On my way out of Target this morning, I passed a fellow mom and her 3-year-old daughter. The little girl attempted a jump over the parking curb and fell, catching herself with her hands. She looked up at her mother, waiting for the reaction.
“Oh my god!” the mother squealed. “Baby, are you OK? Did that hurt? What hurts, baby? What hurts?” The little girl commenced sobbing as what I deemed a nice save turned into a tragedy warranting a call to 911.
The woman swooped the little girl up into her arms, still blathering on about skinned knees and mommy kisses and taking all of her terrible, horrible pain away. As the duo headed into the store, the little girl and I locked eyes, and I used my mommy telepathy to read the child’s mind. I shivered at the words being shouted behind that precious child’s tears: “I own this bitch.”
Okay, perhaps that’s a bit harsh, but that little girl knew exactly what she was doing, and that mother played right into that child’s sticky little hands. I know, because my kids have done the exact same thing.
Today we live in a culture of fear—fear of pain, fear of loss, fear of strangers, fear of failure—and our children are the biggest victims. We want to protect them from everything, to keep them safe and happy and wonderful, but all that’s creating is a culture of helicopter parenting and a generation of children who can’t think for themselves.
I myself am a child of the ‘70s. I was born late enough to avoid disco but early enough to remember people smoking on airplanes. I grew up in the country, and by the time I was 6, I would spend hours exploring the woods behind my house, sometimes with my older brother, sometimes by myself. Yes, you heard that correctly: a 6-year-old girl, walking in the woods, by herself.
My parents were good parents, but by today’s standards they would have been arrested for child endangerment—numerous times. I’m not sure when we all became so scared, but I suspect it was around the time kids started getting trophies for wearing socks and the word “no” became outlawed from every American home. Since then, we’ve become a society of frothing watchdogs ready to pounce on the first parent who doesn’t want to ride in the helicopter.
Case in point: My children, ages 4 and 6, were playing with sidewalk chalk in the driveway of our suburban home. I had to use the bathroom. I told them to stay in the driveway and come get me if there was an emergency. Less than five minutes later, I returned outside and had words with a woman walking by who was concerned about my “unattended” children (who were right where I’d left them, happily drawing a picture of a boat).
These days if you don’t hover over your kid at the park, anticipating any falls that might result in Band-Aid use, you’re a bad parent. If you let your kids ride the slightest bit ahead of you on a bike ride, you’re irresponsible. If your eyes aren’t trained on your children 24 hours a day, eight days a week, you’re negligent.
Don’t get me wrong. I get that we live in a different world than the one I grew up in, and that approaches to parenting have changed accordingly. But it’s not that different, and I’m terrified that my kids are going to grow up not knowing how to navigate this brave new world because someone has always done it for them. Kids learn to be self-sufficient, independent thinkers by figuring out how to react to uncomfortable situations. But how will that happen if they’re always comfortable?
Love your kids, but let them bleed a little. Let them fail. Let them figure our how to act when no one’s watching, or at least let them think no one’s watching. They’ll thank you for it later.