Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I Am Your Child

Zane has been a homebody lately.  He's heavily into summer mode, which means that underpants are the dress code and the Boy Nest(a mountain of pillows on the sofa) is the preferred location.  I am pretty sure that this is what I have to look forward to in the teen years.

His father and I, on the other hand, are all about enrichment.  As in, what can we do with our child that will expand his horizons, teach him something new, and encourage the creation of new and better brain cells?  We plan trips to museums, movies, pools, water parks, beaches, etc.  Some things are hits, others are not.

But we didn't anticipate any resistance this time.  

"I don't want to go."  Zane was firm.  I thought very hard a moment about how to respond; this parenting thing is a tricky gig. 

"Okay, your father and I will go, and you can stay here."   I smiled at my use of an old psychology trick.

"What? You can't do that!" Zane was horrified. It was very hard not to giggle, as he stood there, hands on hips, and glared.

"Why not?"  I managed to keep a straight face. I was curious to hear what he had to say.

"I am your child!  You aren't allowed to leave me alone!" The boy had a point. He was my child. I wondered about his assertion about leaving him alone, however.

When I was a kid, my parents left us alone often.  We would go out to play without much discussion, and we were completely unsupervised for hours.  Sometimes my parents would ask where we were going, but most of the time they had no clue.  I don't even remember half of the mischief my brother and I got into, and what I do recall will not be revealed here. I am not sure about the statute of limitations for shenanigans on military bases. If I would have hollered at my parents, "I am your child!", they probably would have just laughed, patted me on the head, then sent me to my room.

My parents weren't terrible; that is what every parent did back then.  Kids went out to play, and parents did whatever parents do inside the house.  Kids were called in at dinner time, and if it was summer, they went back outside after dinner until dark. We had a reason for making ourselves scarce: If you didn't have anything to do, your parents would always find something for you to do that usually involved scrubbing something icky off of something else. Who wanted to do that?

Things are different now, but maybe not better. I remember doing quite a bit of problem solving out there by myself.  There was no one to tell me 'that's illegal', or 'that will explode', or 'that will result in a weird stain'. My brother and I had to figure these things out for ourselves. We had to adapt and adjust. We had to figure out how to navigate the world on our own, and we did. That is something that the children growing up today won't have.

Zane has never really been unsupervised his entire life. There is always someone watching him, telling him what to do. Instead, kids have play dates, and camps, and lives that end up overscheduled. They are never alone or left to their own devices. Parents who let their children run around unsupervised, like we used to, are berated and chastised, and their children pitied as unloved.  Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to judge? There has to be a happy medium between unsupervised and oversupervised, I thought.

Yet as I was contemplating this very idea, the police were circling our subdivision, helping frantic parents search for their five year old boy.  He had either wandered off, or he hadn't, but he was gone. As I heard the sound of the approaching police helicopter, I decided that maybe oversupervised wasn't so bad.


  1. well maybe not for a five year old... but i agree. i was left to my own devices for much of the time, with no video games and guess what, we all found stuff to do.. explored, created, invented, played... i think today's kids have no idea what to do with themselves without a device or left to their own devices...

  2. I do remember what I was doing as an often unsupervised teen...hence my fairly large thumb!!!!!

  3. Hmmm... here's the thing... we did have all that as kids. But we also didn't have "enrichment" either. Our enrichment was found by US, not given to us in a script deemed appropriate by the standards of today. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that you are actively engaging in your son's day, but I've found that it's equally important for me to be actively engaged in building the boy nest and including a sheet and fan tent structure. :) When Youngest was 9 I had no choice but to let him get off the bus and be home alone. Although it was rare and most often was no longer than 15 minutes or so, TWICE it was an hour. Imagine my horror when I found out that during one of those times he opened the door to the verizon lady AND told her I was not home. Know what happened? Nothing. But he (we) used it as a life lesson.... and it's never happened again. Sometimes it's about finding the balance between the old days and the new.

  4. This brings back memories! My dad used to whistle with his fingers in his mouth to round us up from somewhere in the neighborhood to come in for dinner. I lived in a suburban development surrounded by farms on every side (sadly those farms have since been developed). As long as we did not go into the cornfield for fear of deer ticks or to the street that led to the development, we could backyard hop everywhere. I feel like I can't do that with my kids. They are less privileged than I was and we live smack dab in an urban environment right next to a not-yet-but-almost gentrified neighborhood. :( Then again, my kids are too young to really be unsupervised anyway (5,3).

  5. With all 3 girls in te double digits by the end of the summer - 10, 11, and 18, we're loosening the reins....a little

  6. You are so right! When I was growing up, we also were left to our own devices. We were outside from sunrise to sunset, left, as you said, to our own devices. And we figured things out for ourselves. Why did things change? I have often wondered this, too, as my children were growing up. Good piece.

  7. It's funny, I know I lived through the time when parenting styles morphed from undersupervised to over. But for the life of me, I have no idea what caused it. American paranoia and fear mongering? The Tiger Mom? Yuppies from the 1980s and their rigid morality?

  8. It's so different now than when we were kids. I let my 7 year old outside alone, but I spend more time checking to make sure he's still there than I do getting anything done inside. I may as well just go out there with him. I hope the kid in your neighborhood was OK.

    1. They found him. I guess he just decided to go exploring, like any five year old would. Thank goodness he was safe!

  9. Growing up in the summer....you ate @ whose ever house you were closest to for lunch or dinner & then went home when the street lights came on. My mom stayed home, but the neighbor down the street was a single parent so her kids were with us a lot. We had a large garden so if we stayed home, we would have to weed it or other stuff....so we always went off....to find adventures. We figured out how to get from point A to point B without the help of parents. We also knew the boundaries of where we could go & we never questioned it. I've gradually left the kids alone to the point that this year my son isn't in any kind of daycare situation. He went to Boy Scout camp (where my dad is the office manager). I'm also lucky that my inlaws like having the kids over the summer.


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