Living Columns & Blogs

Over cautious or sensible?

There has been a lot of talk recently in the blogosphere about how we as parents are over-cautious with our kids.

Stifling them even.

As a little girl growing up in the '70s, I remember going to the playground across the street from my house (while my baby sister slept and my mom was home with her) by myself to play the summer before I started kindergarten. I was so excited to walk across the street by myself (with my mom standing on the step watching me) and walk three to four houses down to the elementary school and go onto the playground, which was out of view of my house. It was a monumental outing for me. I had my Snoopy watch on and knew that I had to be home when the big hand was on the six. I did it myself and was so very proud when I walked back home. (I spent a good majority of my time at the park watching that big hand so I wouldn’t be a second late.)

My son is about six months away from that exact age that I was when I made that trip, and I certainly don’t envision him doing anything of that magnitude anytime soon. Is it that I am so much more protective than my parents generation? Or is it that my son is just so not ready for that? Probably some of both, but heavy on the first.

I realize how much more I did on my own as a kid growing up in a town about the size of Richland at the time. I am trying to recall at what age I walked to the Mini Mart two blocks away with quarters to get candy and occasionally a quart of milk for my mom with my little sister in tow. I don’t remember my age, but I am sure it would be viewed as irresponsible behavior now. (And my mom was anything but irresponsible with us.)

This fills me with mixed feelings, actually. I keep hearing my head chastising myself for being so overprotective, so safety oriented, so determined to not let my kids grow up anytime soon. All this while my heart tells me to hold tight to them while I can and reminds my head of all the horrible things that can happen.

The other day, my son saw a boy (probably two years his senior) cross a busy street near our house by himself, and we both marveled and showed concern. He asked me if that boy was scared and where his parents were. I emphasized how cautious the boy was and that he was a little older than himself and knew exactly what he was doing.

We are exactly a half mile from friends’ houses who have children my son’s age. One block, then cross that busy street and then a few blocks in a pretty straight shot. My son recently commented that we are actually very close to them now that we have moved. I agreed and suggested we should walk to their houses this summer.

Surprisingly, my son responded with fear and his lower lip quivering.

“Mommy,” he said, “I wouldn’t know how to get there, and I would get lost and be afraid.”

I felt horrible for a second as I explained that WE would have to walk together to their house. But I went on to tentatively suggest that maybe next summer or the summer after next once he has learned to ride his bike, that he could ride to their houses to play.

I thought back to when I was a kid and used to walk or ride my bike to my friends’ houses who were in actuality, farther in distance. I envisioned myself walking him down to the busy street while I watched him cross safely, then he would ride the sidewalk straight to their house and I would get a phone call (probably at about the same time I walked back in my door) saying he had arrived without a problem from the friends.

He wasn’t OK with that either, and I quickly abandoned this train of thought with him after realizing it brought fear and not something to look forward to.

“Only when you are ready to do something like that by yourself,” I told him as I felt suddenly relieved that I wouldn’t have to mentally prepare myself for that step anytime soon.

As parents, we know our kids best. My mom knew that I was mature enough and confident enough to go to the park by myself. My son doing the same thing? Not going to happen, but at the same time, he lacks the maturity and self-confidence and -- most of all -- the desire to venture out alone.

The day will come soon enough when I am fighting to keep him close. I will follow my heart right now.