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One of the most rewarding things for me as a parent is seeing my kids grow up and start taking on new roles and responsibilities. I’m not just talking about the new responsibilities that I give them (like doing their own laundry or making their own lunches), although those are great too. I mean the roles that they choose for themselves where they need to take on a greater degree of independence.

These kinds of steps look different depending on the age and the maturity of the kid, of course. My six year old, for example, decided at camp last week that he would be in charge of handing out the activity supplies to all the families. Nobody told him to do it. It wasn’t a job that he was assigned. He just decided that he was going to do it, took on the role, and then got it done.

My soon-to-be-10-year old took on a more formal role just as school was ending. He’s heading into Grade Five next year, the first grade where he’s allowed to be a Safety Patroller. Kids who are interested in taking on that role are invited to try it out over the last few weeks of their Grade Four year, and my guy decided that he’d take that on. I didn’t suggest it. None of his friends were interested (in fact, he took some teasing over it). It was entirely his decision to take on the responsibility of being a patroller.

My 12-year old has taken on a couple of new roles also. He was asked to help as a Junior Staff at our church’s week of summer day camp. He also decided that he’d like to be a soccer referee this summer, a role that has required him to manage his availability, accept assignments, bike himself to the closer games, manage the kids and coaches and parents, and then submit game reports afterward. It was all his choice, and he’s done a good job on following through with that commitment.

Seeing my kids take those kinds of steps is really amazing for me. It allows me to interact with them (at least in those limited ways) as one person to another, rather than as a parent to a child. I get to receive the activity supplies from them, be waved through the intersection by them, watch them help smaller kids or referee games. There’s a real sense of watching them come into their own, become their own people.

There’s also the pleasure of seeing others respond to my kids in their new roles, affirm them in the responsibilities that they’ve chosen to take on. I get all daddy-proud when I hear another parent say, “Thanks for handing stuff out to everyone. You’re being a big help,” or a teacher tell me, “It’s great how your son decided to be a patroller even when his friends were telling him it was stupid,” or a coach let me know, “Your son does a great job of really taking to the players he refs.” That kind of thing, far more than the goals they score or the marks they get, really make me proud as a parent.

Of course, I know that those steps also mean they’re getting closer to growing up and leaving me behind. I understand why parents sometimes feel conflicted about seeing their kids take on new independence. But this is the goal of parenthood, to help them grow into maturity, into responsibility and independence. It’s one of my great joys