is raising children a low-risk business?

Growing up, I lived on a quiet and affluent street where the houses were spaced at least an acre apart.  The houses were nestled in the woods and each backed up to a park.  So when I made best friends at the tender age of 5 with the little girl up the street, I knew I’d spend much of my childhood trekking back and forth between our houses.  And when we weren’t walking back and forth between our houses (a good .25 mile), we were hiding out in the woods, building forts – complete with a “tree” – named in honor of my large yellow labrador retriever.  We would walk down to the stream behind my house, and even when we were a little bit older (10 and 12  – maybe) cross a rather large street to go buy candy at the gas station a good mile away from either of our houses.

No parental supervision involved.  I know – SHOCKING!

Now, I know what you must be thinking: negligent parents. Didn’t someone call social services? Am I right?

Or perhaps, this sounds something like your childhood, too?

It is hard to understand how much childhood norms have shifted in one generation.  The Atlantic recently published an excellent article on the subject, The Overprotected Kid.  “Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One…study…conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower.”

Why have we gotten so risk-adverse when it comes to parenting that we won’t even let our kids walk to school by them selves?  It’s no longer socially acceptable, and potentially illegal? And why has is seemed (especially recently) that the government has something to say in every situation?  A few examples: working mom arrested for letting her chid play at the park and a woman whose kids were taken away by the state (and subsequently returned) after she let them stay at home.

This has really started to bother me since I view a large part of my job as a parent to teach my children to be independent, resilient and ultimately strong little people.  You fall down; brush yourself off and get back up.   No one has given you anything to do; make your own fun.   You see there is work to do; pitch in and help.  As a kid playing in the woods, I had massive freedom at a young age and learned responsibility.  I didn’t depend on my parents for fun nor were they apt to sit around and provide it for me.

Last week I took A., C. and our dog to my parents house.  I convinced them to go on a “walk” around the house with me (basically amounts to tromping around the woods).   We all took a big step and stood on a cliff that looks down towards a ravine into the aforementioned stream.   A. shouted “MOMMY!! LOOK OUT!! YOU ARE GOING TO FALL!”  I calmly reminded her that I wasn’t going to fall, and if I did, it would only be about 4 feet.   I also pointed out the stream to her, and told her when I was a little girl I used to walk down there.

“How did you get there?!”

“I walked”

“But HOW??” Incredulous.

“I just went through those trees in the woods” (there was clearly no path)

“Oh.” pause. “Who did you go with?”

“Friends.”

Silence. As if contemplating how I would dare to make such a treacherous journey with friends.

We walk a fine line between over-parenting our children and teaching them to be independent self-reliant individuals.   At the playground, I let my kids fall.  I let my almost-2 year old climb to the top and follow her sister down the big slide. And I don’t hesitate to let my children go un-watched in our house (parents, of course, still in the house – just not actively watching).    By allowing my children to take reasonable risks, I allow them to gain experience that builds confidence (C. doesn’t even let me help her any more) and instills resilience which is essential later in life.

My parents allowed me to take those same reasonable risks as a child.   No one called social services on my parents because they lived in a nice house on a nice street.  And  it was a different time in parenting.  Kids could play outside for hours at a time unsupervised at a reasonably young age.  Many parents don’t have options for quality child-care in the summer; and they have to work. Period.

State law in South Carolina – where the mother was arrested for leaving her 9-year-old unsupervised on a playground – criminalized leaving a child at “unreasonable risk of harm affecting the child’s life, physical or mental health, or safety.”  But the law doesn’t say what unreasonable risk is.  Is that risk leaving a child unsupervised at a playground? Letting a child eat three big Macs a day at a McDonald’s? Letting the child drink a super-large soda in New York city? Letting her ride in a car?   

Has parenting gotten too risk-adverse?  And who is to decide what a reasonable risk is for a child?  Me or my government?

What do you think?  What was your childhood like and how do you, did you or will you raise your kids?  I’d love to hear your comments below.

 

 

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a minivan milestone

Yesterday we reached a milestone.   A BIG one.  We traded in our uber-cool Audi Q5 (bought in Germany no less) for a – wait for it – a minivan.

I loved our Audi.  LOVED it.  J. was the one who wanted to buy it, originally, but I was the one who drove it the most. And I loved the hatchback, the German-made specs, the sexiness of the car – everything.  But squeeze two huge car-seats with two kids, two adults, and a dog in it – and well – you don’t have much room for anything else.  And the car definitely isn’t sexy anymore with the smell of kid feet and squashed Cheerios on the carpet.

I’ve long protested the fleet of minivans everywhere I go.  I think they are hideous and I much prefer SUV’s (for their coolness, clearly).  But SUV’s don’t have doors that magically open with a click of a button; they aren’t a few inches off the ground; and they don’t allow for multiple small people to easily get in and out of the back (esp. when they can’t buckle themselves in yet).

Our shrinking space became readily apparent when we tried to go on two road trips this summer and I sat in front while trying to hold an iPad with my left hand (no entrainment system in our uber-cool German car) and boxes of crackers, juice and toys stuffed at my feet while my kids yelled at me.  I was done. DONE.  Sign me up for the soccer mom brigade.  My GOD there has to be a reason these things are EVERYWHERE in our Harris Teeter parking lot, right?!

So, as we bought our minivan, I got to thinking what other milestones I’ve hit recently that made me seem older.

1) Becoming a talk-radio junkie.  I have the WAMU 88.5 app on my phone (NPR) and it’s one of my most used apps.  It’s the only thing I listen to in the car (if the kids will let me) and if I’m lucky, I can play it in the kitchen while cooking (that’s when you know you are really getting old).   In fact, I’ve found that I’ve started to find the TV sensory overload and the radio relaxing.  Hello, grandma.

2) Attending a fundraiser/party and being one of the oldest in the room.  I recently attended a party for my alma mater and was easily one of the oldest in the room by 15 years.  Realizing that I was older than all the graduate students by a good 5-7 years was just the cherry on top.

3) Sitting on a nonprofit board.  I just attended my first board meeting tonight and it does seem like that’s an older person thing to do.   Now I just have to figure out what a 501c3 is (just kidding, I googled it).

4) 7 AM seems like sleeping in.  In fact, I’m in a FANTASTIC mood if my kids let me sleep in until 7 AM.  If my college-age self read that, she would be sitting in shock.  Wait, no, she would be sleeping.

So, next week I’ll be driving my new minivan.  Black with dark interior.  At least I can try to make my mini-van sexy (a girl can dream, right)?

 

everyone’s a judge

A few days ago a friend and I were at the pool with the girls when we noticed a mom struggling with her daughter. The girl was 4+ and had the same name as C. so EVERY TIME she said her name, of course, I couldn’t help but whip my head around like someone was on fire.

The mom was desperately trying to get her daughter out of the pool. She had used up all the tools in her proverbial “mom bag”.  She had yelled at her, pulled her out, threatened her and – the little girl was unfazed. The older C. was obstinately playing in the pool and wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what her mother said.   In fact, every time her mother lunged at her to grab her, the little girl giggled and ran to the other side of the pool.

Pool-mom: “If you don’t get out in one minute, no books tonight.”  Giggles. “If you don’t get out right now, I’m GOING TO TELL YOUR FATHER.” Giggles, swim, swim.  “If you don’t get out right this second we are NEVER COMING BACK TO THIS POOL EVER AGAIN.”  Giggles, giggles, swim, swim.

Ugh. My heart ached for this mother.  I’ve been there. I feel you. I SEE you. I KNOW you.  I AM you.

C. and A. are both children who – at one age or another – would have run off with a perfectly good stranger if it meant that they could have stayed at the playground for a few more minutes.  Threats bounced right off of them.  For C. they still have no effect.  Most times I have to pick her up, throw her over my shoulder kicking and screaming as we leave the playground, only to push her into her car-seat so she doesn’t squirm out and try to run back to the playground.

This is EXHAUSTING and embarrassing.  Some days I just want to give up; give in.  Throw everything into one huge crap pile and say “YOU WIN!”  Stay in the pool, for all I care!  I’m going home to have a margarita and watch a movie.

So pool-mom I didn’t say anything to you that day, but I looked at you with sympathetic eyes (I tried to make them as sympathetic as possible) as if to say, I KNOW you.  We have BEEN there. Us parents have ALL been there and felt judged as a bad parent and a terrible person.

And as we walked away from the pool that day, my friend said: “Did you see that mom? She didn’t have control of that little girl at all. And that little girl was older than your kids.”  Her judgement of the pool-mom sat on me like a wet blanket.  My friend had forgotten what it was like to be pool-mom.

Don’t get me wrong, my friend is AWESOME.  She is also like majority of people out there that often find it too easy to cast judgement.

I do it too.  I judge the way people look.  The way they treat their bodies.  The choices they make, and sometimes even the things they say.  WE ALL play judge and jury.

But as a parent, who has struggled with managing my own insecurities about being good enough for my kids, I impeach us to put down our gavels and exercise bit more empathy.  That mom who can’t stop her kid from screaming in the airplane? Offer her some help.  The dad who can’t get his kids to be quiet at dinner? Offer him a smile.  Remember how hard it is to raise kids to be adults with value; and how important it is too.

It’s so easy to judge.  Our capacity to offer up compassion for other people is bound only by our imagination to realize that we are all trying our best and we have all been there, in one form or another.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments below.

 

 

packing for little people

Sigh.  I remember a time when all I needed on any trip would fit in one of those beautiful small wheely suitcases.  I’d pack a few hours before, swing all my belongings effortlessly into a cab, run into the airport, stand in virtually no security line, and ease into my airplane seat.  And then a few minutes later, a nice stewardess would serve me free drinks and food.

Am I dreaming or did I see that in a movie somewhere?  I swear it happened.

We are leaving tomorrow for a road trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania for the Fourth of July weekend and I’ve barely started packing for our family of four.  That’s not like me. I usually start packing days ahead of time.  But at this point I’d rather dream of someone else doing the packing while I sip my coffee.

For me, traveling is an exciting adventure.  But one of the things that makes it a nerve-wracking and anxiety-wrenching activity is packing for the girls.  All the crap they need befuddles me – the double amount of clothes, the diapers, the wipes, the toys, the snacks (C. is a walking eating machine).  And then the complete unpredictability of their nature (did I mention my princesses were actually cavemen in disguise?)  I used to try to pack for every possible scenario – and then when the TSA patted J. down for a sippy cup with apple juice I just HAD to have, I decided that I probably could get by with a bit less.  Lets be real – I was being neurotic.

So when it comes to packing for our family for any travels, I stick to some basic rules:

1) You can never have enough underwear and/or diapers.  Really, this needs no explanation.

2) You can never have enough dry food. Sure; I’m all for trying experiencing new food in different places but there is something great about always having a reliable graham cracker nearby in case of a toddler meltdown.

3) Apps are your friend.  I download a few new ones every time we travel.  Yes, I’m that mom whose preschooler has taken over her iPad.  Go ahead, judge me.  I also bought these toddler headphones and my 4 year old freaks out when she gets to wear them.  We can sit her next to complete strangers as long as she gets to wear her headphones and watch a movie.

4) Be selfish. Always pack a magazine for myself; on that very slim off chance I may get 4.5 seconds to read something I most certainly don’t want it to be the in-flight magazine.

And unless I am going backpacking in the middle of nowhere (and that certainly doesn’t sound like something I would do) – there are going to be stores where I can buy things.  Like extra clothes.  Or A.’s favorite sippy fruit snack.  Or the soundtrack of Frozen theyjusthadtohave.

So I guess can relax.  And leave the packing until, well, a few hours before.  Now I’m going to have another cup of coffee and pick out my magazine.