My kids love riding over the Seven Sister hills. You know the ones… out on Beck’s Mill Road. Those hills “get your tummy” every time, kind of like a tame roller-coaster ride.
I remember the thrill of those hills from my childhood, too. Only, I wasn’t strapped into a child’s car-seat. I wasn’t strapped in at all. I remember standing up in the back of grandma’s LTD and feeling that amazing sensation while trying not to bump my head on the ceiling. It was a different time.
My seven year old finds it hard to believe that we didn’t have car-seats back then. When I tell her that we didn’t even wear seatbelts, she looks at me as if I just told her that dinosaurs were still roaming the earth back when I was a girl. I’m not completely ancient. Really, I’m not.
Those “good old days” were fun, but I sure am glad we use car-seats and seat belts these days. I witnessed an accident years ago, in which a big van and a car collided. The van was full of children, one was a baby, and not one of them was wearing a seatbelt. Thankfully, the injuries were limited to broken bones, bumps, and bruises. Had they been wearing seatbelts, those kids might have walked away from that accident rather than getting their first ambulance ride. Wearing seatbelts does matter. These days, I wouldn’t consider letting my kids ride without a seatbelt.
I want to keep my kids safe. I think all parents do. We start preparing before they are even born. We put plugs in all our outlets, research the safety of cribs, and we move all of our dangerous chemicals out of reach. Some parents even buy foam bumpers to cushion their coffee table. These are good things, but sometimes I wonder if we go too far in our pursuit of safety.
Mom and I were sitting on the porch swing watching the kids play the other day. The kids were playing nice, but some of their “dare-devil” antics were worrying me. I suppose I told them to be careful a bit too much, because my mom told me to quit fussing at them. Now, I’ll admit that I’ve been a bit on edge lately. My baby boy has made not one, but three emergency room trips this year. The boy is accident prone. All the stitches and hospital bills have gotten to me.
The more I think about that day, the more I wonder if there isn’t a happy medium between the super-safety-parenting of today and the rather laid-back-parenting of days gone by. I want to keep my kids safe. I’d do just about anything to keep them from experiencing pain. Safety is good, but it comes with a price.
In keeping them safe, will I steal the joy of learning to ride a bicycle? I cringe every time my boy slams on his brakes leaving a 20 feet long skid mark, but I do remember the joy that comes from riding fast. Should I keep my children out of the woods so they don’t get poison ivy? I could, but then they wouldn’t know the fun of building lean-to houses and hiking. Playing in the creek can be dangerous, too. But if I don’t let them play there, how will they know what the clear, cold water feels like on their feet? How will they find crawdads and watch turtles sunning themselves? I would hate to let the dangers steal the joys of these good, childhood experiences.
I guess the hardest part of parenting is knowing that I have to let them go. I’d like to keep them safe in a secure little world. I’d like to shelter them from every storm, work out every frustration, and give them all that they need. I can’t do that, no matter how hard I try.
I guess we just have to balance safety with letting our kids live their life. Little by little, we give them more freedom. When they are big enough, we take the gates down and let them walk up and down the stairs. We let them swing on the big swings at the playground. We stand back and let them work out some of their own problems. Eventually, we let them go out and play in the yard all by themselves. We get brave enough to let the make a few mistakes. Someday, we’ll even have to let them take the keys and climb behind the wheel.
There is a heated debate raging right now between the “helicopter” or hovering parents and the “free-range” parents. One side advocates close adult supervision and super-safe environments. The other side is pushing back, advocating free, unsupervised play. I find myself somewhere in the middle. I want to keep my kids safe, but I don’t want our generation to be the last to experience the freedom and joy of running through the woods without adults to interfere in our play.
It’s so hard, letting go. I don’t suppose I’ll ever feel comfortable watching my girl swing upside down from the trapeze bar on the swing set or seeing my boy pop-a-wheelie on his bike. Guess I’ll just keep hovering in the middle, teaching the kids to be safe and giving them the freedom to play and learn. Driving over the Seven Sister hills is just as much fun while wearing seatbelts, after all.