Ask any parent, what is their biggest responsibility and they would answer keeping my child safe. When you hold that little baby in your arms for the very first time, your instinct is to protect them at all costs. You may even whisper in their ear “I’m never going to let anything happen to you.” This is certainly and required while they are infants, but as they become mobile, the definitions and boundaries around keeping our kids safe starts to change. If you think about it, as they grow and start to explore our grip on their safety should start to loosen. Instead, we hover over our children, never leaving their side on the playground or while riding a bike or playing with a friend. We think that if we are not watching them at all times, we are being careless instead of diligent. In fact, you may look at the picture above and think – why is she riding out on that road all alone? The road is so narrow, how will a car see her? Where are her parents? And finally - I would never allow my daughter to ride on a road like that!
In her book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success”, Julie Lythcott-Haims discusses modern parenting’s concern for child safety, specifically the fear of “stranger danger”. She quotes a study done by the U.S. Justice Department, where in 2002 an estimated 797,500 children were reported missing. Of those, only 115 were the victims of long-term, non-familial abductions. In 2014 the population of the U.S. included 74 million children, so when you look at those numbers, 115 out of 74,000,000 the chances of your child being abducted by a stranger are infinitesimal. However, no matter what the numbers say, the fear of stranger danger impacts daily decisions parents make for their children. Many parents insist on supervising their child playing outside or riding their bike in the neighborhood or walking to school. Lythcott-Haims argues that it’s these little rites of passage outside of the home that allow children to develop independence to figure things out and to learn to trust their own instincts. As a former Dean of Admissions at Stanford, she observed incoming Freshman and studied the characteristics of these students. In the book, she discusses how helicopter parenting and overparenting is hindering young adults as they start college completely unprepared to figure things out for themselves. Many parents have been so “helpful” to their children that they have not learned how to be independent.
How do we make sure that our children develop their independence while keeping them safe? While guiding them to learn to do things for themselves? While encouraging them to try the things that they think they can’t do and to not be afraid to fail, to not be afraid of what “might” happen? To enjoy the present moment and celebrate it fully. What is the balance between safety and letting go?
Yesterday I received an email, within which it said “In Latin, parent means “bringing forth””. When you think about those words, bringing forth, you can visualize pulling something from the child that’s already within them, you are just helping it come out. Is that how you think about parenting? It seems like somewhere over the years we have transitioned bringing forth from the child’s perspective to the adult’s perspective. How much can the parent bring forth and do for the child? We’ve gotten it a little backwards. We need to return to the perspective where the parent is bringing forth independence, free-thinking and resilience in our children. We need to set aside our fears of safety and allow our child to fall, so that they can learn how to get back up. They need to learn how to experiment in new situations where the outcome is unknown and be open to seeing what happens. We need to give them a little more freedom to figure things out for themselves. It’s not easy to sit on the sidelines and not interject, especially when you can see what is going to happen, but it is the only way they are going to learn. We can’t let our fear of “what if”, hold them back.
What are you bringing forth in your child?
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.