Like a lot of parents of grade schoolers, I’ve been trying to find the right balance of independence and safety for my eight-year-old. I’m conflicted on the issue. On the one hand, I think most parents today are way too over-protective.
Children are safer than ever from crime, physical injury, illness, and car accidents yet we routinely act as though our children live in a war zone with child molesters hiding around every corner.
On the other hand, being over protective, being mothery, is in my nature. Ask any guy I dated in college (gay or straight), my mothering instinct was developed long before I had kids.
So, my child is allowed to stay home alone for brief, known periods of time. She can walk alone to and from activities where someone is expecting her on both sides (school, a friend’s house, a park where I know an adult will be present). For some parents this is too much too soon, but this weekend I became convinced I was right, and that maybe I should go a little farther.
Why? Because my daughter was almost killed this weekend.
After finishing her first piano recital across the street from home she went to cross the street. A too-large SUV was parked on the street in front of her, she looked but didn’t see the neighbor coming too fast down the street. Luckily the neighbor was simply going too fast and was not also texting or talking on her phone. She slammed on her breaks and swerved, my daughter ran to safety and I collapsed on the sidewalk.
But, she wasn’t hit. Now, she knows that if there’s a too-large SUV parked on the street she needs to be extra careful. She knows that cars don’t always obey the rules.
There’s not a reasonable person in the country who thinks an eight year old is not capable of crossing the street. Yet, that almost proved more deadly than walking to school by herself.
You can do everything right. You can be as careful as possible, and still accidents happen. Smoke detectors fail, cars go too fast, lightening strikes. You can buy all organic foods and wash hands 20 times a day, and your child can become deathly ill.
We can’t parent as though we’re preparing our children for disaster. We have to parent as though we’re preparing our children for life, a life of too fast cars and unpredictable danger. We have to let them live and gain the skills they need to be safe.