I’ve been reprimanded by strangers about my parenting skills twice in one week. That, combined with this article (I’d be arrested for sure with the way Charlie scrapes herself up!) I found on the Free Range Kids blog, almost makes me want to throw in the I’m-teaching-my-kids-independence towel.
My kids are little, I get that, but I don’t want to hover around them! I do occasionally war with myself about this inclination I have to let them learn by doing. I sometimes have to force myself to stop before I go over and grab a free-roaming child in the store or when they attempt to climb a play structure in the playground I wish was just a little shorter. I’m not letting them play with things like knives (rocks and sticks, yes; knives, not yet) and I’m not letting them roam out of my vocal range (the oldest is only 4.5 but he and his 2-year old twin sisters are occasionally out of my sight). I hate to say it but I also have FOUR kids and I cannot give any one child 100% of my attention all the time, my attention is split between the four of them… does having more than one child make you incapable of keeping your progeny safe?
The first incident was in a Kmart store. I was a the customer service desk attempting to wait patiently for the woman in front of me to get her return story straight, all I wanted to do was swap out the wrong tops for the boxes I’d just bought. I had Pinky in the cart seat because she has a hard time following directions and I wasn’t looking to invite trouble or stress to my day for such a short errand (errands are hard enough with 3 kids in tow–Punkin was at preschool). Peanut was in the sling snuggled into me and Twinkle Toes was about 15 feet away looking at a display of toys. The customer service counter and the toys were on opposite sides of the main doors to the store. I stood, swaying with the baby, sideways, splitting my attention between the customer service desk (really trying to be patient as the baby started to fidget), Pinky chatting to me in the cart and Twinkles. I occasionally turned my head away from Twinkles for a moment and someone came through the doors just as I turned back towards her. The man who had just entered the store, hardly even slowing his pace, looked at me and said, “Is that your baby? Better watch out, someone could take her.”
I longed to call out after him and demand: “Are YOU planning on taking her? Is there a kid-snatcher convention in the parking lot I should be aware of???” I mean, what the heck? Am I not allowed to look away from my daughter who is 15 feet from me across completely open space to look down at the baby or my other daughter? Are people with more than one child supposed to stay home until the kids are over 18 years old? How was I being so negligent that he felt I needed a reminder on how to parent? Seriously, I need someone to enlighten me cause I just don’t get it.
A few days later I was reminded of what a horrible mother I am again. I took all four kids to the playground at the school down the street. I love that it’s in walking distance even though it isn’t my favorite playground ever for toddlers. Technically it was designed for kids ages 5-12, it says so on a sticker posted to one of the poles. Taking four kids under 5-years old anywhere can represent a bit of a challenge, taking three kids anywhere while I was heavily pregnant with the fourth was a challenge too! When the girls were about 20 months old and I was 7 months pregnant it was apparent to me that I could no longer chase them around the playground to ensure they didn’t fall off the many tall climbing apparatuses the playground offered. I could have chosen to stop coming to the one place we could walk to other than the cemetery (which we do go for walks in often, there is a pond down in back but more importantly I don’t have to worry about the girls getting run over by crazy drivers). I could have somehow only let one of my tiny daughters out of the stroller at a time (ha! that’s not even remotely possible!). I could have let them loose on the playground, closed my eyes and prayed. I chose, instead, to teach them how to climb up different parts of the equipment AND to help them realize when they were out of their depth.
Pinky is a fabulous climber though her skills are combined with a strong disregard for her own personal safety (she inherited that from me) and can be described as reckless. She will continue to climb even though I’m positive she’s going to crack her skull wide open (on mulch, really? why do I worry about that?!) but she almost never falls. Seriously, she’s like a mountain goat. At just over a year old she would climb onto our rocking ottoman and “surf”. If you tried to help her you’d inadvertently cause an accident but if you let her do it on her own she’d manage to drop to her knees safely when she lost her balance. The child is amazing. I’ve given many older parents and grandparents heart attacks by “not watching” her as she did something “horribly dangerous” and I kid you not that she only got hurt when people tried to “help” her!!!
Twinkle Toes is much more cautious and calculating. She’ll get halfway up a ladder only to decide it’s too scary and back down. I taught her that one because bursting into tears when I was on the other side of the playground with Pinky wasn’t working for my huge and cumbersome body a few months ago. She now knows which ladders she feels comfortable with and she knows how to back down all of them when necessary. It was Twinkles who inspired the angry command from a grandmother at the playground that day.
“Hey! Watch the baby!!!” I heard yelled at me from a woman on a cell phone who was watching a little girl around the same age (bigger but as it turns out only 3 months older) than the twins. I was sitting with Peanut who had just finished nursing–Wait, is it selfish of me and Peanut to nurse at the playground? Should I NOT feed him when I should be “watching” the other kids in case I need to run to them–I totally would run to them boob flapping if I needed to, I’ve done it in my backyard more than once! Anyway, I was sitting on a bench, holding the baby and talking to Pinky who was attempting a particularly scary (for me) ladder on one side of the fairly small playground. I was also keeping half an eye on Punkin who had made some friends and was playing football (apparently I need to teach him to throw) in the field off to the side of the playground. I wasn’t actually watching Twinkles when this woman yelled at me but I’d like to think I was still doing my parenting job.
Twinkles was halfway up a leaning ladder climbing up to the tall slides. She’s climbed this ladder a million times and even though her foot has slipped occasionally she’s never fallen, she knows to hold on with both hands and move her feet one at a time; she’s a very cautious and smart climber. The woman, phone in hand, was reaching out as if to catch her as Twinkles just kept on climbing. She was paying no attention to the woman other than to look a little annoyed that she was so close and she certainly wasn’t concerned about the fact that I wasn’t hovering beneath her. The woman looked at me like I’d lost my mind completely, letting my just-turned-2-year old climb that ladder. I casually called back, standing up shifting Peanut onto my hip, “She’s fine, she knows how to do it!” I ambled over and stood at the base of the ladder as Twinkles stands above us smiling triumphantly. The woman and I proceeded to chat a bit. She was taking care of her granddaughter (3 months older than my twins) Monday morning through Friday night. I tried to explain to her how I taught my girls to be independent so they could play on their own. She picked up her granddaughter and tried to put her on the same ladder Twinkles had just tackled and the girl put her feet on it but refused to lean forward and grab on with her hands, instead she leaned all her weight back on her grandmother who had to lift her up the ladder! I held my tongue. My girls are accomplished climbers and movers because I’ve taught them how to explore and know their limits and then given them opportunities to practice. This poor little girl couldn’t even climb a simple slanted ladder with her grandmother right behind her!
I don’t feel that extreme but maybe I am. I’m okay with that. I give my children opportunities to discover that they are strong and capable. I give them chances to prove both to me and to themselves that they can behave when they are apart from me (even if it’s only 15 feet). They know that they are able to survive without me right beside them and they also know that I’m always ready to support and guide them toward their goals. My trust in their abilities speaks louder than any words I could say. They have more confidence because they know that I believe in them and isn’t that what we all want to do for our children?
Everything is a risk. Everything, even breathing (air pollution is real and you never know when you might swallow a bug). I just refuse to let those tiny risks rule my life and direct how I will parent my children.
I think Dory from Finding Nemo had it right:
Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
You really can’t never let anything happen to them, then nothing would ever happen to them! Not much fun at all.