My friend and I debated this the other day, as we meandered in a wetlands, collecting rubbish at the insistence of her four-year-old. While her two daughters and mine galloped around, touched pricky bushes, tripped over and dusted themselves off again, we pondered what exactly risky parenting meant to each of us.
While it’s easy to talk about allowing kids to jump off rocks, take risks and be responsible, it’s also so true that when you are actually a parent, and you’re actually talking about your own daughter or son, it’s a whole different ballgame compared to sitting on the sidelines and judging other parents for the decisions they make.
So while I do feel strongly that kids need to have more freedom to roam (think Free-Range kids) and not be faced with ‘helicopter parents’ always hovering close by, the thought of one day letting Jarrah hurl down a mountain bike track on her own or walk home from the library without me turns my blood to ice. That crazy strong protective instinct kicks in and I just want to shelter her from the world.
Yet, as Katie Arnold writes so eloquently in a recent article in Outside Magazine, at the end of the day it’s all about making responsible decisions for our children’s safety while allowing them to expand and grow.
“But we can’t slow our children down. Not really. Their whole purpose in life is to grow and change and need us less until they hardly need us at all. We can urge caution in the moment and good judgment over time, but we can’t arrest their development. At times we cheer their progress, at others we’re heartbroken by how quickly they are changing. Either way, it’s our job to help them grow so we can let them go. The hardest thing about being a parent is knowing where to draw the line between reasonable, healthy risk and careless negligence, between hands-on guidance and helicopter parenting.” (Katie Arnold, 2015)
And my friend and I agreed. We don’t sweat when our kids trip and fall, and getting dirty is cherished and promoted, so we feel we are on the right track. Will I still fret when Jarrah goes off on her first crazy wilderness experience on her own? You betcha, but the important thing is that I will be there to hug her when she gets back and share in her excitement, after all, that’s what parenthood is all about.