Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Did We Always Worry So Much?

Photo Credit: Hugh Kretschmer for TIME
Lately, parenting chat boards I frequent have been full of posts with worried questions about BPA in supermarket receipts, toxins in sunscreen, whether or not to "redshirt" our kindergardeners and why over-praising our children actually ends up harming their self-esteem. There's a lot to worry about these days as a parent. In many ways, it's kind of sad to think about all the things that just aren't safe to do anymore.  I wish I could just let my kids play in front of our house all day & occasionally peek at them from the kitchen window. As a very young girl my parents drove a VW van throughout Europe picking up hitchhikers as a way to determine our destination....who the hell would do that now???? But we had some amazing adventures. None of which involved car seats.

Are we protecting our children too much? Some parenting experts would probably say yes. Remember the debates about "helicopter parents"? As a parent myself, it is hard (or even impossible) to allow our children to be hurt, teased, ignored or disappointed let alone poisoned by a toxic baby bottle!

In Wendy Mogel's bestselling book "The Blessings Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings To Raise Self-Reliant Children" she writes: 
"Parents' urge to overprotect their children is based on fear. Fear of strangers, the streets, the Internet, the mall. Fear of the child's not being invited to the right parties or accepted by the right schools. Fear about safety, sex, disease, and drugs. In my parenting classes there are always lots of questions about fear and its flip side, freedom...Real protection means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard. Worrying excessively about discrimination while not letting your child walk around the block on their own can create highly conscious cripples."
As I was thinking about all of these things today, I got a funny email through the multiples club I belong to:

"TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED THE 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80's!!
First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can and didn't get tested for diabetes.
Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-base paints.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps not helmets on our heads.
As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.
We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.  
We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon.  We drank Kool-aid made with real white sugar. And, we weren't overweight.  WHY? Because we were always outside, playing...that's why!
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day.  And, we were O.K.
We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes.  After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's and X-boxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet and no chat rooms.
WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!  
We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.
We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.  
We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them.
Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment.  Imagine that!!
The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of.  They actually sided with the law!
These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers problem solvers and inventors ever.
The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.
If YOU are one of them,  CONGRATULATIONS!
Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?"
I laughed when I read this, both because I remembered so much of this from my own childhood and because I realized how different it all was from the way I am raising our children now. Was this necessarily a bad thing? There's a lot to be said for some of the things we know now. But the line about these previous generations producing some of the world's greatest risk takers stuck with me.

And so, I wondered, where does that leave us as parents in the "new millennium"? As we learn more and more about child development we begin to get a glimpse into what is possible for our cherished babies; what is possible for their brains and bodies if only we don't expose them them to toxic chemicals in their food containers; what is possible for their future if only they are accepted into that school that professes to be the best at tapping into their creative and intellectual potential; what is possible for them, emotionally, if only they always feel included, adored, self-assured, smart and so on. It's enough to drive any involved parent batty. Believe me, my heart feels like it is going to be ripped out whenever a child at a playground won't share with my children and I admit that I fell victim to the pressure of wanting to give them the best head start at getting into Harvard by trying to find the "best" preschool for them and I'm certainly not planning to re-introduce BPA into our house any time soon. But I also try to let my kids be kids. Again, from "The Blessings Of A Skinned Knee":
"Securing babies in car seats and requiring children to wear helmets while bicycling makes sense. But going too far in the direction of protecting children can backfire, leaving them fearful of stepping out into the world on their own...Having the courage not to pamper and overprotect your child means that sometimes she will be uncomfortable, unhappy or even in peril, but that you are willing to take a chance because of your commitment to her growth and development."
I know that we are talking about two different things here: the protection against the outside world of toxins, child predators, television, the Internet and so forth, and protecting our children's inner worlds so that the way they handle experiences allows them to grow up into resilient, confident, happy people. To watch someone you love struggle and fail is incredibly hard; and it is so easy to get caught up in the fear about parenting that is created by the media and internet gossip. But to be so afraid of the world and the chance that our children might get hurt, physically or emotionally, is actually doing more harm to them than any leeching plastic plate or exclusion from a birthday party ever could. It is through our biggest disappointments, rejections and struggles that we grow as people and know what we are capable of. Are we raising a generation of children given every opportunity, but shielded from reality? I want my children to grow up knowing that life isn't always fair, the world isn't perfect and there are things out there that aren't so pretty...if we try to hide all that's imperfect, how will we ever raise children who have passion to bring change to this world?

I'd love to know your thoughts on this. I've been thinking about it a lot.
Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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11 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Kim said...

What a fitting post to read as I sit here at 5:30am on the first day of school, thinking about what my children may encounter in the upcoming year...will they like their teacher, will their teacher respect them? Will they make friends with the sweet kids in class, will they follow the behavior of the others. One of the reasons I love summer so much is that it feels like they can be like the kids of my generation, simply having imaginative adventures in the yard without the social pressures and fears of the real world we live in today.
Thank you for this post. I am renewed in my inspiration to let them be kids and to challenge myself not to impose my fears on them. I'm going to encourage those independant backyard adventures all year!

Christina Simon said...

I heard Wendy Mogul speak not to long ago. Her message to the parents at the Center For Early Education seemed to fall on deaf ears. Nobody in that room wants their child to be the one who gets a B- or gets taken by a stranger. Sad, but true. As my kids get older, it does seem to be getting easier to relax a bit!

The Twin Coach said...

I think it's especially hard when your kids are young because they seem so incredibly vulnerable. However, in my experience, it is important to look at the motives for why you are worrying so much; often the fears have more to do with the parents' perceptions or desires than about reality. But, even knowing that, I fall into the trap from time to time as well. It's all a work in progress!

Anne Simon said...

I love this post! Having survived most of those things myself and exposing my own children to the rest, it is a wonder that we are still around!
A wise mentor of mine articulated the value of having the opportunity to fail very well. He said that failure is as important as achievement, especially when children are young. It is exactly then that the involved parent can be there to dust the kid off and send her on her way to figure it out. There is not stronger validation than this. The child knows that failing to do something does not cost your love. He learns that trying again is necessary to get some important things done. She learns that there are second chances. They are able to better discern the territory between what works and what doesn't. These are all invaluable lessons that can come from one failure.
On a slightly different note - I think I was an involved parent and my parents were certainly involved parents. And I still stayed out all day on my own (with my horse) combing the hills with my friends and exploring my world. We must understand how much the world has changed and make room for adjusting to the level of risk of those changes. The trick is to figure out where the line is between risk and restriction - a fine line for sure.

The Twin Coach said...

Anne, thank you for your wonderful comment. I love the wise words of your mentor. I want very much for my children to know they can survive failure as my own biggest "failure" was also my greatest awakening. Yet, it is so hard as a mom to let them suffer. :)

That fine line between risk & restriction is indeed the one I walk most days. Hopefully I'm getting better at knowing when to veer to each side.
So glad to have you reading the blog. I look forward to more of your comments!

Marbuch said...

Gina... this is the first time I read you... and thank you!! I am a proud mama of a 1 year old beautiful healthy little girl... yesterday I received an email warning me of children kidnappers around the city where I live in Mexico, and of course since then I have been feeling like throwing up, so scared, and having awful thoughts... but you are right! I have always been a relaxed mom, or am I not? maybe I am just a mom and those paranoid moms you are talking about always tell me how incredibly relaxed I am, who knows... Anyway, I want my baby to be a happy child, and I want to teach her through being an example, how to go with the flow and take whatever comes her way with confidence, knowledge and respect and always try to make the best out of it. I want her to be compassionate, and for that she needs to be able to see, feel and understand the differences among people...
Thank you again!

The Twin Coach said...

Hi Mercedes, I am so glad to know you found me! :) And congratulations on your baby girl. I am sure that email would have freaked me out as well but it sounds as though you have a very good head on your shoulders and can protect your child without stifling her. I look forward to hearing more from you!
p.s. one of my sisters in law lives in Guadalajara, Mexico & just had a baby girl as well. :) I need to get down there to visit!

Marbuch said...

You are sweet, I am a facebook follower now! If you ever have a chance and have nothing better to do, this is a little simple blog I write on: http://thejourneysisters.blogspot.com/
I just wrote my birth story there.
Best regards, Mercedes

The Twin Coach said...

Oh that's awesome. I look forward to chatting on FB. :) And I will definitely check out your blog! Thank you for sharing the link.

saltandnectar said...

Ah, the always constant struggle of safety v. shielding, fear/worry v. reality, and {internal, external, societal, overblown} expectations v. acceptance....

I think you've done an excellent job capturing what modern parents face when making childrearing decisions and finding the right balance for our present day circumstances, and you've rightly reminded us that we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture instead of focusing on the slippery slope of what ifs.

Perhaps if we relax as parents, we'll also experience the flip side of fear—freedom—which will give us space to parent from intuition, love, and openness.

- The Other Sarah

The Twin Coach said...

Sarah, I love your thoughts about finding the space to parent more intuitively. I try, each day, to push that "worry" voice away and just be in the moment and let my kids experience life. It's hard, but I know it's so worth it.

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