Why I Don't Hover Over My Children

by Joelle Wisler
Originally Published: 
Eric Cote / Shutterstock

My mother never hovered over me. She shooed me outside and went about her business—baking, cleaning and visiting with her friends. I don’t think she ever thought twice about any of this. Children played outside so that moms could get something done.

Today, I watch my daughter playing with her blocks on the floor, the sun catches her in the eyes and she frowns and moves. She has the palest blue eyes which seem to be more sensitive to the sun. She is chatting to herself about the castle she is building and the baby princess that is sleeping and the dinosaur sisters that sit and watch over the kingdom.

I sometimes feel a guilt, and I’m not sure where it comes from. Should I be playing with her? Should I be teaching her letters right now? Should I be down there on the floor so that she knows that I love her?

But then I think of the shooing.

I often shoo her and her brother outside, even though we live in the forest and there are wild animals out there. Once, when my son was 3, he was relaxing in his hammock and a bear walked within 10 feet of him. He ran inside, scared but exhilarated. He still remembers every moment. There are other animals—coyotes, mountain lions, owls. Something could eat them, and I make them play outside. Their only rule is that they don’t play alone at twilight.

Today, we are told that we must watch our kids’ every movement, prevent every bad choice, protect, hover. We are told to make little bubble-wrapped children looking outside through a sparkling clean window. Outside, there are dangerous things and people. Yes.

And with every hovering moment, I think we steal something from them—a memory, a realization, a story. When my husband was 6, he was walking alone through the forest and he fell on his hatchet. He then made the terrible choice to pack the wound with Mississippi river mud, just like the Native Americans. Thus, he has a large scar trailing down the side of his waist, and he has a story for his life.

Our scars are the maps of our stories. If we bubble-wrap our children, their bodies will be smooth and unblemished, but they will also be like directionless maps. Maybe they won’t know where to go with them.

I will continue to shoo because I love them. And because I can’t stand the thought of my kids growing up without a sense of freedom, without a sense of being in their bodies as they clamber over rock forts and fall out of trees and make good and bad choices that have nothing to do with me.

I lived a whole life that my mother didn’t even know about, and I want that for them. A life. And some scars.

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