I was thinking last night about the things that are going to be different for Annabel than they were for me when I was growing up. There is always one of those lists that goes around at the beginning of each year that names the different items that will soon be history, like VCRs, encyclopedias, and rotary phones. One day Annie will say, “And then to do a class paper you had to look up a President in a book?!” And I will say, “YES, and the information was always wrong because the book was out of date!” and she’ll just look at me, uncomprehending.
But other than that literal stuff, I do wonder if I am going to be able to let her experience things the way I was able to. Obviously some of the things that went on when I was a kid are not things I would want Annie to do. She’ll wear a helmet when she’s on a bicycle (I could have avoided so many head injuries). She will not ride in the back of a pick up truck on the freeway OMG. My grandmother used to leave my brother and me in the car when she went into the grocery store, which is now illegal in a bunch of states. We LOVED the people-watching in the grocery store parking lot. We’d make up stories about all the people walking to and from their cars. I would never leave Annie alone in my car…she’d figure out a way to drive off without me.
Beyond the walls of my parents’ yard there are expansive hills with climbing trees, and I used to disappear for hours into them, returning home only for meals. My friends and I would spend hours up there unsupervised, and while we were good and trustworthy kids, now all I can think about is how many people out there aren’t good and trustworthy. I don’t know if it’s because of my loss or the fact that Annie is only two so I can’t picture it, but the idea of letting her go off into the woods for hours without an adult sounds insane to me. Even though I had the time of my life up there. Even though my friends and I were all fine (except for the time Tara got shot in the stomach with a BB Gun, but that’s a story for another time).
When I lay awake at night (thanks, insomnia), I worry about how I am going to let Annie grow up to be independent with her own experiences while still somehow keeping her inside of a carefully constructed plastic bubble that will protect her from everything forever and ever. It’s early and silly to worry, but I see myself in her, and I know she’s going to want to climb the trees and play outside for hours, and I need to start preparing myself.
Sitting in her own seat, by request.
But she can’t ever go in the back of a pickup truck on the freeway, never ever.
I think some of it is the fact that we ‘know’ so much more these days, thanks to 24hr news. The internet has opened up a whole world, filled with good and bad.
But I have 2 kids. I was a wanderer and so was my husband and those traits have been passed to my kids. My son, now 16, could never be tied down leaving me in constant worry as he disappeared for hours at the age of 5. However hes now 16 and if hes not learnt by now he never will! So he packs a bag, nicks some food (and pans and cutlery) and wanders off into the country park.
My daughter on the other hand is 8. She allowed to walk to the local shops with a friend (no roads to cross) and ride round the block (calling in every 10 laps so I know shes not under a car!). I think we have the balance right with her at the moment but it wont be long before she wants to go to Brownies on her own and the main road worries me. And she will never do any of this in the dark!
I do think though, if I’d lost a child as you have, I would be a little more hesitant to let them loose. I think thats a natural reaction to want to hold your precioius things closer still.
I have an 11 year ok and I can tell you it cam be nerve wracking at times. She wants more independence and freedom and I just keep thinking about all the little girls I’ve heard of that were abducted at age 11 &12… It seems like every famous abduction case is of a little girl that age, probably because they were given more freedom to roam the neighborhood and walk to school. It is a very hard balance to strike.
That should be 11 year old…not ok.
We sometimes forget that the world is a safer place than it was 20 or 30 years ago. But the internet makes news so accesible, and the media loves to sensationalize those stories that hit closest to home. I think it’s easy to think the world is a scarier place, but you just know more about the world, and have lived through more than when you were a carefree kid. I have a 10-year-old, and an 11-year-old, and it’s a constant struggle with keeping them safe and allowing their independence. Am I too restrictive, or not protective enough?
Off topic, but I LOVE her hair!
Good for you for even considering it! I hear so many parents say that they will never leave their child out of their sight when the kid is 5, or, 9, or 13, or….The fact is, the world IS a much safer place now! It seems hard because she’s only 2, but someday you will be able to let go. And you will worry a bit, but you’re a mom! Mom’s are supposed to worry! When Annie is an adult, she’ll thank you for that freedom.
I always say i wish I could have raised my kids in the 50’s it is too scary today
That email just circulated my office yesterday!! I love reading it b/c it reminds me of all the things I loved about childhood (rollerskating backwards down a hill with no helmet, playing chicken with the curb at the bottom, drinking from hoses, and yeah, I LOVED the back of the pick up truck!) There is so much I wouldn’t let my own kids do now…it stinks! I think being a social worker has made me more paranoid than most b/c I know the dangers out there, in my own community. So, we allow freedom when we can, and its not so bad when we have to say no to the other stuff.
Pick up Lenore Skenezy’s book, Free Range Parenting. She also has a blog about free-range kids. It’s very eye-opening.
YES! freerangekids.com, I believe. Do this!
Yes – an amazing book. At the very least, reading it has made me stop and evaluate the real risk in a given situation. Once you realize that there are imagined risks (that statistically are way less of a risk then you think) and real risks (like being afraid of the world and not feeling safe in your own community) it’s easier to make balanced choices. It’s definitely a good read.
Jen R. says:
Yep- exactly what I thought of first. I haven’t read her book yet, but I read the blog often- very worthwhile.
I lost my first son shortly after he was born, when my next son was born I had to consciously and constantly talk myself out of wrapping him in a protective bubble. He went off for hours in the woods with a gaggle of best friends, okay it was on good friends private property and there were people working on the farm who would wander off to check on them periodically. They would ride around on the horse and dig giant holes to make forts, they slept in the barn and essentially jumped in the pool to bathe. He’d go there for the whole weekend sometimes (without me!) It was difficult and scary if I let my mind go there. He went of to boarding school for high school, I let him because I didn’t want to be over protective. It was difficult and scary, but I never let him know how scared I was. When he learned to drive I learned I could force panic and fear down if I tried really, really hard. Now he is in college and playing rugby. Talk about fear! I just smile and cheer him on from afar, oh and go down and take him to the ENT when his nose gets broken, It’s tough but we survive parenthood even when we know loss, we have no choice. I adore your blog, I found it recently and have read all the Maddie posts. I have cried my heart out for your loss and mine, you say so much of what I still feel 21 years later. Please know you are sadly not alone in your loss and grieving.
I struggle with this one. My five year old is pushing for more independence and I have to fight back my own fear and let her go more on her own to do things. I’m still there, just not as close by. Although, I highly doubt I’ll ever kick her out the door and tell her not to come back until dinner like my parents.
I think you have to balance the benefits with that one in a million…10,000…whatever chance of something bad happening. Letting kids ride in the back of a pickup truck (and yeah, I did that) or ride a bike without a helmet is unnecessary and stupid. One accident can change everything forever.
But letting kids go off on their own some has a lot of benefits, like raising a child who knows how to get by without her parents, has an imagination, isn’t entirely dependent on electronics for entertainment, can make friends without forced play dates and likes to be active. Lots of benefits there to stack up against the one in how many million chances of kidnapping. Sadly, most crimes against kids are committed by family members or trusted caregivers, not strangers.
This is so true, benefits vs. risk. I really fear that our culture is heading in a direction in which risk is all that matters–if you can even imagine a bad result, however far-fetched, then don’t let your child do it. That does ensure a little more safety, but it also ensures a very small life. And what’s scary and sad is that *something bad could happen anyway.* We can’t control everything. Heck, we can’t control *most* things.
And I’m talking to myself here. When my husband I go to the park, I have to close my eyes when he lets our not-quite-2-year-old walk over the shaky bridge by herself or go down the big slide by herself. I know she’s entitled to some independence, but if my heart had its way she would be permanently suctioned to me slathered with a coating of bubble wrap.
I think you and Mike are doing an amazing job already, Heather. You of all people have the right to try to shield her from every risk at any cost, and yet you don’t. You’re giving her a full life rich with experiences. I think you’re courageous, selfless, incredible parents.
I did a lot of those things as a kid (playing for hours with the kids in our trailer park, or riding in the back of my dad’s pickup truck on country roads, etc). And now, I cannot even fathom the thought of letting my 3.5 year old do those things when she’s older. IT.FREAKS.ME.OUT. We’ve come along way, and now I live in a very nice family-friendly neighborhood where kids ride their bikes together all the time…and I still can’t imagine letting my daughter do that without supervision. Maybe it is because our girls are still so young…I don’t know. But like everything else in life, I suppose parenting is a balancing act.
I did some stupid crap when I was a kid and it scares the HELL out of me, now that I am the parent. I thought I was invincible; when in reality, I was actually very lucky.
Holy cow, I could’ve written this exact post. I worry about this every day for my 3-year old little girl. Let me know when you figure out the perfect balance between letting her be a strong, independent person and bubble-wrapping the heck out of her on a daily basis. Thanks in advance……..
I can totally relate. Even though mine’s only 3, I worry about the same stuff. I’d like to keep him wrapped up and protected, but let him be independent and explore and wander…how do I prepare myself? How do I let him go just far enough out of my reach, but where I can grab him if needed? Parenthood is tough; I try every day to find a balance and it seems I never do…
Hard to believe that most of us lived through our childhoods, isn’t it?
Once while at the grocery store with my Nana, (we always begged to go inside! you never knew what treat you might miss out on…) we watched a car roll into a car parked at the grocery store, and then slam into the building. The lady behind us had left her kids in the car, and they had taken it out of gear, to say that the lady freaked out is an understatement. We were not allowed to stay in the car for a long time even if we wanted to after that.
I wonder this same thing every single day. I can’t imagine ever leaving mine home alone! Or trusting her to go on a date with a boy. Or anything else, ever.
Can I just say that I am SO jealous of Annie’s hair? Love it!
It’s hard, but you have to give them that space. Especially outdoor space. Thinking about life while sitting in a tree as a kid helped make me who I am.
It’s really, really, really hard, though. I can still see it in my own mother’s eyes, and I’m 26!
My oldest is 8, and I struggle with this so much. We do spend a lot of time at my moms because her house is on an acre, and my uncle lives next door on two acres.. all on a dead end, dirt road. I feel so much safer letting the boys go outside and play without having to hover over them. My dad owns the house we live in, and its the house he lived in when I was growing up. I spent hours outside with my friends, exploring the bay and its creatures, building clubhouses, rollerblading, bike riding, etc at the same age my oldest son is, but I just can’t let him go off and explore on his own, not yet anyway.
You wondered if your loss affected you more and I think it probably does. My mom was (and still is) very worried about us, and had a hard time letting us even spend the night with friends. She lost my sister when she was 6 weeks old, and she always said that it was hard enough to lose a child she never got to bring home and make a part of daily life, so she couldn’t imagine losing one of us and the void it would leave. I never understood that until I became a parent, and I can’t imagine going through such a loss.
Sonya aka Glam-O-Mommy says:
I worry about this all the time Heather. I pretty much had the same kind of growing up experience you describe with lots of freedom to roam. However, that came to a halt when I was 11 and living in Nebraska because two children my age in my school district were abducted and murdered in a three-month span. The 20-year-old man was caught after he tried to abduct a third child, but our community had been on lockdown and things were never the same after. I had nightmares about that man for a year. Probably because of that, and because I watch too many true crime shows, I’m pretty focused on keeping Sophie in my sight at all times. We don’t let her out in the yard without us. I freaked out and screamed like a crazy lady in December when she ran away from me at Sea World and was out of my sight for about 10 seconds. Now she’s only three anyway, but I just don’t know when I will feel that it will be okay for her to be on her own and be safe to go around the block without me or out of my sight someday. Probably never!
It’s so hard, isn’t it Heather? Times ARE different!!! A child I once taught was abducted & murdered 3 yrs ago (her trial is on now). I must admit, the day Tori went missing was the day my own children lost some of their independence b/c this was hitting just TOO close to home for me. Plus, the fact that little girl was literally chosen by her MONSTERS before they even committed their cruel, sickening crime makes me even MORE protective of my children.
Like yourself, I am TRYING to find a reasonable solution when it come to my kids and their independence. I don’t want to scare them but they heard me weep when I learned about Tori’s fate.
I guess the best thing we can do is educate ourselves abd our children the best we can as well as giving them the tools they’ll need be street smart & protect themselves. Hopefully with all of that & a little bit of luck, we’ll all be protected & feel safer!!
Jenn~Just wanted to say how sorry I am to hear about your student…I was a teacher and can’t imagine something so horrible happening to one of my students! (Never mind then thinking about your own family!) I lost a couple students to tragic accidents but cannot imagine what this was like for you.
I saw you had to testify..my heart breaks for you and this girl’s family/friends/community. My thoughts are with you as this trial goes on.
I don’t have children but I am overly protective of my nieces and nephews and cannot imagine the day when they are old enough to want to strike out on their own a bit instead of with their hand securely tucked in one of ours. I like what you said in your last paragraph. Giving them tools & preparing them is the best gifts we can give them.
My plan: Have a GPS chip implanted into my daughters head. That way, I can follow behind her in the woods and be all knowing/sneaky sneakerson. But really, it is so sad that she will never do the things I did: own a horse; ride said horse ALL day long ALL over my vast neighborhood from sunrise to sundown hopping from one friends house to another (we all had horses, how spoilt we were!); riding in the back of pick up trucks w/ friends on many road ways; playing in the woods all day long; exploring unexplored swamps in my neighborhood, riding all terrain vehicles. All while being unsupervised and not having a care in the world. Now I freak out and start barking: AVA, AVA! if she gets an aisle away from me at CVS. So GPS chip implant is the only way we will all survive. And with the world going how it is, these chips should be available within the next 2 to 3 years from my guestimation at any CVS near you! Get a flu shot and a chip implant all in one visit! God I hope so! Lisa
Sleeping Mom says:
This isn’t as bad as a pickup truck, but my cousins and I would cram into the trunk of a hatch back and play patty-cake or other ridiculous hand games, sans seat belts of course.
I’m a balance of hands-free and protective bubble. So long as the vicinity is safe, then I pretty much let him run amuck, but if there’s potential for danger, then I don’t allow it. So no patty cake in the trunk of a hatch back for us!
I too think that it’s because of the information age that we are so scared to let children BE children. There are no more bad people today then there was now, we just know about everything that happens all over the damn country. But technology has it’s perks. Cell phones! And even though I only came home for meals (stayed home after dinner) we traveled in groups. Always a buddy. Hell, my brother and I used to swim across a BIG lake to get to swim practice. And we did all of those things you mentioned and more. Even when we were pretty young because my Dad died when we were 4 and 5 respetively and my Mom had to go back to work.
Were we lucky? I dont think so. I think that all the stuff we hear about now were things that happened every day around the country. But the news stayed local.
I was the type of child who would wake up and run outside until it was dark. At my mom’s house I would roam the (small) town. At my grandpa’s house I would disappear into his woods. It was wonderful. Now that I’m an adult it is terrifying to think that my children will one day want to disappear for hours. I have a large imagination and “what-if” about situations, which isn’t good in this case.
Honestly, though, I believe the world is safer now than it used to be. We just know about what happens more because of technology. Twenty+ years ago, when we were kids, there wasn’t an instant feed of all the murders, kidnappings, etc. that occured. Could kids get hurt on their own? Of course. But I think the independence and things they learn on their little adventures are worth bursting that little bubble.
Arg, I was a timid child and lived incredibly tamely well into my twenties but I STILL can’t imagine letting my kids do the things I did–wandering all over town alone, staying home alone at night, going to the park alone, etc. True, my kids are growing up in NYC and I lived in a suburb, but still …
Leigh Elliott says:
I think about this stuff so often. One book that I enjoyed on the subject was “Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skanazy. She has a blog too, free range kids. Food for thought
I love that sweet baby’s hair! Why can’t grown ups have highlights like that??
It’s such a struggle, isn’t it? When I was 8, the age of my daughter, my mom basically told me and my younger brother to be home by dark. We would roam the neighborhood on our bikes playing with our friends and generally being good kids – but occasionally getting caught up with the not-so-good kids until dinner time. My kids will never have that. Of course, we live in the city and there are no cul de sacs and green belts, but still. I feel kinda bad for them because I know what that freedom feels like – but at the same time there is no way i could let them go and roam like that unattended in today’s world.
I hear ya, sister.
Just a wrote a post myself on this very topic. (http://atheistmom.com/2012/03/29/free-range-parenting/) Thought you might be interested.
Expat Mom says:
I think about this all the time. When I was small, we lived on 60 acres of forest and fields, with a river running through it. My mom would pack me a sandwich and I’d head out in the morning and not be back til dark! My sisters and I used to climb trees, play in the junkyard of old cars up the hill and wander through woods and play in the spring runoff. It was awesome!
My kids will not be able to do that. Partly because there are no open spaces where we live and hidden mines in some areas up the mountain from us where there are trees and space. Partly because I’m a paranoid parent. That being said, I do try to let them have freedom. My 6 year old goes for tortillas by himself at noon, sometimes taking his brother with him. I let him go with his 9 year old cousin to the shops down the street (we live in a tiny town) and get the boys to do things like run to another aisle to get me things in the grocery store. I force myself to bite back the paranoia and let them do stuff because otherwise they will never grow up and become fearless adults.
I left home and traveled alone to Guatemala at 22 and only now do I realize how absolutely terrified my parents much have been! I’m fully aware that my kids may do the same, so I’m preparing them to be as independent and able as possible!
Rita from the Chicago says:
Heather – I totally know what you’re saying. I saw something about that movie Bully on the Today Show and all I could think of was how am I going to possibly protect my son from mean, mean kids at school?? He’s 19 months old and I worry about him taking a school bus and being picked on and being called names. I know there were bullies and mean kids when I went to school, but it seems so much worse now….sigh.