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05/02/2010

Letting Go

Watching my kidBigss walk away from me was horrifying. My heart started racing. I wanted to run after them yelling, "Wait! Don't go!" To stop them from leaving my sight. Funny thing is, it had been my idea all along.

"Why don't you walk home?" I had said. We were at our neighborhood school and it was only a quarter of a mile away. Seriously, it was not far at all. So I had told them they could walk--alone--and that I would drive home with the toddler.

Two things happened that surprised me. The first was the visceral reaction when they turned to corner out of my sight. The second was that I was not arrested for "suspicious behavior," tailing two children while driving a van. Of course it is not the "child abductor" econoline model and I am not a scary old white guy, but I was still mildly surprised I did not raise any eyebrows.

Why was it so hard to let them have that tiny bit of freedom? To let them be proud of themselves because they got to walk home? I blame the media.

Stop looking at your kid for one one-hundredth of a second and they will be snatched! Kidnapped! Subjected to pedophiles flashing their junk or propositioned to buy drugs! And all this will happen--guaranteed--if you blink, or, God forbid, look away!

All kidding aside, losing a child for any reason is a heartbreaking event. But you have a better chance of winning the lottery while being struck by lightning than you do of having your child abducted. Even those minute odds are petrifying if you are talking about *your* child, though. Believe me, I know. My brain says one thing, and my heart something totally different.

Funny thing is, I remember walking to school alone when I was in kindergarten. I had to cross two streets and cut through someone's yard. Were things so much different then? Statistically, no. Watching the news, however, you would think that a child, or maybe even two, goes missing every day. 

Parents have gotten so paranoid about all the awful things that can happen that we aren't letting them experience life! We aren't letting them develop the pride of being able to walk home from school alone, or the feeling of freedom of playing outside without mom hovering over their every move. It has gotten so bad that there is a whole movement called "Free Range Kids" where parents let their kids *be* kids. They let their kids play outside unattended, walk to school alone and to go through life without being petrified of strangers.

While I think some amount of Stranger Danger is a great idea--such as no adult will ever need a kid to help them find a lost puppy and that they shouldn't take candy from strangers, and such--I think we as a  society go too far. After all, a child is much more likely to be abducted or molested by someone they know than a complete stranger. But maybe that truth is too horrifying for even the most paranoid parent to contemplate. 

Thing is, if we let the paranoia rule our lives and how our children interact with the world, the only thing they will learn is that the world is a scary, dangerous place--a place to be feared. That people, especially "different" people, are to be feared.  Is that the lesson we really want to teach them? It is not the one *I* want to impart.

So I let my kids walk home. Sort of alone. I made sure they knew the way, instructed them to watch out for cars and drove home. Yes, I was waiting at the end of the sidewalk for them to come into sight. Yes, until they did the thoughts of all the horrible, ugly things that could happen were running rampant through my head. But when they came back into sight, the look of pride and exhilaration on their faces made every minute of fear worth it.

Original post to Ohio Moms Blog.

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