I recently found this site written by a mother who made headlines fairly recently. She is the woman who let her 9 year old learn how to take a NY subway alone to teach him how to find his way home. She was labeled “abusive, crazy, reckless and neglectful” by many who read the story. “How can a parent in today’s day and age think this would EVER be a good idea? What was she thinking?” I’ll admit that while I didn’t have these exact thoughts I was a bit shocked that a boy so young was given sanction to do this. But the thing that caught my attention was that it was actually sanctioned….intentional. She was involved in his process. Teaching him. Trying to help him to take a risk, problem solve and find his footing. There was no neglect involved.
I’m not yet lying awake at night thinking of ways to let my little ones figure out how to walk to the library alone. They are still a bit young for that. Likely my son would get lost following a run away squirrel or something. No bueno! But I do agree that we have to give our kids more space to roam, play, explore, wander, learn and figure life out without us hovering all the time. Most of us grew up in an area that we thought was safe. By the early mid eighties everyone knew the name Adam Walsh. After the media frenzy no child was allowed to play outside on his/her bike anymore. It wasn’t an overnight change but it did change over time and the change seemed pronounced. Now you hear about all of the child kidnappings and exploitations. Oprah (God bless her) devotes networks and entire weeks of programming to this topic. The web, TV, billboards, magazines are all telling us the world is a terrible place to raise our kids. And if you do let them venture outside, they must be clad head to toe with protective gear, sunscreen and a tracking devise. I’ve seen children ‘playing’ in the sun wearing full body, UV blocking suits….as if they are playing in a field of plutonium. They’re outside!!! Slap a bit of SPF on them and off they go! Ok, I’m being snarky and you may comment away on how fair- skinned your little freckley child is and why they need to be protected from the melting ozone. I understand that. Sometimes our protection can be a bit excessive.
A few weeks ago I let my son wander down the street to a neighbor’s house for the first time to see if they boy wanted to play. I bundled him up for the snow and sent him off. I’ll admit it was a bit strange not to walk over there with him and ask if his friend could play instead of my son asking. But it gave him confidence and excitement. He was out without mom for the first time. What a thrill! I also encourage him to give cashier’s money when he wants to buy a toy car and we have been known to let him ride his bike without a helmet on. I also think his cheeks have even been a bit sun burned here and there. Oh, and he eats food that falls on the floor.
Of course I have horrible thoughts of some car speeding off in front of my home as I look for one of my kids. Rumination is a slippery slope though. I worry like any mother and I NEVER want my kids to go through pain. Yet I remember playing outside for hours upon hours as a child, unleashing my imagination, making friends, cultivating new interests and dreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up. These moments happen less and less as a child stays inside, watches movies or TV and is constantly being hovered over by a fearful parent.
I definitely say, YES to books and letting kids get lost in them but I also say an emphatic YES to letting our kids roam a bit, playing with sticks, learning how to start a campfire while we show them how and maybe even eating mud-cakes. Maybe even cooking in the kitchen and venturing outside ALONE to take out the garbage. Or riding a bike and falling occasionally. Getting hurt and learning about pain seems like a rite of passage for kids and we just can’t protect them from pain forever. Swimming in the ocean, jumping off of really high stuff, playing with mud, getting really dirty (it washes off) and eating the occasional piece of dirt off the floor are elements of being little and I’m trying to allow my kids to experience life and the amazing outdoors with small bits of freedom while I let go of some major fears. My husband is great at this. He has been the biggest motivator in helping me see how great it is to give your children small bits of independence. Incidentally, he actually inspired this post in an article he passed on to me a few days ago. He’s my biggest supporter.
Have fun with your little ones today. Let go a bit (I’m learning how to) and toast to the whole of life!