A little afterthought - Someone recently said "this isn't directed to anyone in particular" and it really irked me. The circumstances surrounding their comment, the context of the situation, is what made the comment bother me. However, it made me realize that any criticism or comment about behavior one has witnessed is inherently directed at the people who display that particular behavior. A couple days later I realized I'd said the same thing in this post. Odd, as it's not a phrase I generally use. So, I'm leaving my post as it was originally written, but I'll add that while this post is inherently directed at people who parent in fear, my goal in writing it was to have them reconsider their motives in decision making and to prevent others from doing the same thing. Had I intended to direct it at a specific person, then I'd have e-mailed them directly instead of blogging about it.
I've been mulling this post over in my head for several months, but didn't want anyone to feel like it was directed at them. The thing is, it's not directed at any one person, though I regularly get non-verbal communication about our choices and regular conversations on the topic, so I'm just going to go ahead and post it.
Let me just cut to the chase here. You do your children a huge disservice when you parent them out of fear. You rob them of childhood fun. You rob them of opportunities to learn decision making skills. You instill fear where they didn't have any. Of course, there are other potential downfalls, but I'm sure you get my point.
We get the "I can't believe you let him/her/them _____" comments, jaws dropping or people visibly stressing out (staring, wringing hands, etc) over all sorts of things. Here are some examples.
Silas went swimming the day after drowning and we got lots of "I'd be so scared he'd drown again that I wouldn't have let him back in the pool". Really? Your child just died, came back to life, and isn't traumatized by the experience at all. Yet you want to instill fear of water?
Naomi climbs the ladders to tall slides and goes down by herself at 18 months and we get shocked "I can't believe you let her do that!" comments and/or judgemental stares. Really? Your child is coordinated, more than capable of climbing, and you're standing nearby to help if she needs it. Yet you want to instill a fear of heights?
Devon shimmies to the top of the tetherball pole or climbs to the top of a tree in our yard and we get people stopping their cars as they drive by to make sure we know he's in the tree, wringing their hands as he reaches the top of the tetherball pole, and saying "that's so dangerous, he could fall". Really? Your child clearly has climbing skills and loves physical challenges. Yet you want to instill a fear of injury?
Other times it's the fact that our kids jump off of playground equipment (They could get hurt!), were born at home ... well, except the one stubborn one who ended up being a transport after 48 hours of labor, but that's beside the point (They could die!), get mohawks (People will think they look ridiculous or that they're rebellious!), stay overnight somewhere without us (They could be molested or get terribly homesick!), are homeschooled (They won't learn enough or have any friends!), don't get all the available vaccinations (They could die!), use real tools instead of plastic ones (They could get hurt!), walk barefoot outside (They could get hurt!), and the list goes on.
Now, I'm not naive about the risks involved in all the things I've listed. I realize Silas could drown and stay dead, that Naomi could fall and be seriously hurt, that Devon could be seriously injured or killed if he fell from the top of a tree, and that there are risks in the other choices we've made.
However, there's a difference between me and you, the fearful parent. You make parenting decisions based on the possible, while I base them on the probable. Could all those bad things happen to my kids? Yes? Are they likely to happen? No.
So I'd like to challenge those of you who tend to parent out of fear to step back and reconsider how you're approaching things.
Actually, let me rephrase that, as most fearful parents simply consider their parenting to be practical and filled with common sense. How about this? If you tend to tell your child "no" about a lot of things they want to do, frequently use the phrase "that's not safe" or "that's dangerous" and/or cringe every time they do something that carries even the most remote possibility of injury, then I'd encourage you to reconsider your approach.
What are the odds that the thing you fear will actually happen? In the long run, how will your fearful decisions benefit your child? How will they hinder your child? How would your child benefit from you allowing them to do whatever you deem to be too risky? How would (not "could") they be harmed? Stop assuming they'll be scared, get hurt, or be incapable. Stop assuming that everyone in the world is going to hurt your child, whether with malicious intent or sheer carelessness. Don't overthink everything. Don't underthink anything.
I realize that we all love our kids and that, despite our failures, we're all doing the best we can. I also realize that no two families will make the exact same parenting choices. So, I'm certainly not saying you have to do all the things we do. What I am saying is that you need to stop worrying about what could happen, making decisions based on what you get from the news (let me remind you that all the bad things in the news make it there simply because they aren't the norm), and worrying about how others will judge you or your child.
If you start parenting based on the probable, then I can make some guarantees about what will happen to your child. Your child will fail. They will succeed. They will get hurt. They will learn the difference between a wise and foolish choice. They will know that risks aren't all bad. They will learn that failure doesn't always indicate foolishness. They will have a ton of fun.
It gets better. I have some guarantees for you too! You will see your child mature. You will see your child learn. You will be proud when your child succeeds. You will see your child having fun. You will see your child grow to be a confident person who knows how to weigh the risks and benefits of a situation before making a decision.
Parent for the probable, not the the possible. You're children will thank you for it, if not now, then when they've become confident, responsible adults.