I noticed a common theme throughout our several back-to-school meetings and open houses.
Whenever possible, allow your children to advocate for themselves.
I doubt that my parents ever heard these words at my 6th grade Back-to-School night, let alone at the college admissions presentation for parents of high school seniors. I doubt your parents did either. So what has changed? And has it changed everywhere or only in upper/middle class suburban America?
I think to myself: They are not talking to you. You are not overprotective or overbearing. You have already learned, through three children, to allow them to use their own voices.
Yet, when I strolled through my sixth grade daughter’s schedule during Back To School night and noticed her paper hanging in the hallway – the very same paper that was given a zero and marked as missing in the online grade book – I was very tempted to pop my head into the classroom and quickly remedy the situation. I didn’t do it – I allowed Cheerio to handle it on her own – but I was tempted. It would have been easier. It would have made me feel better to have it all finished neat and tidy instead of letting that zero linger for the several days it took Cheerio to work it out.
I recently read this article from The Atlantic (It was published months ago but only recently came to my attention – Thanks, Tracey) titled The Overprotected Kid regarding the price children pay for our constant supervision and the benefits of allowing reasonable risks.
Just last weekend, Cheerio went to a local school carnival with her friends. She came home on a high – grinning from ear to ear and chattering away about all that they did. I couldn’t pinpoint, at first, what it was about this carnival made her so happy. I’m sure it was partly because CARNIVAL and partly because FRIENDS, but, after reading this article, I realized that it was mostly because NO PARENTAL SUPERVISION. She spent her own money on ride tickets deciding for herself how much another ride on the Drop Zone was really worth. She ate way more sugar than I would have ever allowed (another contributor to the high she was on, I’m sure). I received a text from her that read “I have had soooooo many sweets.” (Insert 5,342 emoticons here) There was a plan in place for them to text her friend’s dad when they needed picked up. I told her I wanted her in our door by 9:00. She arrived at 7:45. To me, it was a reasonable risk with great gains for her. I remember the first time her sister visited the local fair without parents present resulting in similar mile long smiles. I suppose autonomy makes us all a little high.
This paragraph from the article resonated most with me.
“But the real culture shift has come from parents. There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time the panic rises.”
In other words, we can’t raise them in a bubble, no matter how much we’d like to.
With two teenagers in my house, and one ever so close, I find myself floundering at times on what risks are reasonable and on what decisions are still mine to make. When my first impulse is to say NO to a request, I try to pause and ask myself “Am I denying them permission to protect them from harm or to protect myself from worry?” I am successful at this pausing and self reflection about 0.001 percent of the time.
Don’t get me wrong. My children enjoy a reasonable amount of freedom, though not as much as I did as a teenager (which could be a good thing). That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t benefit from a little more room to bloom or a few more natural consequences to their own choices. Nobody warns you when they are babies and you decide what they eat, what they wear, and where they go, that someday you have to hand control over to them, bit by bit, then bucket by bucket, and let them figure out how to deal with it. Sometimes, they don’t deal with it in the way you would and you very much want to yank that control back out of their hands but you can’t because that would cause more harm than good and your way isn’t the only way even though you are pretty sure it’s the right way.
You can only guide and suggest and nudge – but not too much – and…
Oh my goodness.
This is hard.
I like control, y’all.
(That felt like it needed a y’all.)
The other night, I stood at the back door urging, suggesting, nudging Cheerio along so we could get out the door to swim team practice.
Hurry up. Do you have your swim cap? YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE POOL IN FIVE MINUTES!
I could feel my blood pressure rise, along with the volume of my voice, with every tick of the clock.
When we were finally buckled into the van and pulling away from the house, she calmly says to me:
Sometimes you make things into a bigger deal than they really are.
She was right.
And I told her so.
Running late is never a good thing in my book. My book dictates that anything less than five minutes early is “running late.” But this is not my book we are writing here.
She has been given the tools to be on time. She knows the desired departure time and the chauffeur awaits. If she gets to swim class late and has to swim extra laps, if she forgets her cap or her flippers, that rests on her, as much as a blue ribbon in a race would be solely hers to claim.
She jumped out of the car with two minutes to spare, just enough time to remove her coverup and don her swim cap.
It really wasn’t such a big deal.
I am an imperfect parent raising imperfect children in an imperfect world. The responsibility for their happiness, their education, their punctuality, and even their safety is moving ever so quickly from my shoulders to theirs. I hope that this beautifully flawed world shows them more love than hate, more kindness than apathy. I hope they choose to see the good and to be the good. I hope that by the time they set off on their own, we have given them some of the tools they need and enough freedom to develop their own.