It’s been a long time since I’ve said something publicly and had to stop and wonder if I shouldn’t have. But I mentioned in front of another momma last week that all four of my kids play outside while I make dinner, and often after dinner while I do clean up. Alone. (And many other times too, but those are the two times they’re pretty much always out there.)
She looked uncomfortable. Like maybe I’d just confessed that I sometimes let my 8 year old drive herself to the mini mart to pick me up a 6 pack (I mean, obviously, I’m a classy lady. I’d at least ask for a proper bottle of wine, ha.)
I found myself stammering to justify it in the moment, but I probably only made it worse. And later I was kicking myself anyway. Why did I feel so compelled to try and justify my parenting (or lack there of, that’s up to you) to a semi-stranger?
Well, because we’re living in the 21st century where literally every decision is scrutinized under a microscope, and it doesn’t matter what you choose, you’re going to be wrong to someone.
Because we are living in the age of media. Where although crime has actually gone down over the decades, everyone is far more aware and terrified because all they hear is awful stories.
I’m not going to lie to you.
I have zero fears of my kids being kidnapped. Like when people say they can’t let their kids be outside alone because they may be kidnapped, that doesn’t even cross my mind. I can’t say it’s absolutely impossible, but the likelihood is so slim that it’s not even on my radar.
I do worry about them gouging each others eyes out with sticks. Or falling off of a swing and breaking their arm (been there done, that. Me, not them.) I occasionally worry that the 2.5 year old may have a temporary lapse in self-control and venture into the street after something. But he’s always out there with his older siblings, and they typically are all engaged in some deep form of play that he’d never be able to squirrel away and get as far as the road without them noticing (and he never has. And H and B simply never did, so again, not that it couldn’t happen, but it’s not a constant worry.)
I think what my children gain from free, unadulterated play is far more than they could ever gain with constant supervision, and is worth that mild risk of something going wrong. (And if we are being completely truthful here, every single injury my kids have had that landed us in the emergency room have happened with them just an arms reach or so away from me; not on their own.)
When I was a kid I can remember roaming the woods with my friends. We were as young as Mr. B; 7 years old. No adults nearby. We would roam and explore and play for hours before resurfacing for sustenance. It was beautiful and wonderful, and the type of freedom I wish for my children.
We’d get on our bikes and bike to the gas station for candy or to the playground or to the library. The world was our oyster.
But I also realize that my children aren’t privy to that sort of freedom.
We don’t have woods, and as far as I know, none of our close friends do either. If I let my children bike around town on their own, let’s be honest: someone would surely call DCS. Because that’s the world we live in these days.
So what I can give my children is a few hours in their own backyard, playing without interference from me or J; allowed to make up their own world of pretend. Allowed to make their own rules and negotiations.
Allowed to just be kids.
(And sometimes I peek through the back windows because I’m a cool, free-range momma, but I also worry like crazy because I brought those babies into this world and I want them whole and in one piece forever and ever.)