Helicopters, Freedom, Broken Bones, and Risks

So, I read this article (op ed?) in The Atlantic.  You should read it too, especially if you have kids, even more so if you tend towards being hypervigilant about what they do, when, and with whom.

Oh the guilt!  The guilt!  There’s the actual guilt, the guilt you assume you should feel, the observational guilt, and all sorts of other guilty feelings.  There’s so much guilt that guilt starts to sound like a dumb word.

These are a few of the things that I regularly feel some measure of guilt about:

  •          Not spending enough time with my kids
  •          Spending so much time with my kids that they don’t know how to play on their own
  •          Being nervous when they want to do risky things at the playground
  •          Going camping with them, telling them to go explore and get dirty and do whatever, and have them look blankly at me              like I’ve told them to go walk on the moon
  •          Not enough activities
  •          Too many structured activities
  •          Letting them out of my sight
  •          Not letting them out of my sight

Seriously.  I can drive myself batty going around and around and around with these issues.

I remember being an elementary schooler, walking to the school bus stop alone (a little more than a quarter mile away, if I remember right), and waiting for the bus with a handful of boys (they were all boys!).  I remember snowball fights.  I remember them teaching me to play hockey (sort of).  I remember one boy getting seriously injured because of a snowball (ice) fight.

I remember learning to roller blade with those boys, and going too fast down a really steep hill, and having to hobble home, legs scraped clean of skin.

I remember taking my dog for walks, all alone, to meet the boy I had a crush on so he and I could walk around the neighborhood together.

I remember being in middle school and biking for miles and miles with my best friend.  Her brother’s bike had a radio, and we would listen to music while we biked everywhere.  The library, the school, around her neighborhood.

I remember walking through the woods and getting lost.  I also remember finding shortcuts to the nearby shopping center, and walking to the stores all alone.

I felt so grown up.  I felt like I was taking risks, but I also felt confident about my ability to take on those risks.

I participated in organized sports.  I remember family game nights.  But I spent a lot of time alone as a kid.  And it was okay.

In fact, the times that I actually had the worst, most traumatic experiences of my childhood were actually when I was being supervised by “trusted” adults.

But yet, all of that said, I can’t fathom the idea of letting my kids walk to school alone.  Or go outside and explore the neighborhood unsupervised.  Or walk to a store alone.  Or even run far enough ahead on the walk home that I can’t see them.

Part of that is their ages, I’m sure.  Oliver just turned eight.  Hazel is six.  I think (hope) it’s natural to be more hesitant with your oldest child.  Part of it is that I really like walking to school to pick them up, and I really like hanging out with my kids.  I’m trying to give them more freedom to experience “danger”—Oliver gets to use sharp knives at dinner, not just butter knives.  And I let him help me cut vegetables.  I let Hazel cross the street unsupervised (I was feeding the baby—I didn’t even watch her out the window!).  I sometimes let Oliver stay in the car when I’m running errands (I hope that’s legal).

So, why is our entire society so bent on keeping kids carefully under wraps?  I mean, obviously part of it is fear driven—in our age of the 24 hour news cycle, one Horrible Thing happening to one child affects all of us for days or weeks at a time.  It feels more prevalent than it is.  It’s still a Horrible Thing, but one Horrible Thing happening to someone else, somewhere else makes us hug our children so tightly that they can’t breathe, and we don’t realize that our children are more likely to suffocate than suffer from said Horrible Thing.

I wonder if part of it is also control.  We can’t control if our kid gets cancer, or is the loser at school who gets picked on.  We can’t control if they will be autistic, or bad at sports, or if they will experience Horrible Thing.  But we take on the illusion of control by not letting them out of sight.  By keeping them close.  By making sure their activities are monitored at all times.  By not letting them lose.  We can keep them from having their feelings hurt, their bones and hearts broken, and ever having to deal with whatever it was that made our own childhood insufferable.

Except, of course, we can’t control all those things.  And at what cost do we keep the others under control?

Kullervo and I were heartbroken (me) and furious (Kullervo) when we took the kids camping and while we (Kullervo) set up camp, we told the kids to go explore the campsite.  Find bugs.  Dig a hole.  Have an adventure.

They didn’t know how.

WHAT HAVE WE DONE????

I don’t worry too much about my kids getting hurt, honestly.  The thing that makes me cringe is fingers getting squashed in doors, but that’s small and just as likely to happen regardless of supervision.  I have a fear of falling, so when Henry climbs really high on a playground, it makes my stomach lurch.  My stomach reacts that way to circus performers on the high wire, too, I might add.  I try not to let it affect my kids—I try really hard to look away and let them take those risks.  (Although thinking about that makes me also fear the judgmental looks from other people should my kids fall off the playground equipment.)

So, aside from fear and control, there is the other issue—why do we think we should spend all of our time with our kids?  There’s the guilt factor.  Obviously, we should want to spend all our spare time with our kids, right?  But why do we think that?  I don’t want to spend all of my time with anybody—I’m an introvert and really want to put my head in the sand and avoid all y’all folks and hope you go away and leave me alone.

My kids are fantastic.  I love spending time with them.  I love hearing their ideas—they’re smart and funny and creative and silly, and they help me be smart and funny and creative and silly too.  I love playing games and reading with them.  I love going on hikes and yelling at them to ENJOY NATURE DAMMIT.  And their school day is SO LONG, and their bedtime is SO EARLY, so I actually don’t get a lot of time to just BE with my kids.  We certainly can’t do all the things together that I want to do.  But I also can’t be on all day long.

And they’re still kids—which means that a lot of the things they want to do aren’t interesting and a lot of their jokes aren’t funny (to grown ups).  Cases in point—Hazel just told me two new jokes today:

Knock Knock!

Who’s there?

Daddy!

Daddy who?

Get me a beer.

 

Knock Knock!

Who’s there?

Interrupting table!
Interrupting table who?

EAT YOUR DINNER.

Not funny.  At all.  But yet Oliver and Hazel are currently in our basement cracking each other up with their horrible jokes.  Kids need other kids around because kids get that stuff.  And they need time away from adults to be able to explore all of the horrible jokes they want without annoying anybody.

I’ve also noticed how much my kids gain from me severely restricting screen time.  They had a half day of school today, and came home and immediately wanted to watch television.  I said no.  They wanted to use the iPad.  I said no.  I said they were being too loud (Henry had just gone down to nap), so I sent them to the basement.  They played truth or dare.  They told unfunny jokes.  Now they are playing pretend.  All of which they would have missed out on if they had had the television on.  I’ve watched them take their boredom and turn it into creativity.  I’ve seen them build towers of milk crates (and climb them, and fall down).  I’ve seen them come up with weird games to play in the car on long drives because they don’t have a television in the car.

I want my kids to be kids.  I want to hang out with them, I want to spend time with them, teach them what they need to learn.  But perhaps I need to remember—perhaps we all need to remember—that part of teaching kids, part of raising them, is giving them opportunity to fail and opportunity to take risks and mess up.  It’s certainly easier to help them learn to make good decisions when they’re younger than when they are older and are taking on riskier behavior.  If they are confident that they can take risks, if they know that they can make good decisions without parental supervision, maybe when they are being offered cigarettes or drugs or alcohol, or pressured to have sex, they’ll be able to say no because they will know their limits and they won’t need to take those risks in order to feel like they are more grown up.  Maybe the high they get from living their lives fully will outweigh the high they would get from using drugs.

So, all that said, what do I do to implement this?  There are definitely downsides to kids playing unsupervised—oftentimes, other people’s kids are rotten.  Or is a moderate level of unchecked bullying okay, because it helps our kids develop a thicker skin?  Is the social hierarchy of unsupervised kids harmful, or does it teach kids negotiation skills, political skills, and other skills that (sorry to say it) will be necessary in the work environment when they get older?  And with other parents helicoptering their kids constantly, is it possible to avoid the guilt of giving my kids more freedom (obviously they love their kids more than I do because otherwise I would want to be with them all the time, right?)?  And the guilt of being afraid of the judgment of said parents?

How much freedom do you give your kids?  When do you start giving them more freedom, and what freedoms do you allow?

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She Tried To Take The Leash

I think I missed an opportunity to experience something beautiful today.  Why?  Because I’m prideful and insecure.

With five inches of snow yesterday, school was canceled and today there was a two hour delayed start.  Since we’ve had the baby, Kullervo has been taking the kids to school in the morning, with a two hour delay, the responsibility fell on me.  The kids were ready for school, and with snow and ice and salt all over the sidewalks, it seemed obvious to me that babywearing an infant and pushing a reluctantly riding toddler in the stroller was not enough while taking the other two to school.  Clearly, I needed to bring the dog along.

There is a method to my madness-with this terrible weather and the snow and the ice and the salt, I haven’t been walking Dally like I was before the baby came.  It’s been too icy for Kullervo to take her running at night, because it’s even harder to avoid ice in the dark.  Also, he’s been crazy busy at work (if he still exists; I don’t know that I’ve seen him enough recently to be certain that he isn’t just a hologram or a wonderful dream that’s going to fade away).

So, this morning I put the dog into her face harness.  I have multiple harnesses and collars for walking her; my ideal would be for her to just naturally walk on a loose leash… her ideal would be to RUN! RUN! RUN ALL THE TIME!  I have a pinch collar that I’ve been training her with, and a face collar that annoys her to the point that she won’t pull.  Snow, ice, salt, baby, and toddler and all, I figured today wasn’t the day to train her, but get her some exercise.

So we walked to school.  The sidewalks were thankfully not too bad on the main road—in fact, they were perhaps oversalted in front of the schools.  I mentioned to the kids that we should have brought a brush and dustpan because there is a salt shortage in the stores, and our sidewalk is relatively treacherous.  (Sorry, neighbors.)

I kissed the Bigs and they held hands and trudged into school, stopping to pick up some clean snow to eat on their way inside. I convinced Henry to climb back into the stroller and turned around to head home.  I started walking home when Fitz’s hat fell off, into some slush.  No big deal, right?  I retrieved it, shook it out, and then attempted to put it back on his head.  But with my mittens on, I couldn’t get a good grip.  No big deal, right?  I just had to take my mittens off.

In order to take off my mittens, I had to unwind the dog leash from my hand.

As soon as I gave Dally some slack, she started edging away.

Henry decided it was time to stand up in the stroller and lean backwards, causing the stroller to begin to tip over.

So, I had a hatless infant, a struggling dog, a tipping toddler, and mittens tangled up in the leash.

I just needed a minute to sort everything back out.  To pull Dally back and get her to sit so I could re-mitten.  To instruct Henry to sit back down and make sure the stroller was steady.  To secure Fitz’s hat and put my mittens back on.  I could totally do it, it just needed some juggling.

A woman approached me from behind, and attempted to take the leash.  In the moment, I was confused.  I resisted.  I said I was fine.  She, wordlessly, attempted to hold onto the stroller.  I resisted. I said no thanks.  I sorted myself out quickly, and walked on.

I have seen this woman before.  In fact, to be honest, and to my current shame, I haven’t had the kindest of feelings about her.  She’s an older Asian woman who picks up her kindergarten grandson from school when I am picking up Hazel.  I see her regularly.  She doesn’t speak English.  And I have been certain that she has thought nasty things about me because she has fussed over me when I’ve had Fitz at school pickup—attempting to help cover him up with a scarf, etc.

I have assumed that she has been judging me, thinking that I’m incompetent or that I shouldn’t have a new baby out of the house or that I’m doing everything wrong.

As I was walking home this morning, though, I was imagining what it would have been like if I had allowed her to hold onto the dog, or push the stroller, and we had walked together.  I was thinking about how uncomfortable I would feel, walking with someone I couldn’t speak with.  I’m an awkward enough conversationalist that when you throw in a foreign language I’m pretty much dead on arrival.  But, then I started wondering what if I had let her anyway.  What if I had let a stranger help me shoulder the load?

I realized that the unkind thoughts I’ve had about her, and the assumptions I’ve made that she is judging me are all me and my own insecurities.  She hasn’t said anything—she doesn’t speak my language.  The actions that she has taken, that I assumed were assertive and presumptive—what if they were an older woman reaching out to a younger woman to help?  What if they were the acknowledgement of the challenges of juggling multiple children and responsibilities, and an attempt to lighten the burden?

I don’t let people help me.  I don’t ask for help, and I am very resistant to accepting it.  I like that about myself, but it has a flip side.  I am lucky because I have good, wonderful people in my life, and I’ve had good friends basically smack me over the head and help me over my protestations.  One friend once said, “I know you don’t need help. I know you can do it all on your own.  But I am going to help you anyway.”

I’m always surprised when people show up for me.  When people are willing to go out of their way for me.  Like, sobbing into my pillow at night surprised.  It’s clearly something broken inside of me that makes it so hard for me to accept it.  Something that, for all of my independence and can-do-it-all-by-myselfishness, I need to fix.

I might have missed an opportunity today.  I might have spent the rest of this year walking in companionable silence with an older woman from another country, someone who was gracious enough to try to help someone clearly juggling too many things.  Someone who was willing to put herself out there for someone else even though she couldn’t communicate her intentions verbally in a way that I could understand.  I might have gotten to know her over time, gotten to understand her, gotten to learn from her.

But because I’m too prideful to accept help, and because I’m too insecure to realize that people who offer help aren’t offering it because they are critical of how incompetent I am, I didn’t.  Because of that, I might have missed out on something beautiful.  At the very least, I certainly missed an opportunity to let someone else lighten my load this morning.

Now, in writing this, I see obvious tie ins here to Jesus Christ and to my Christianity and my willingness (or reluctance?) to accept His sacrifice for me.  I’ll leave that alone for now, and spend some time on my knees working on that.