It seems that my seven-year old son is craving more independence each day. But I’m having trouble figuring out how to balance his need for freedom outside the house with my desire to keep him safe.
Some days I feel too overprotective. Others I feel the opposite. What makes it harder is that many of my friends and I have diverged on this topic and our rules are different. We all have children of the same age, though the kids have differing levels of maturity. Some also have older siblings they can do more things with. But overall it comes down to plain old parenting styles.
When a gang of kids are all playing together, it’s hard to explain to my seven-year old why, for example, he can’t ride his bike without me watching while some of his friends can. I decided to get the opinions of other moms and barraged a group of friends with questions on the matter.
“I really think it is up to the child to PROVE to you that they are ready for the responsibilities that you are pondering,” says one mother.
A friend who says she gives her child more liberties than many other moms, tells me that her son, “Can cross the street alone and walk home from school with a group of older kids.” He’s a sensible, mature boy and she’s “tested him by watching him... when he didn’t know I was watching him cross and I see that he does pay attention.”
Another mom feels differently. “I think I will naturally become comfortable with my child crossing the street without me watching him when he starts showing me he is actually looking both ways. Is that too much to ask for?”
I feel the same way. I don’t yet trust Daniel’s instincts and understanding of cars and their danger. I’ve watched him cross the street and not look both ways. I’ve also seen him careen into the middle of the street on his bike, not noticing oncoming cars.
“I think ‘comfortable’ is the important word here,” says a friend. “As a parent we have to feel ‘comfortable’ with our decisions” regardless of what our friends are doing with their kids.”
I don’t exactly know where my comfort level lies. I let Daniel walk to friends’ houses if they’re nearby and on the same side of the street. And he can sometimes play in the front yard with other kids while I’m inside, but I usually end up out there too. I don’t know where the line between overprotective and safe lies.
Which brings us to another point. It’s not just our kids we need to trust. It’s also the fast drivers and the scary people who might want to hurt them. One mom who lets her daughter play basketball alone in the driveway but not ride her bike to a nearby out of sight cul-de-sac says, “I have that pending sense of doom in the back of my mind that something terrible will happen if I’m not there.”
I know just what she means! A friend who calls herself protective says, “My kids always say I don’t let them do anything,” “But you are the mom and you decide,” adds another friend. “I am a very conservative parent. I believe in a controlled independence.”
A mom on the other side of the fence disagrees. “They want freedoms. You cannot protect them from everything. And if you never let them try, they’re never going to gain independence.”
I truly respect all the women I spoke to as parents. Strangely, I also agree with all their differing opinions. This is why I’m finding this particular issue so difficult. Overall, we are all trying to raise kids who will be independent, who will make the right choices and decisions in life. But at the same time it’s our job to keep them safe. As with most parenting decisions, I will muddle my way through and, hopefully, keep my children safe and happy in the process!
Lauren Menis is a Dunwoody mother whose column appears in The Crier each month. You can reach Lauren at Lauren.Menis@gmail.com