I find myself finally feeling a little bit mainstream. More hip, progressive even. Like maybe, if I share my parenting (or lack of parenting) tips with a group of moms, maybe now one or two others will nod their heads in solidarity.
What I’ve always believed about parenting is not radical. And it’s not even super smart. I haven’t written any published pieces or books about how-to. I’ve read enough though. Enough to tell me that you can listen and learn from other parents stories and beliefs. And then you do what works. For you. For your kids. For your family.
When our first boy was born, my husband and I knew nothing. We were college educated, caring people who both had worked with kids for a living. But when you hold a seemingly fragile and tiny (well, he was 9’6 birth weight so,) being in your arms, you kind of lose your mind. The extreme sleep deprivation and chaos a newborn throws your world into is not for the timid. Still, we pressed onward.
There have been two other boys added to our increasingly crazy group since that time almost twelve years ago. We’ve read (well I read, Mark listens) all the books, articles, toy recall notices; and listened to friends’ and strangers’ advice. I am thorough, if nothing. What we learn are all tools we use to add to the structure we are building called family. Little steps in a how-to manual that we are writing as we go, some a breeze, some earthquake intensity, about raising individual human beings. And ourselves.
Drinking my cup of (so-so) coffee, I stumbled upon this article while flipping through sites in my Saturday morning brain fog, looking for something to catch my attention. (Did you know there is another social media site called “stumbleupon”? I think I signed up on it, but left in confusion. Which I don’t need to stumble upon.) The article? Let Your Kids Ride the Bus Alone .
Okay, so you’ve got my attention Lenore. The further I read, the more excited I became. I knew about this from another article. It then dawned on me (that’s the coffee working) that I had discovered a similar article this spring. And then, there it was. I happily clicked and went on to scan the original. And then after I finished reading her follow-up article, I found a special bonus link to a blog with a quirky cool name!
I remember the first time I read the initial article printed in the New York Sun. It stirred something in my parenting heart, something scary and exciting, not like fear. More like, bravery. You see the thing is, if you are right now a parent, and you’ve had a child within lets say the last decade and a half or so, most of you are probably scared out of your mind. Each and every day.
We have articles, blog posts, adverts, magazines, the friend in your (whatever) group; all informing us to BE AWARE!! There is DANGER around every corner. Your children are AT RISK every time they leave your home. And don’t forget the TEN THINGS LURKING IN YOUR HOME THAT….”
Is some of this necessary? Of course. We crave direction and guidance, appreciate a heads-up. And in a society where we often live separated by miles, if not time zones, from our families (the traditional source of parenting dot com) we turn to friends, the internet, and printed word to find out how ‘everybody else is doing it’. And how effortlessly, stylishly, patiently, don’t forget happily, they are doing this parenting thing.
My generation (X~holla!) comes by all of this guarded uncertainty honestly. We may not really know how to do life, but we are smart enough to look for help. While we hope the future will be better than we can imagine, we’ve seen too much and are prepared for the worst.
We grew up with our own reality stories. They were just packaged differently. I remember all the stories of kids being abducted, and I watched every After School Special! (You know you did too). The 1980’s and ’90’s hatched the generation of the latch key kid. Kids with two parent or single parent homes who had to work, or had the choice to work. Kids who were coming home from school with keys in hand, or breaking in through windows when they forgot. Maybe that was just me and my two sisters.
We had plenty of live kooky TV to watch, even if it was re-runs, and endless “NEW!” easy to open and consume snack foods. If you were extra lucky you had Atari, or Nintendo, or friends in your neighborhood to whittle the hours away, until mom or dad came home. We are the ones you hear talking longingly about how we played outside for hours and our parents didn’t know where we where! We rode without seatbelts! (to be fair, it wasn’t a law). We could actually feel the wind blow through our helmet-free hair riding our bikes!
Most of us have been described as “helicopter parents”, usually in derision. But think about this: our childhoods molded us to be independent, strong, responsible. And to be very wary. Couple that with today’s massively accelerating technology changing the very ways we live and interact, well, maybe you can understand why we are so protective of our children.
We want to let our children do as we did, to experience the great parts of our childhoods, but we have to make every day choices that seem impossible. Send my son to the park on his own to meet a friend? Or send him with his brother so there are two of them? Let my son ride his bike on the super busy street up to the quik stop on his own? Or trail him? Not check on my three boys when they have been outside forever and the sun has gone down? Or just wait, a little bit longer?
I cannot emphasize how hard it can be to do what I want to let my boys do, to be free, to be little boys, but in the smartest, safest way I can think of. While I respect the vast majority of parenting styles, all the constant patrolling of our kids schedules, schooling, choices and even ‘free’ play time is unappealing, at best. So, where does this leave me?
A few weeks after the start of school, the front door opened sooner than I anticipated, my third and sixth grader were home. “Wow, your bus was early today!” I said, really thinking, I’m not ready for you guys to be here yet!!
“Oh, we walked home!” my two triumphant boys explained, sweaty, hot and eyes shining.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, slow down here, why? And the other thing is, you didn’t ask permission.” I thought this was a very calm authoritative response. I learned that.
“Mom, I tried to call you like three times on his cell phone, but you wouldn’t pick up! Our bus was super late, and our (neighborhood) friend asked us if we wanted to walk home, so I got Liam and we did it!” Haden declared.
“Oh. That’s what those hang ups on the phone were. You’re right, you did what we ask you to do when you’ll be beyond our yard.” I was stumped.
As I let the story sink in, what really hit me was the boys faces, their newfound confidence, their swagger if you will. That is not something we can teach through coloring inside the lines of a map designed to control and contain. And it was then that I kindly set aside everything I had learned about parenting.
Something’s got to give.
I believe in freedom, in learning by doing. In creativity and curiosity. And that in knowing who we are, and who’s we are gives us access to all of that and more.
I believe we are each created with our own remarkable DNA designed gifts for us alone, that we are made to share. My boys need to know this.
I believe that love combined with grace; in words, actions, consequences, and living produces the best soil for those gifts to grow.
I believe that I do not know best all the time, even most of the time, and that I am still learning how to do this growing thing. Why would I treat my children as if they are less, for not knowing how to do this?
I believe that sharing my mistakes and victories, and being vulnerable, instead of masquerading an amazing invincibility, gives others courage.
So, thank you Lenore, for sharing, and for reminding me that I am brave too.
My cup of coffee is cold now, and all this thinking has depleted my caffeine reserves. Think I’ll head to the kitchen for a refill. And then maybe I’ll look for my boys. It’s Saturday, and I have no idea where they are.
And then again, maybe I won’t.