As soon as we take on the task of minding children whether we birth them or simply become their caregivers you will always have an involuntary knee jerk reaction of trying to catch them during a fall. When they are really little you will actually dive for them but when you are sitting across a table from a 6 foot + 21 yo who has just suffered his first heartbreak you will feel that same gut wrenching twist and you will wish that you really could make it better with a Ninja Turtle Band-Aid and a cookie. It's easy enough to tie children to your apron strings by making them entirely dependent on you. It's equally easy to justify doing this for a litany of reasons. The world isn't safe anymore, there's too many cars, too many pesticides and simply too many dangerous things and people and I need to protect and shelter my child from all that could harm him. We read horrific tales of woe about things done to children. The eight year old boy who was kidnapped and killed in broad daylight walking home alone for the FIRST time. That struck very close to home as I have an eight year old son who has been clamoring for as much independence as his older brother. A new generation of parents have been molded by this fear: helicopter parents.
My eight year old is often seen zooming down the sidewalk towards the park or the school to play with friends. Other moms have stopped me and said, "we never see you but we see your kids all over town, they are so independent?" It's so easy to get sucked into overprotection since you can be made to feel like a slacker mom because you aren't looking over your children's shoulders, 24/7. I had a dad who asked me rather wide-eyed, "you let them walk to the school by themselves?" It's four blocks from my house, one stoplight/crosswalk and a crossing guard. It was one and a half blocks from his house. My "yes" was emphatic, I don't question my choices because we practiced how to cross at the light, make eye contact with the driver, make sure they stop BEFORE stepping into the street etc.
I'm a believer in incremental responsibility in the hopes of leaving the helipad. When the 4th grader wants to walk home on the first day of school, from their new school just like all the other kids? Sure, here's the deal: you have this many minutes to visit after school with your new peeps, you then walk this route home and I should see the whites of your eyes by this time OR I'm coming to look for you. Your kindergarten age sister, not so much and yes the police were called when she tried the same stunt. Some days it will work, and some days you will be out driving around looking for your moppets equally terrified and angry. You will have arrived when your phone rings five minutes before the alloted time and your child is informing you of his whereabouts so, "you don't worry." They have no idea that you will worry about them until the day you die but that's moot, they called.
Different ages require different rules but it works with everything: dates, parties, outings with friends, first treks to SF on BART, first solo mall outings etc. Cell phones and pagers make it easier to track them down but I'm still a believer in collecting all the data before hand. (whom, where, when, how, parents/no parents, mixed company, estimated time home etc.) If they break the rules, they lose that freedom and you start all over with baby steps.
You also will eventually have the conversations that go something like this: "hey, I know you think it is a bad idea for me to go to Uganda(the wayward 5yo is now 18 and in Kenya) BUT all my friends are going to this Ugandan tourist resort (oxymoron?) to white water raft and bungee jump for the weekend and I've given it some thought and I am going too."
(I'm so past rolling my eyes at this point)
You then listen to how this place has been in business for 40 years and no one has ever died.
(that definitely made me feel better, NOT!)
In a calm, cool, nar I say adult voice I'm given all the data by the young-adult on the other end of the phone. She understands that if she was to go missing I'd leave no stone unturned looking for her so at least having the correct starting point is helpful. So I tell her to have fun and be safe and to call when she's back safely(relatively speaking) in Kenya.
Her videos were awesome, the rapids were mindblowing and yet she chose to pass on the bungee jumping after the rafting. In her own words, "I could have died on those rapids, I thought I shouldn't press my luck."
I worked for a family who micro-managed their two sons. This included the schools they attended, the friends they kept, the lessons they took, and the clothes they wore.The youngest always marched to his own beat, much to the chagrin of his parents. His mom was widowed when the boys were nine and twelve and she took on the teen years as a solo parent. Her youngest son successfully converted an empty lot in the 'hood into a BMX bike park that he and a buddy built by hand during his senior year in high school. At the grand opening, there was music blaring, tons of teenage boys, his mom perched on a salvaged office chair and absolute chaos abounded.This was far away from the private school, upper crust world that she had dwelled in for most of her life. None of her friends were present, so I made my way over and congratulated her. She looked a little surprised until I said, "this couldn't have been easy for you, great job in letting him try and do this." She said, "I could have never imagined this in a million years but looking at how happy and confident my son is, I know that letting him try and open this business was the best choice I could have made for both of us."
Every experience you have shapes the decisions we make in the future. Children need experiences in order to successfully launch into adulthood. Will all of their outings be successful, no. Will everything always go smoothly, absolutely not. Will they fail along the way, most definitely. Given incremental freedoms along their path from childhood to adulthood will help insure their long term safety because they will be making conscious decisions about what to do versus mindlessly following someone into an abyss. While you may never be able to prevent a broken heart the greatest gift you can give them is the ability to think for themselves and a sense of personal responsability. Untie the apron strings and walk away from the helipad.