If I am honest, one of my biggest fears is something happening to my children. I find myself constantly in a state of tug-of-war concerning how much freedom to give them. Since we homeschool, I am with them day in and day out. I see the areas where they are maturing and the areas we still need to focus on growing.

It can be hard to let go and let your children grow up

Our family made a major move about six months ago and I will tell you that we questioned if we had settled in the wrong area. Where we live is not "bad" but it is different. There are language barriers and a definite difference in family dynamics. Poverty was all around us and broken families were the norm. We were concerned that our children would not be able to acclimate to the different cultures and upbringings.

For sake of transparency, I will tell you that we kept our children very secluded the first few months. My husband and I were not afraid of our neighborhood for safety reasons. We were more concerned with what type of influence it would have on our children. Would all the instruction they were being taught at home be remembered when they were no longer in their element?

Had we, as homeschool parents, sheltered our children too much from the world?

I am pretty certain every parent, regardless of educational choice, wonders if they are properly preparing their children for the world at hand. Daily, my husband and I are seeing opportunities that will allow us to test their readiness. Test? Yes, you read that correctly.

So how do you know when your children are ready to step out into the great unknown? Here are two ways to test their readiness:

1. They will ask you

Parents, you know your children better than anyone. When children begin maturing, their need to break away becomes stronger. Our daughter started asking every time we went into the store if she could go in by herself and purchase what we needed. I am not talking about a $200 grocery list, but more of an emergency toilet paper and laundry detergent run at our local discount store. At first, every time she asked I would say no. I was afraid that people might think I was a bad parent.

Finally, I let her go in alone with cash in her hand as I waited in the truck. The look of pride she had on her face when she exited the store was priceless. All I did was allow her to purchase some household items for me while I waited a safe distance away. You would have thought she had won a million dollars. When she got back in the car, she told me, "I feel so important."

Why do we need to let our children exert their independence in safe environments? Simply put, it allows them to feel like they are contributing to the family (even in the smallest ways) and they are gaining immeasurable communication and people skills.

If we want our children to feel like their role in the world matters, we first must give them the opportunity to contribute to it.

It is education in its purest form.

2. They will fail or succeed

When you know your children will do fine, it's easier to let go of the reigns. But what if they aren't ready? You will never know until you let them try.One of the main reasons we kept our children "shut in" for the first few months was because of one incident with some neighborhood children. A little uneasy, I let my children invite a few of the neighborhood kids over to play in the yard. It was not long before both of them came back in the house and the neighborhood children were gone.

When I questioned the brevity of their play time, my little boy exclaimed, "Mom, they were talking dirty. I didn't like it." My daughter, being the firecracker she sometimes can be, looked at me and shrugged. "I told them if they were talking like that, they could go home. They went home."

Though it broke my heart that young minds were exposed to such vulgarity, I was very happy to see that my children had stood up even when it would make them stand out.

The play time scenario could have easily turned out differently. My children could have kept quiet and continue to play with them in order to have friends. They had a decision to make and they made it without me. They found their voice, not mine.

The silver lining to the story is that respect was gained. Those that appreciated my children's request started coming back around. Learning about differences and understanding that you can still be united under common ground has been a great experience for my children. It is one that I could never teach from a text-book.

After all, isn't life the best education a child could earn?

Editor's note: This article was originally published on Sarah West's blog, Heartskeeper. It has been republished here with permission.

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