On being free: childhood

I posted the other day about grasping our political freedom, about engaging with our democracy despite it’s flaws. This post is about letting go. Letting go in order to allow our children to grasp their own freedom, to engage fully in their childhood, free from helicopter parents hovering in the background, able to make their own mistakes, to learn their own lessons, abilities and limitations by themselves, unhindered by well meaning but potentially interfering parents (of which I certainly am one).

A disclaimer…Dan is great at this, I am abysmal. I write this most definitely as someone trying to implement this herself, not someone preaching to those around her.

If you’ve known me for more than a few hours, you’ll know I’m a control freak. Call it being organised, a planner, on the ball or any other polite synonym you like but what it ultimately boils down to is that I like to be in control. In fact I would hazard to say that this is the biggest lesson I have learnt since having kids. How to relax, be spontaneous and just let it go (fellow parents of Frozen fans…try not to burst into song). And man, it is hard.
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I am primarily writing this post in regards to giving children the freedom to fully explore and play freely without restraints or supervision, where appropriate…although I guess that’s the doozy – how do we define these appropriate boundaries? That is what it comes down to. I’m particularly thinking about being in nature. It’s easy to let your children go off without you when you’re at home, in a friend’s home or in a contained outdoor space such as a garden or park – the boundaries are implicit, you don’t leave the building/go outside the fence/gate without telling or asking. But what about when there are no man made boundaries? When you’re at the beach or in the forest? How do we know how much freedom to give our children in order to let them push themselves and discover their own limits without letting them end up in a potentially dangerous situation? (And I’m talking both natural dangers – associated with heights and water usually and sadly, the ‘stranger danger’ aspect of things). I really don’t know the answer.

I guess that age plays a large factor in it. I certainly trust Sophia at 5 much more than I do Isaac at 3 to make sensible decisions when I’m not there. And I imagine when they are 8 and 10 I’ll trust them both even more – they’ll be so much more capable, both physically and mentally, to handle themselves. I suppose that knowing your child’s abilities helps in your decision making as well, your 7 year old might be much better at climbing or swimming than your friend’s 10 year old. And I guess that it also depends on where your limits are in terms of possible outcomes – if they fall whilst playing in the surf of the sea or in a slow, shallow river, they’ll get out easily and worst case they’ll be wet and cold. If they put themselves into a position where broken bones or serious injury are a possibility, I’m likely to be more wary – no one wants their children in pain.

The US folk punk band Antsy Pants have a song called Henry Kelly in which they sing

‘So all you kids with overprotective parents now listen here to me,
Go out and try stuff, get dirty, get hurt, don’t be so scared of everything’.

Before I had kids I loved this song. In fact I still do. But now I see it from both sides. I want my children to be fearless but I don’t want them to get hurt. But I can’t absolutely prevent the latter from happening and certainly not at the expense of the former. So maybe the real lesson is to accept that our children might get hurt and that our job isn’t to prevent that from happening but to care for them when it does. And maybe it is about risk assessing each individual situation as and when it arises, likely we’ll give a little bit more freedom each time as they get older and wiser. Having absolute rules and boundaries when children are changing by the day just doesn’t make sense.

Would we rather they lived wrapped in cotton wool, monitored constantly, prevented from doing things they’d like to do but were never or rarely hurt or would we rather they really lived, were able to explore, to play, to experiment, to get hurt but to know that we’re always there to come to when they do. Some of my best memories of my childhood are of playing in nature with my siblings and friends and I don’t remember my parents being mere feet away at every opportunity. I don’t remember the falls, the bruises and the bloodied knees but I do remember the adventures, the thrill of pushing myself to do new things, of the unknown and most of all, I remember the fun.

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Keeping my distance at the beach

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