With freedom comes responsibilities (that sounds dangerously  like a Republican campaign slogan, but I hope you’re getting my non-political meaning here ).  Is there some way to know if your child is responsible enough to earn more freedom and autonomy or can you only know by giving up the controls and seeing how much responsibility they assume?

Annabelle takes in Yosemite

Perhaps the last question is turned around and it's parents who need to be ready.  In that case, like the Amish, maybe you just pick an age or a date, give it a name and send them off into the world on their own regardless of whether anyone's ready or even wants to go.  A cliff to jump off of, a clearly marked rite of passage that says "it's up to you now dear baby girl" -- I hope and pray you come back to me unharmed. 

But short of an abrupt shove out of the nest, how do you know how much rope to let out so the young, inexperienced climber can go up the mountain feeling untethered? And how much is too much slack and will result in the climber being smashing face first into the jagged rocks when they miss a step and free fall?

These are the thoughts, the questions and the images in my head this morning. The title of this post is a quote from Erich Fromm. 

“There can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail.”

Erich Fromm - German-born American Jewish social psychologist, philosopher and psychoanalyst


Originally posted on patty.vox.com