Last week 2 things happened to make me want to write about this topic. One of the blogs I follow, Women On The Fence, posted about Tough Love parenting. Erica Diamond, the author, wrote about a conference she attended on "I'm parenting as fast as I can". Here's an excerpt from her blog:
Wow, parenting has really changed from when I was growing up. The sad part is that I totally related to what she was saying. I think that because we are bombarded with so much information, there is tremendous pressure on us to parent "the right way" and to not make any mistakes. There is so much out there telling us what and how to do it, that you can't help but question yourself and wonder if you are doing the best you can. The truth of the matter is, there is no handbook on how to be a parent.
Which leads me to #2. Last week I sent my son to the Y for "spring break camp". On Thursday when I went to pick him up, he asked me to wait a minute while another little boy was going to write down his phone number. My son just turned 6. I asked the little boy if he actually knew his number to write down and he did. Out of curiosity, I asked him how old he was and he told me 9. My son wanted a play date. I must say that it immediately bothered me and I felt uneasy - I couldn't help but think, what does a 9 year old who is in grade 3 want with my 6 year old who is in kindergarten? My son likes to hang around older kids - I think it makes him feel cool and important. But he is also way more sensitive than his younger sister and doesn't always stand up for himself. This worries me. We are constantly hearing horrible stories in the media about how someone was molested by an older boy but didn't tell anyone until they were an adult. I am not insinuating that this was the case here AT ALL - but I couldn't help the thought from going through my head. And that is the problem - because I've heard so many disturbing stories, I can't help the thought from forming in the first place. It shouldn't form at all! I can't imagine this going through my mom's head when my brother and I were kids.
Our generation knows so much more about everything with the advent of the internet - there's something new out there every day. So how does this affect us as parents? I think it makes us a little more paranoid than the previous generation. I also think it puts too many thoughts in our head - we think way too much (or at least I do). Finally, I think it makes us forget about our intuition - it's easy to look for answers from the so called experts when information is so readily available, rather than relying on our own common sense. That's not to say that there isn't value in a lot of the information out there.
When I was a kid, I walked to school with my brother and/or friends from a very early age (I think around grade 1) AND it was not a short walk. Today, I wouldn't dream of letting my son walk the 1/2 block to his school (perhaps when he about 15 LOL - but you get that, right?). We don't let our kids play out on the street anymore. Everything is scheduled and supervised. Why? Because we are too paranoid that something bad will happen. Do you think there are so many more evil people out there lurking to do harm, or is it that we just know about more of these incidents today? I feel badly that our kids won't have the same experiences that we had as children - I think it does them a disservice and that they are definitely missing out.
I don't think my mom put so much thought into always trying to pump up my self-esteem or saying something in a positive way (I'm fine, really!). Today we are so afraid of telling kids anything negative. We can't protect them forever and they have to learn certain lessons on their own. On the other hand, I don't want to feel like a bad mother knowing something will deliberately hurt my child and letting it happen. Where to draw the line? This morning my son told me that one of his friends said he didn't want to sit next to him anymore. My husband told him "forget him, then he's the loser" but I disagree - I think that (a) it was probably a passing thing (kids will be kids) and (b) he has to learn that not everyone will like him and that's OK.
This was just a small example but we face decisions daily on how to present the world to our children, and those choices will have long lasting effects. So what do we listen to and what do we tune out? What do we protect our children from and what lessons should be learned? It's really hard. I've always lived my life knowing my mind and being firm in my decisions, but when those decisions will ultimately form who these little humans will be one day, it is impossible not to question myself.
At the end of the day, all I can do is try my best, use common sense and trust my intuition. That requires keeping the dialogue open with my children and trying as much as possible to really know who they are as people. Then my decisions will be based partly on what I know (or learned from the multitude of sources available), partly on what feels right to me as a mother, and partly on what feels right for my particular child in question. In all likelihood, there will be times when I will make a different decision depending on which child is involved. I think this is OK as long as my core parenting decisions are even and fair. After all, our kids will learn that life is not always fair - and like I said, we can't protect them forever...