We originally intended this installment to be about our thoughts on the “free-range” parenting movement versus the “helicopter” approach to having our kids out in the world. While we do touch on those ideas here, we ended up going a bit deeper than that. We’ll hope you’ll read our thoughts and then share yours.
Editor’s note: Today’s feature is the latest installment of our parenting column written by two Richmond mothers: Patience Salgado (veteran mother of four gorgeous children), and Valerie Catrow (a parenting rookie who has only been doing this “raising a child thing” for a little while). Check back fortnightly to watch them discuss/agree/disagree/throw down over all kinds of parenting issues, Richmond-related and beyond.
Today’s topic: We originally intended this installment to be about our thoughts on the free-range parenting movement versus the “helicopter” parent approach to having our kids out in the world. While we do touch on those ideas here, we both ended up going deeper than that. We’ll hope you’ll read our thoughts and then share yours.
I must tell you, I am a classic worrier. The truth is, I was one long before I had children. I’m not sure how the fear of things crept into my heart but it seems my mind can imagine all the worst possibilities in a flash of a moment. Even with all the doom and gloom, I have always had a strong desire to conquer and push past them. It all gets sort of gray though when I think about my kids.
When I first read about Lenore Skenazy and how she let her nine year old ride the subway by himself, I was kind of inspired. Lenore found herself in a media storm super fast and before she knew it, she was leading a movement of redefining this aspect of parenting. She proposes that we absolutely should value safety, but challenges us to consider that maybe we have gone too far as a society? Do kids really need a security detail to be outside? Can safety and independence exist together for kids?
For years when I think about walking somewhere as a kid or teenager, I have had this instant image of a hound dog dressed in a trench coat reminding me as a kid to not take candy from strangers or walk up to cars I didn’t know. There was a feeling that I could be taken at any moment, abduction being a very real possibility. An article on NPR about Christine Barnes, the author of the The Paranoid Parents Guide, revealed the top five worries of parents are:
2. School Snipers
4. Dangerous Strangers
However, the she also points out that the research shows that children are really hurt or killed by:
1. Car Accidents
2. Homicide (not usually by a stranger but by someone the child knows)
So how did we get to the place where we are so afraid to let our kids walk to the local library? Is is one too many CSI shows or scary news stories in our everyday lives building over time? I know I have the tendency to helicopter parent, but I agree with Lenore. I think in the process of trying so hard to be good parents, we may have lost some of our common sense. My 10-year-old is pretty responsible and capable. There are probably lots of things he can do and try that I have not yet allowed him to because of my own fears. So now I take my own baby steps as a parent, to let my kid experience all growing and life have for him.
“Do you have him?”
These words are spoken between my husband and I on a constant loop when we’re out with our two-year-old. It’s just our shorthand way of saying to each other, “I have to do [XYZ] and cannot give him my full attention, so please be on your game.”
In addition to possibly finding it pretty obnoxious, some might think we do this because our son is only two. A toddler. A creature best described as a large-headed, unreasonable (yet adorable) tyrant who seems determined to injure himself. But it’s not that (or just that, I should say).
The “Do you have him?” chorus has two origins:
1. We would hate to be thought of as “those parents” who aren’t watching their kid. He’s our child and we think we need to be the ones keeping tabs on him. We don’t want anyone to ever feel burdened to keep an eye out for our kid if we haven’t specifically asked.
2. At least some amount of fear – more mine than my husband’s. He has his nervous moments, but his brain doesn’t automatically go the worst case scenarios like mine does.
I realize that this sounds quite “helicopter parentish” of us, so I’ll add that we try to never interfere in what our son is doing when he’s out in the world. We encourage him to try new things, and we’re definitely of the “A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet” school of thought over the “Stranger danger!” approach. We just prefer to keep him our line of vision. And if we can’t see him, we make damn sure we know where he is and who he’s with. I know the odds of something happening to him are slim, but for my own sanity, I need to be in the know when it comes to my kid.
There’s an Elizabeth Stone quote that’s referred to ad nauseam, but it’s worth mentioning here because it sums up this whole parenting thing for me:
“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
Yes. That’s it. That feeling of vulnerability is exactly it for me.
Ever since having our son, I’ve become more aware of the social contracts that make our world go ’round. While we are not defenseless by any means, when we go out into the world, we’re saying “Here I am. I’m going to do my thing and not harm you. I’m trusting you’ll be doing the same thing.” Or in the case of my son, “Here is my heart. Please don’t hurt it.”
I don’t want you to think that I spend my days tearing out my hair in fear of what the world will do to MAH BAY-BEE. That’s not the case — we’re out, we’re having fun, and our son is thriving. And I understand that most people ARE just going about their business. In fact, many of them are also completely willing to lend a helping hand when asked (and sometimes just out of the goodness of their hearts). Nothing has ever happened to us to suggest otherwise.
And yet here I am, working (and sometimes struggling) to find a balance between giving my child the space to find his way in the world and taking my role as his protector extremely seriously. I’m not suggesting at all that those things are mutually exclusive, but it’s tricky for me to honor both roles simultaneously and equally.
So where do I go from here? I’m really not sure. Do I feel like I’m doing something wrong? Not exactly…but part of me thinks I do focus too much on the “What ifs?” and not enough on the good stuff. I wonder what he might be missing out on, if I’m holding him back. But I’m working on it, which is the best any of us can do. More than anything, I want to make sure we’re all enjoying this incredibly brief period of time we do have him with us.