If you are a parent, you know the complete powerlessness within parenthood that exists between peeing on a stick and the day you die. Something could happen at any time, for whatever reason. And as the world becomes more and more connected and the media fierce in its gravitation towards fear mongering, we hear stories that scare us into submission to a new way of parenting: the fear based method. The hovering nurturer. The Reactor. The Follower. You’ve heard all the terms, helicopter , snowplow, neurotic and over-bearing—whatever you want to call it’s our generation’s way of parenting.
There is enough coverage lately on the perils of this type of parenting too, all you have to do is leaf through The Atlantic, scroll through Psychology Today, The New Yorker or any major newspaper to see what’s happening to the poor coddled, spoiled children of our modern day.
Studies are showing that the constant coddling and ‘bubble wrapping’ hinders the healthy development of self-esteem. They are unable to fend for themselves in the real world later on and the confidence that should have been there is just a big puddle of anxiety.
The viral post about giving kids a 70s summer went nuts online because there are so many of us parents who can remember a time when boredom produced creativity through the freedom of time. My best friend and I used to spend hours filming home videos of us acting out different characters in various scenes in her basement and the backyard. Afterwards we’d ride our bikes to get a slush and some BBQ chips and then call it a day.
And here we are now in 2014 with the pendulum having swung so far to one side that our kids are actually suffering from our over-involved parenting style. By looking back through history, we can see what works and what doesn’t, but usually it’s a trip down our own memory lane that can guide us best.
When I was thirteen years old, I lit the back of a bus on fire. Later that year, I stole my mom’s car and piled my friends into the back seat and went on a joy ride around the neighbourhood. I also pranked an escort service, started drinking beer and peach schnapps, and even dabbled in a bit of theft. I wasn’t a bad kid, really; I was just spirited and bored. Sometimes the 70s style of parenting allowed those of us adventurous types to get into a bit of trouble.
As many of my friends did at the time, I started walking the lengthy trip to school by myself when I entered Kindergarten. We played on the street until it was dark; we rode our bikes without a declared destination and it was glorious and free. But as I grew up, circumstance and parenting style left me alone, a lot.
After my mom died, I really had to look after myself. It wasn’t curiosity about the world around me that drove my adventurous activities anymore. It was loneliness and a lack of guidance that placed me in a pit of anxiety, not the desperation to free myself from the constraint of my parents. There was no hovering, but with the complete absence of it, my development suffered. Without any guidance, one may keep making choices that bring them back to the same spot over and over again.
I learned how to survive though, and I was confident in my ability to stand alone in the world. I left home when I was eighteen and never returned. I traveled and lived in big cities. I made friends with people who came from completely different backgrounds and upbringings. And although I’m thankful for the skills I acquired, I have to acknowledge the sense of emptiness that accompanied being left alone so much.
My experience and the current model of parenting is a confusing dichotomy for a parent like me. I want my kids to receive the type of attention that I sometimes didn’t get, but I also want them to be as adventurous and open as I was allowed to be.
I want my boys to go out into the world equipped with the ability to troubleshoot because mom didn’t do everything. I want them to have natural confidence, not just artificial affirmations swimming around in their heads.
I can’t however bring myself to fully leave that up to the world around them to teach it. There has to be some balance between the two experiences; a middle ground upon which they can stand and feel loved and comforted, but free and useful.
And then I think of my mom laying on the ground reading a book to me; my dad showing me how fast his car was, telling me not to tell my mom; my brother agreeing to play hockey with me out front; my sister jumping on the trampoline with me, and there weren’t any cell phones dinging or pressure to go do the thirty-seventh planned activity of the day.
There, in that memory, that quick snippet of time spent together without distraction, I see the part of the formula that might tip the scale back to the middle.
Everything in moderation.
It’s something very important that our current model ignores. I don’t have to spend two hours on the floor with my kids because the modern way says we need to do so for their self-esteem; I can spend twenty minutes, be really present and have the same effect. I want to be there for them and pay attention to them, but I also want them to experience life as they should without me meddling and following them around.
Although I may not let the kids ride their bikes in our urban hood until dusk by themselves, I will certainly encourage them to play in the backyard, in the basement, wherever it is that I am not, if only for a little while.