Parenting doesn’t come with a set of rules, which was something that bothered me a bit when the kids were younger. If I just knew for sure that this would turn out alright. Am I doing this properly? All of my decisions around the kids seemed fraught with enormous potential long term implications, and there was no way of knowing how it would all turn out. I am my daughter’s mother, and like her, I’ve never been all that comfortable without a clear set of rules to follow.
So I read a lot of books, scrutinized the methods of parents that I admired, but to what seemed to me a scary degree, had to follow my gut. As the kids got older, and as they started seeming like they were doing alright, it got easier. I had set up a bit of a system, I had expectations for behaviour in place, and I was comfortable with where I fit on the laissez-faire to authoritative spectrum. We were coasting.
Now, as the older two enter adolescence, I’m once again faced with decisions, mostly related to how far to let the safety rope extend from home base. How much “freedom” to allow the kids as they begin to explore worlds increasingly outside of their parents’ jurisdiction. There’s that push/pull between wanting to keep them safe, and wanting to give them as much room as possible in which to make their own choices. And like in toddlerhood, there’s no concrete way of knowing where to draw the line.
The Folk Festival was a good example.
I allowed Tee to run free all day, which he loved, and seemed ready for, but each time I bumped into a family I know with kids Tee’s age, I noticed that the kids were with their parents and I felt a twinge of concern. Was I possibly being a bit lax? Was I being irresponsible? What if something happened to him and I wasn’t right there? Those thought bubbles kept popping up and making me uneasy, even though my gut was telling me that I was doing the right thing. He was at a large music festival, surrounded by crowds of strangers in wide open spaces, so there was a potential for him to get lost, or maybe to have an unsettling encounter and my reflexive Stranger Danger radar was beeping madly, but I fought down the impulse to keep him by my side, because I think that I would have been doing it more for my peace of mind than for his safety. There’s always the risk to reward ratio to consider, the learning potential to weigh against the possibility for harm, and in this situation, if I looked at the situation logically, it was actually a pretty darn safe place for a nine-year old boy to test himself. It was hard to go for more than a few minutes without bumping into a familiar face, I had a “home base” set up for us all to return to, and he and I crossed paths often enough for me to have a fair idea of where he was almost all of the time. Besides the great music and all of the junk food, it was the thrilling sense of being on his own that Tee loved about being at the festival this year. He’s a capable boy, and I was giving him the message that I trust his decison making ability. He was the happiest kid in the world. If he’d been with me the whole day, we’d have been at the same festival, seen the same things, and eaten the same food, but he’d not have been as happy. He was ready for this step,
Just like R was ready to volunteer at the festival this year. He worked a four hour shift each day, and the festival site is about 20 minutes out of town, so we agreed that he should take the shuttle bus there and back. The first day, got a ride there with a friend, and returned home with a different friend’s family, but he left around 5pm and didn’t walk back through the door till after 1am. He had a cell phone, I knew I could contact him, and I know he’s a smart kid, but it was still a bit unsettling to know that he was such a long way from home at all hours of the night. I guess it comes down to knowing your particular child, and trusting that they have the resources necessary to make decisions that keep them safe.
When the kids were small, I let them take physical risks on the play structure. I now let 7 and 9 go to the playground (together) without me. They’re allowed to ride their bikes to friend’s houses down the street, as long as they phone me when they get there. L, at 12, is allowed to roam our neighborhood as long as she’s with a friend, and as long as I know where she’s heading and how long she’s expecting to be gone. Some parents I know allow none of these things.
I think that I may be on the More Freedom Sooner end of the spectrum than many parents in my circle, but it feels right for who I think my kids are. It’s that gut thing again.
I don’t have any pictures of Tee to go with this post, so here’s a shot of the flags that some of the festival kids made in the craft tent. I think that one of Tee’s is flapping on that line.
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