With a year and a half of motherhood now under my belt, I have learned to appreciate my own mother so much more than I ever have. Not that I didn’t appreciate her, I always have, but I am quickly realizing how much a mother loves, worries, and is willing to sacrifice for a child – and she had 3! In this day and age, it’s hard NOT to worry. With the media constantly barraging us with horror stories of the every day death trap, fear mongering has become the accepted norm. I’ve read a dozen articles about mothers getting arrested for allowing their own children to walk alone to the park (free-range parenting). I’ve heard mothers judging other mothers for not hovering enough – what if he falls and scrapes a knee! I’ve seen parents stressing over which side of the car is the safest to (properly!) install a car seat (ahem, that would be ME). I’ve even had terrible thoughts about some kind of freak accident happening to my own son while he’s running around with my keys or a stick or a crayon. But there is a point in which we all need to take a step back and ask ourselves “what would mom do?” Because 50 years ago, parents were so much more likely to let their children be, well, children.
My mother loves telling me stories about when she was little. Her car seat consisted of a metal bar and more often than not, her and her siblings were rolling around in the back of the car playing “I spy” – or wrestling. An older friend of mine recently told me that when she was young, her parents took out the middle seats of their VW and stuck in a playpen for the kids to roll around in on long drives. Not that I’m advocating these things – I am perfectly happy with my properly installed, rear-facing car seat – but such stories can teach us an important lesson: to fear less and live more.
Even when I was young, at 7 or 8, I would take off on my bike and let the wind take me wherever it would go. I would leave the house in the morning, pop back in for an afternoon lunch, and head back out until dusk. I would play in creeks, catch frogs, build forts, climb trees, knock down wasps nests, make dandelion salads (that I sometimes actually ate), run amok in the woods, and feel alive all the while. I was told not to cross highways or play on train tracks or go too deep into the woods or climb too high a tree, and I was given the freedom to play within those boundaries. Allowing your child to have some semblance of independence and responsibility isn’t a bad thing – it teaches them to be independent and responsible. And sometimes someone did get hurt. A broken arm or leg, a stubbed toe, stitches, a black eye, a wasp sting. It would hurt, sometimes we would pay the price for our independence, and it taught us about consequence.
I fear every minute of every day that something terrible may happen to my son – I think that’s simply a part of being a mother. But I shouldn’t allow my fears to get in the way of my child having a fun and carefree childhood. Like I did. Like my mother did. I’m not going to stop him from chasing my dogs with a stick because “it could poke his eye out.” I’m not going to stop letting him explore the garden because he could trip over a stone, or play in the dirt because a bug could bite him. I’m going to let him climb and play and run and explore because that what a kid should do and I don’t want him to fear the world.
That’s my job.
I know all too well the dangers that are out there. I’m going to fear and hold his hand and hover. And then I am going to ask myself, “what would mom do?” And, after a few minutes of an epic internal battle, I’m going to let him go.
Please note: This is NOT free-range parenting vs. helicopter parenting since I think most of us fall somewhere in-between. It’s important to be wise, set boundaries, and understand the limitations of your child (my kid, for example, is not yet 2 so “letting him go” is pretty limited) but it is also think it’s important to let a kid be a kid (I’m going to try to hover less at the playground as he makes his way across the bridge and down the slide, but I am not going to let him run into the construction zone next door to ogle at all the “big tucks!”).
What stories has your mother told you about her childhood? And do they make you think twice about how you raise your own child?