Thursday, May 29, 2014

I'm Making My Kids Too Careful

I used to go behind the school to the school bus depot where they parked the buses overnight. There, they had a junkyard of sorts; piles of rusty sharp metal car hoods, and spare parts from cars long forgotten. Here is where I used to play with my friends after school, banging on the hoods with spare rocks and scraping wooden sticks against the deteriorated husks of dead vehicles, trying to coax the snakes that lived inside to slither out so we could catch them.

When we got bored we would walk in the woods near the school where the legends of a man who snatched wandering children who lived amongst those trees were passed down from grade to grade.

The story was about a little girl who walked home from school by herself one day. She lived on the other side of those woods and she decided to cut through and was never heard from again.

It was clearly an urban legend but we often dared each other to take two more steps inside than the last guy who tried it. We always feigned bravery pushing each other beyond what we thought was a safe distance to actually set foot in those woods. We didn't really know if there was a man who lived in there but none of us wanted to find out for sure.

Often after school, we would ride our bikes across two busy four lane roads to the construction site where the dirt bike trails were. We had built ramps of dirt, piled construction materials, and spare wood boards laying around. We dared each other to launch off of ramps and do stupid tricks. It was awesome and our parents were none the wiser.

After school was a time to myself and my younger brother when I was my son's age. My mom and dad both worked and I wore a key to the garage around my neck on a metal ball chain. She didn't meet us at the bus and walk us home; it was less than a block to our house. I let myself in and we stayed put until they got home. My brother and I would often find things to do, many of which weren't safe, some that were just plain stupid. We used to host wrestling matches on my parent's queen sized bed, the only thing close enough to the squared circle that we could find. I almost drop-kicked my brother's friend through a wall once and many kids left our house a little more bruised than usual.

I'd never let my kids get near a rusty car hood unless they had a pre-game tetanus shot and heavy duty work gloves.

My kids are not allowed to explore unknown areas without my supervision.

My son is nine and has yet to ride around our neighborhood on his bike by himself.

I freak out when I am not at the bus to pick up my kids and felt guilty once when I was late, and they walked one block to our house by themselves.

Is there such a thing as making my kids too careful ? Am I making them too hesitant to take risks? They have never broken an arm or gone to the ER because of something stupid they did. I feel like I am being a good parent but I see these dads who can stand back and let it happen and wonder if I am failing with my intervention.

I remember the first time I changed my son's diaper. I was so scared that I would do something wrong that my hands shook. I guess that inside, I am still scared, scared that something is going to happen that is beyond my control; scared that all this time protecting them will be taken away from me like a personalized accident sign.

It's not like they haven't been hurt from falling but I suppose it all stems from me trying to force a memory, the my first week as a stay at home dad when my son broke his collarbone, and the time my son fell off of a jungle gym flat on his back and couldn't move his legs for a few minutes.  Was I supposed to move him? Should I have screamed for help? Did he just get the wind knocked out of him or was he paralyzed from the fall? What was I going to tell my wife?  All of these things raced in my head just like any parent, dad or mom.

Eventually he sat up but he was hurting. I carried him in one arm and the baby in the other, all the way through the zoo and back to the parking lot. My legs and arms were burning and screaming in protest but I thought "I will gladly take all that pain away from him right now if it means he is OK" 

Are my kids too soft or am I just protecting them from harm? It's hard to discern the balance between toughening them up and coddling them; letting them fall so they can learn to get back up again. Watching them grow up is hard enough and now I am supposed to let them get hurt? As a dad, I am supposed to be more open to letting them fall but part of me doesn't want to see it happen or let them go. 


  1. I remember years ago when a mother asked me why my daughter did so well and her son was struggling a bit. I said, "You have to let them fail." (Boy did she hover!)

    Oh, sure - I'd love to wave a magic wand and make everything right all the time, but I knew my daughter (and now my grandkids) wouldn't learn life's lessons in a relatively protected area if I always stepped in. And what about those times when I can't be there? How will they feel they can do it if they've never tried it on their own?

    I don't mean things like putting their hands on a hot stove or walking out in front of a car but letting my 10-month old granddaughter (who loves to climb under our living room table) bump her head a few times teaches her how to do it WITHOUT bumping her head.

    But each at their own pace.

    And far be it for me to critique what you do, Chris. You seem like a great dad and have some terrific kids. More power (and love) to all of you!

    Charlie Seymour Jr

    1. Thanks Charlie. You're right, but it's so damn hard to let go sometimes. I know it probably doesn't get any easier as they get older too. Thanks for the praise and comment!

  2. I think this dilemma or difference you note is true of many of us. We are told to be careful and that danger lurks everywhere. Therefore, our natural reaction is to protect. We want to save our children from any possible harm. This of course, as you imply, has its own issues.

    1. Exactly Larry. I find it hard to find that balance. I want them to learn on their own but I also don't want anything to happen either.

  3. I think the mere fact that you are thinking about this means that you are and will continue to be a fantastic parent. For me, I actually had a teaching moment on this with my mom. My little (and only) sister was born when I was 12 and one day my mom and I were watching her play with some other little kids in the park when she was maybe 4 years old. One little girl tripped while running around.

    "Watch this," my mother said. "That girl is going to look to her mother to see how she should react. Her mother tends to freak out so the girl will too. But she's not hurt."

    Sure enough, the girl's mother started panicking and ran over to her daughter, who started wailing. The mother carried her daughter to a bench, where the wailing got louder. But, to my amazement, maybe five or ten minutes later, the girl was running around again as though nothing had happened.

    When my sister tripped and fell, she also looked over at my mother. "You're okay!" my mother called. My sister nodded, got up, and went back to playing.

    Holy cow, the power of suggestion can be strong! And it can be terrifying when you think they've injured themselves, or when they really have injured themselves. Staying calm and addressing the situation (like you did) is the way of parent awesomeness (at least in my book).

    I WILL say, though, that the less experience kids have with failure, the more they try to avoid it. Trying to avoid failure means that, more likely than not, they won't even try in the first place.

    1. Good points. I am more prone to letting them dust themselves off and continue play unless I see that they are really frightened or something. Just letting them know I am there just in case, and then releasing them back into the wild is important so that they don't shut down.