I’ve been thinking today about the cocoon we seem to default into as parents. The media has us hypervigilant, and social pressure from other parents, grandparents, etc., has us feeling that to invite risk upon our children is to fail as parents.
The first thing that got me thinking was a couple days ago, when my daughter, who is 7, was playing at the next-door neighbor boy’s house. His grandparents were there watching him (which is common – we know the grandparents pretty well), and I told my daughter to be home at 4:30. I just so happened to go outside at about 4:28 to take out some garbage, when I saw Lane walking toward our house with the boy’s grandma. I went and met them and chatted for a moment with the grandmother, who told me she felt odd about letting my daughter walk home alone so she decided to escort her. ”You never know these days!” she told me. Well, no, ‘these days’ there’s no more crime against children than there ever has been, historically. It was daylight, our houses are about 100 feet apart. It really, really, REALLY does not require an in-person escort to see my daughter home. I think it was thoughtful and sweet that she did it, but at the same time I feel such actions also convey a sense of mistrust to kids that they aren’t capable of these easy things. Her main motivation seemed to stem from the fear that some ill-intended creepy person might happen by and snatch her from under our noses. Well. The teaching of “Stranger Danger” is, by and large, a disservice to kids, and I refuse to indoctrinate my kids that way. Sure, I tell them if they’re lost who would be the best people to trust (in a store, for example, someone who works at the store, or another mom with kids). And, I have talked to them about behaviors an adult might engage in that should raise a red flag in their head (asking them to keep a secret, asking them for help to find a puppy, stuff like that). But I simply will not make them fear for their own safety every minute they are out of my sight for my own (false) sense of security.
Next, a quick conversation I had with my daughter’s bus company today. Again, she’s 7 – in second grade. The bus driver had told me once, a ways back, that it was “policy” that parents have to meet the bus. Well, OK… but really? Obviously it wasn’t set-in-stone policy because he never needed the 5th grader-at-the-same-stop’s mom to be present. Is there a cut-off? He refused to give me a clear answer. Well, I have a baby at home, and the weather’s getting cooler. I like getting my daughter off the bus, but with the baby it isn’t always practical or prudent or even possible for me to get to the bus stop (which is not far, it is across the not-very-busy street and one house down from us) every single day right at 3:18 p.m. I plan to inform him of this, that occasionally I may not be there and it is OK for Lane to walk home by herself, that she knows how to get into the house. (We have a door with an electronic keypad; she doesn’t even need to remember a key. Which, if you are considering getting one, do it. Tomorrow! It’s an incredibly awesome convenience.) However, I didn’t want him coming back at me with “but it’s against policy” bullcrap. So I called the transportation department to find out what the real policy was. Officially, I was told, only kindergartners have to be met by an adult to be let off the bus. However, I was firmly scolded, “there’s policy and then there’s common sense.” Yeah, well, common sense tells me that empowering my daughter to take care of herself on occasion in a low-risk situation is nothing but beneficial to her self-sufficiency and independence.
Then there was an internet posting I came across just now that lambasted the lack of risk to which we expose our children. They need to play outside (agree), engage in unstructured activity (agree) be allowed some independence (agree), and car seats aren’t necessary after a couple years, seat belts are just fine. Um, no, big fat disagree. I’m totally for letting kids be exposed to risk. They will get bee stings and scraped elbows and even a broken bone or two, and that’s fine. They might get scared from time to time, and that’s OK too. Everyone gets scared. But moving out of a car seat too soon, or switching from rear- to front-facing, that’s not an acceptable risk to me. Simply because there’s no real derived benefit. It might be a little more convenient, or maybe you can save a little money, but is there anything long-term that comes of it? In my opinion, absolutely not. My kids won’t gain any emotional benefit from not sitting in a car seat. My baby won’t increase her self-worth by forward-facing any sooner.