Last week I wrote about the hard – and unavoidable – conversations we parents have with our kids. I wrote that I didn’t know how to make the world into the place I want it to be, but that I’m trying my best.
But I realized that I left out one important caveat. While I’m waiting for the world to get itself back on track – and doing my tiny part to nudge it in the right direction – I refuse to live in fear.
Parenting in the twenty-first century often feels like an exercise in prolonged anxiety management. There are just so many things to scare you. Do my kids’ parents lock up their guns? Is some trusted adult in my child’s life secretly a terrible, icky person? Is there a gang of human traffickers operating in the Walmart parking lot, waiting to snatch my four-year-old before my very eyes? (No, people! NO. Stop posting that ridiculous myth on Facebook!) Is the Disney Channel rotting their brains and promoting obnoxious gender stereotypes? (Probably.)
The response of many parents to all of these potential threats is to take extreme measures to keep our children safe. We drive our kids to the bus stop three blocks away. We call the police when children are seen playing alone in a neighborhood park. We practice lockdown drills with preschoolers.
I understand the instinct. I do. I just cannot live that way.
The PTO at my kids’ school is doing a spring fundraiser selling flower bulbs. As a parent, I will admit that my heart sinks at the prospect of direct sales fundraising, but my daughter was thrilled at the opportunity to help her school. She asked permission to go door-to-door through our neighborhood last weekend. Alone. She didn’t want a parental chaperone for her charitable mission. This was HER project.
There was immediately a voice inside my head that whispered my irrational fears. I couldn’t just let her wander through the neighborhood knocking on the doors of strangers. What if one of them was a freak who kidnapped her and put her in a box in his basement? What if she got run over by a teen driver not paying attention because he was texting? What if someone’s cocker spaniel mauled her?
All those thoughts (and more) flashed through my head in the ten seconds I took to approve her request. Of course I approved her request. We live in a safe neighborhood in a safe community at the safest period of time in human history for children. At least 50% of our neighbors know my daughter by sight and me by name. I received several texts from friends as she made her way through the neighborhood and she returned triumphantly several hours later, reveling in her own success.
School shooters and child predators and rabid golden retrievers are real. But they are not the norm and I refuse to live my life as if they were. I do not actually believe that we should take “every possible precaution” to keep our kids safe because, honestly, it’s just not possible, and when we try to eliminate all risk, we diminish our children’s experience of the world. We taint their world with our fears and we shrink it with our well-meaning limitations.
Parenting decisions made from a place of fear tend to be bad decisions. Don’t believe me? Tune into the public conversation about arming teachers. People are so collectively terrified that they are seriously willing to discuss an idea that is so ludicrous I can hardly even type the words.
We cannot live this way.
To be clear, I am not a fatalistic ostrich. I don’t throw up my hands or bury my head in the sand and say “well, there’s nothing we can do to prevent violence so there’s no point in worrying about it.” Mine is not that sort of nihilistic laissez-faire. I assess the risk and I take reasonable steps to minimize it. My daughter knows our phone number and our address and both pieces of information are written on her bicycle. I asked her to check in every hour so that I knew she was alive and we talked about how she was absolutely NOT to set foot inside anyone’s house or accept a ride back to our side of the neighborhood.
Could tragedy have befallen her while she was making her rounds? Yes, it’s possible. But I am not going to prevent her from growing and learning and spreading her wings just because I am afraid.
I want her to be safe, but I also want her to be free.