Article first published as Are we Protecting our Children or Stifling them? on Technorati.
Photo from http://www.inhabitots.com
My First Thoughts
- I live in a fearful society.
- People are judging how I raise my kids, and I’m not meeting their standards.
- Wow! Our culture sure has changed a lot in 30 years.
When I was 5, I remember going to the park by myself, walking myself to and from the YMCA for swimming lessons, walking to the corner store by myself to buy candy, and riding the city/public “Dial-A-Bus” to 1st and 2nd grade. Once we moved, I rode my bike to and from school (by myself) from 2nd grade until junior high.
Still OK? Apparently not. Unless I want to be charged with child neglect.
As for judging how others raise their kids? I received a spanking on a street in Manhattan outside of the Russian Tea Room. Not a single person said a word or batted an eye. Granted I don’t remember this happening, but that’s the way the story was told to me.
Still OK? I doubt it. But again, this was Manhattan and New Yorkers are really good at minding their own business.
The most drastic change? I remember quite clearly the paddle hanging from the wall of my elementary school principal’s office.
Still OK? No.
By the way, before I go any further – this wasn’t 100 years ago. OK, maybe I’ve been 29 for a few years in a row now, but for such a drastic swing in our culture? It’s been a relatively short period of time.
Those of you that know me in real life, know that I value independence above almost all other traits. Let me put it this way…if I founded a religion, Independence would be in my 10 commandments.
I believe independence builds problem solving skills and self confidence. It teaches us to rely on our abilities to figure things out, make a plan, and accomplish our goals. It teaches us to value ourselves, to act to improve our lives, and to take responsibility for our actions. Clearly, I was raised to be independent. Throughout my 37 years – um, I mean 29 years, I have enjoyed my independence and the confidence I developed because of it. I cannot think of a single negative to having a high level of independence.
Now that I am a parent, I have reflected on the values that I want to instill in my children. One of the ones most important to me, is encouraging independence and allowing my children the freedom they need to grow and learn and explore the world. I want to give them the space to gain confidence in themselves and their decision making abilities. As I’ve said before, flowers can’t grow without sunlight and children can’t grow without freedom.
Yea, yea, yea – this all sounds great. But what does it mean? To me it means:
My 6 and 8 year olds walk to and from the bus stop by themselves. My 6 year old rides his bike or walks to his friend’s house in our neighborhood – alone. My kids play outside without my supervision – yes, even the 2 year old. Last week, I let my older two kids (6 & 8), ride their bikes 2 miles to the library and I drove and met them there. I know many of you may be cringing when reading this. I understand there are different parenting styles. This is mine.
Is it working? Are they self reliant?
My six year old knows how to make Ramen noodles and Macaroni and Cheese by himself (stove, not microwave). He has packed his own lunch since kindergarten and runs his own bath. He certainly puts his own clothes away and brings his dirty clothes to the laundry room. He also earns an allowance by doing chores and spends his money on gifts for his siblings, parents and grandparents. When we are in a store (ex: Target or Grocery store), he goes to the bathroom by himself and then finds us when he’s done.
My 2 year old gets drinks for herself and snacks. She moves chairs around the kitchen and house to get tall enough to reach what she wants. She picks out her own clothes and dresses herself. Usually those clothes are inside out and backward. Often her idea of matching and most of the populated world’s don’t agree; but, I grimace and take her out in public anyway.
So, what’s the problem?
If something happened to my children, I would never forgive myself for not protecting them better. If my kids were hit by a car or abducted I would never forgive myself for the freedoms I allow my children that opened an opportunity for them to be hurt or kidnapped. It doesn’t have to be a major incident involving evil or irresponsible people either. Tragic accidents happen all the time. I would be just as guilt ridden as Tiffany is because her son almost died in a golf cart accident last year.
I know I can’t keep them from living in an effort to protect them from the “maybe”, but if it were MY child that was that 1% statistic, it wouldn’ t really matter to me that 99% of the time it is fine.
Are you as confused on where I stand as I am?
For me, the most interesting part of the article was the comments on Free-Range Kids, because they were so incredibly divisive. And frankly, that reflects how I feel internally too. I have chosen to err on the side of giving them more freedom rather than less, but hope I never have reason to regret that decision. It is something I think about on an almost daily basis.
What are your thoughts on this? How do you balance independence and safety?