Safety Constipation

I know, I know. I am on a rampage here with this topic. But it is seriously beginning to bother me. Besides fascist parking ticket dude, a few incidents have made me sit down, grab a cup of joe and ponder the consequences of micromanaging our children’s lives in the name of safety.

I was at my children’s school the other day (that in itself is an anomaly- I try to avoid the place as much as possible, having actually already lived through 2nd and 4th grade) and was talking to another parent. Her son is in my youngest’s class and her oldest is in Grade 5. We were talking about how we both have one child who loves to stay after school and never wants to go home when we come and pick them up and how our other kid wants to be picked up early. She said her solution was to let her oldest walk home and then come and get the younger one later. I innocently asked how old the oldest was (not knowing he was in grade 5) and she started going on overdrive defensive mode. “He’s ten, but we live really close to the school and… he’s big for his age..and…”

It was like she thought I was going to call social services on her the minute she was out of earshot. Yes, I would like to report a mother who trusts her child to walk 2 blocks by himself.Please arrest her immediately, officer. (Which actually happened in the U.S.)

It turns out we are more afraid of what other parents are going to think then we do about the consequences of letting little Timmy walk home from school by himself, or God forbid, navigate the jungle gym without a helmet, knee pads, and mouth guard.

Case in point: I talked to a good friend of mine who has younger kids. She is way more paranoid about bad things happening than I am and even has big words to describe it: heuristics
And yes, I had to look it up- the best explanation I found came from a behavioral finance site. Basically it means the rules of thumb that we create out of our experience and the experience of others. The example she used was fear of flying. When someone says plane crash, we all immediately can think of one example. We hear about them more often than we do car crashes therefore we are more likely to be afraid of stepping onto a plane then into a car.
She feels like that about parenting. It is a little like what Free Range Parenting calls the Natasha effect- that Natasha Richardson fell and hit her head and now she is dead. This is of course seen as a “wake up” call for all parents of children who might have inadvertently hit their heads. We hear about it, we have an incident that comes to mind now, therefore it has now become a heuristic rule: they may seem fine but now you will never know. Better get them to the hospital the minute they fall of their bike, or just trip over their own feet.

But then we got to talking, and she confessed that her child is becoming a afraid of everything and overly cautious due to my friend’s constant admonitions: don’t climb the little cement embankement- it’s dangerous! Don’t walk on that ridge- It’s dangerous! Don’t… Well you get the idea. And then she said that, in an effort to let go, she let her kid climb the fence. As luck would have it, her kid found the only rusty bit and promptly cut herself.

What was my friend’s first reaction? Now we are going to have to go the hospital, get a tetanus shot and someone will call social services because my child got injured. She was not actually worried about the health of her child- it was just a little scrape after all. She was more worried about what other parents think.

So it would seem that we are our own worst enemy. How many of us feel like we are constantly being judged by other parents? How many of us actually think our children are ready for more responsibility, but neglect to give it to them because of what other parents will say? When did we forget that children fall down all the time and 9 times out ten survive? I totally made up that statistic, but it seems plausible, doesn’t it?

My friend is a great mother- she is patient, kind, smart and funny. She also has a demanding toddler and a small baby to look after,and is sleep deprived. I remember how that felt like when my kids were young and I wanted so much not to screw them up and was really tired and felt like people were judging me all the time- when my kid was crying, or if I brought an unhealthy snack to playgroup or if my kid wasn’t wearing a hat in the playground. There is nothing to make you feel more vulnerable, more exposed to public criticism then being the mother of small children (okay being Stephen Harper might lead to the same amount of criticism).

So I guess this is a general call to all parents: how about we stop sweating the small stuff and give each other a break? Let our kids make mistakes- have them hand in unfinished homework and suffer the consequences. Let them fall off their bikes and scrape their knees. Heck, let’s even let them see how it feels to cross the street by themselves. Chances are they will be better for it.

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One Response to Safety Constipation

  1. carrie carm says:

    your observation about your friend being a great mother is interesting — what makes someone a “great” mother? That’s a judgement call in itself. What makes someone a “great” father? It goes back to subjectivity. One person’s “great” might be another person’s “horrible”.Or, I often hear this: “she’s a good mom, for the most part, but….” and then someone will pass a judgment on why whatever parent is actually NOT a good parent.And then there’s the whole “you never really know what’s going on in someone’s life unless they tell you”. Plenty of people out there who are seen as “good” parents (as they present themselves to the world) do some really horrible things to their children.The sad thing is – when you say that when your kids were younger and that you felt people were judging you all the time — they were. They still are. You do it. I do it. Everyone does it. It’s part of being alive. You get judged for your appearance. You get judged for your level of education. You get judged for how your children are behaving — I’ve heard plenty of people say things like “god, why can’t she control her children” or similar unsympathetic things out there in the world about someone whose baby won’t stop crying or a toddler throwing a hissy fit.I think it’s a lovely idea to give each other a break. I just don’t think it will ever happen.

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