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Trapeze Trust tsny los angeles Flickr

Stock photo credit: tsny los angeles on Flickr

There’s no question that human beings possess an innate pull towards independent action, individuality, and self-determination, and that it is critical that each of us acquire the skills and the confidence to live successfully on our own and transmit those values to the next generations.

I don’t think that there’s a single reader of this book (The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection) who I have to sell on the importance of cultivating one’s personal independence! Let’s take that as a given, shall we?

But the ability to depend on others when necessary-especially our families-for physical, emotional, and economic support is no less important to our survival than being able to do it alone, nor is it less noble. We need the skills, the courage, and the good sense to know how to do both at the appropriate junctures.

Stephen Covey expressed it perfectly in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

Independent thinking alone is not suited to interdependent reality. Independent people who do not have the maturity to think and act interdependently may be god individual producers, but they won’t be good leaders or team players. They’re not coming from the paradigm of interdependence necessary to succeed in marriage, family, or organizational reality.

Years of personal and professional experience have convinced me that families who recognize their interdependence are more likely to be responsive, resilient, and be able to manage the unexpected. Comfortably embracing interdependence frees us to create a family life characterized by connectedness, trust, kindness, mutual respect, and the ability to traverse various roles without fanfare, as circumstances change and needs arise. When we’ve eliminated blaming and shaming, there is no need to judge each other or ourselves when the need for support arises as it will, at some time or another, for nearly all of us.

Just as we value serving alternately as Teachers and Learners within our families, we need, too, to practice moving back and forth fluidly between being Givers and Takers—each in his or time, each according to his or her ability.

And if we embrace this fluidity of roles as a matter of course, it won’t be such an awful shock to the family system if and when it becomes necessary to give or take more—like when someone suddenly loses a job. Or a house. Or their once-robust health.

Paradoxically, becoming at ease with mutual interdependence can actually help family members build up their individual strengths, competencies, and self-reliance. When others have stepped up to the plate for you, you want (if humanly possible) to become a person who is able and willing to step up to the plate for others.