Parenting in fear. It's a new phenomenon. It's all the rage. Don't climb stairs (you'll trip and bang your head). Don't run (you'll fall and break a leg). Don't choke (better yet don't eat anything that doesn't melt, so you won't risk dying). Don't use a fork (too sharp). Don't touch (anything, anyone, and kissing? That warrants a haz-mat rinse down!). Never cross the street (you'll just get hit and die). Never go barefoot (bees, tetanus, germs!). Just point and I'll get it for you, it's much safer that way. Plus you'll never hate me. Just smile and I'll give you the world, then there won't be any therapy in your future and I"ll forever be the cool mom. I'll even chew your food for you.
Before anyone gets their panties in a twist, let me preface this by saying that I saw myself this way for awhile, when Kian was about 6 months to 15-16 months. Almost a year of fearful parenting. He could only eat organic foods. No high fructose corn syrup (ok, so that's still a goal). I walked behind him, following him every second to make sure he didn't put anything in his mouth, didn't get touched by strangers, handed him whatever he pointed to, tried to be oh so fun, exposed him to all the developmentally appropriate toys and activities, did an ASQ monthly to make sure he was developing according to schedule. Sometimes I still do some of these things, but it's not the obsession it used to be. It doesn't take up my life like it used to. Why? What happened? A few things. Kian became a toddler, and a strong-willed toddler at that. I had to adapt and he became faster than me. One day at Wegmans while I was picking out oranges, he grabbed an apple from the seat of the cart and began eating it (about 15 months). Gross that it hadn't been washed, but I figured it wouldn't kill him. (It didn't.) That month he also fell on the driveway and got a gash on his head, despite me doing everything "right". The next month, he ran into a corner at daycare and split his forehead open. Guilt, lots of guilt. Everyone saying "he's a boy, boys will be boys". I began reading more about this fearful parenting, remembering my own childhood, and began thinking "why should I put my kid in a bubble?". And so, I don't. Besides, that waiting on your child hand and foot, 24/7? It's tiring, annoying and teaching them unrealistic expectations of the 'real' world.
(Already assume responsible parenting with necessary safety precautions before continuing reading, okay? Good.)
One day I read this article at work. I was shocked. This mother let her 10 year-old ride the subway in NYC, alone?! Crazy. But, after (days of) thinking about it, and comparing it to my own experiences, it was parallel in a lot of ways. Would I let my child ride the subway in NYC? No. Why? Because we're not "city people". We (Kevin and I) don't even really know how to ride the subway! (We walked all over Toronto in effort to avoid confusing ourselves, ahem embarrassing ourselves.) We're country folk. But, in the same token, I recall playing outside alone for hours. Walking up the creek for hours, no adults. Occasionally, we'd get the "you still there?" yell from mom, tell her yes and go about our business in the woods. Walking to the beach. Riding our bikes down the roads. Climbing trees. Taking care of a horse and goats inside an electric fence at 10, 9 and 7 years old...while mom was in the house. And on and on.
I have so much to say about this topic, that i think it will evolve into several posts. I don't want one post to be too long. What I've been rediscovering, and trying to make Kevin discover is that parenting in fear (our fears, the child's fears, or using fear to elicit behaviors) is just wrong on so many levels. Who creates these fears? We do, in ourselves; greedy, money-hungry companies do; media does, etc.
Companies now convince us we need special outlet plates and covers, breathable bumper pads (I only own one because it was the ONLY brown one I could find, so there!) mesh baby feeders so babies don't choke, latches on toilets and cupboards, ducks to tell us how warm the bathwater is (what's wrong with your hand?) the list goes on and on. It's nuts.
We fear that CPS will be called if our child screams in a store (someone might think we abuse him!).
We fear embarrassment and humiliation in front of other parents (they think we're too hard, too soft, can't control our kids, etc.).
We fear our kids (if we don't give them everything and do everything for them, they might not like us).
We fear society (kidnappers, rapists, etc.). Statistics show that strangers are least likely to kidnap or abuse your child; most kids are harmed by people they know. The reason we hear about abductions? Internet, news, tv, etc. Years ago you didn't hear about the one child in California that was kidnapped and killed because by the time it go to NY it was old news. We can just spread the fear a lot faster nowadays.
We fear harm, germs, disease (a fall, a scrape, a chipped tooth, H1N1, etc.). But that's just part of being a kid.
My goal is to let my kid be just that, a kid, and to let natural consequences show him the ways of the world. An example of that is yesterday we walked around Black Creek Park for a couple hours. We put on old clothes and we let Kian tromp through the mud and woods with us. He loved it, was absolutely in heaven. He played with sticks and leaves, attempted to catch a few snakes, and much more. When he got too close to the ravine we told him to walk on the other side of us. When we got to the pond, we told him to stay back from the edge so that he wouldn't fall in. (It's small and shallow, but still cold and muddy.) There were a few water holes that led into the pond, here and there. We warned and reminded him to look out where he was walking for these holes. Well, being not-quite three, enamored with the pond, and just not paying attention, he falls into one of these holes. His leg and arm on one side got all wet and muddy. He wasn't that upset. In fact, Kevin was more upset about it then Kian or I were. He said that we both should have listened and not let him fall. Excuse me? I am not going to control my child like a robot every second. And guess what? Next time he will be more careful where he steps, won't he? I expect him to get dirty, to fall and get some bumps. To be a boy. A little water and mud are easily washed off. But building confidence in himself, to make his own decisions, to accomplish things, to let him see he is capable, to not shy away from difficulties, to not be afraid of the world or everything in it, to not hold him back, it's freeing both for him and me, and builds a lot more character and determination than my preaching at him.