Thursday, July 2, 2009

The good ol' days

Dave and I were conversing tonight about (in my interpretation) whether or not I get too involved in my parenting when it comes my children and their friendships. Dave was reminiscing of days gone by when we all just roamed the neighborhoods from breakfast until lunch and then back out until dinner and then back out until bedtime. Days full of exploration, sandboxes, and Jets vs. Sharks type neighborhood cahooting. Days when it was safe to play with hypodermic needles found at the park. His mom knew he was somewhere, but could not pinpoint. His mom did not set up play dates. The whole day was a play date, with whatever kids were around.

I grew up in these days too, although many years later. We ran around. We were bouncing from one backyard to the next, from one part of the creek to another. We had alliances. We said and did things that make me cringe now as a mother. We had adventures. We walked from our house to Kenny's grandma's a few blocks away (pause with me as I remember vividly being 20 feet from Mrs. Anderson's back door but Kenny couldn't wait to get a tissue. So instead he used his tshirt and it looked like strawberry jelly... do you have a mental picture?) to play in her awesome playhouse, to explore her eerie basement full of wonder, to play with the skeeter bugs in her front stream. We played night games non-stop. We would play tricks on some kids and then run like mad for Brooke and Tommy's house and tear into the basement until it was clear to come out. Once Megan E. and I got in a fight and she challenged me to a bike race down our newly graveled road (have I told this story?). We road to the top of our street, started our pedaling and then she (on purpose, truly) got her pedal too close to my spokes or chain or something and I ended up with forehead, hands and knees full of little rocks. Megan road on home without a second look and was not seen the rest of the day, while Joe Anderson picked rocks out of my skull. Fancy.

I digress. The conversation went over these nostalgic things, and since Dave and I still have not perfected our conversation skills with one another, got a little heated. I asked him to not blame me for the state of the world. He apparently wasn't but wishes it was the same for our kids. That they could run and play and be lost for hours. But people, it is different. What's being thrown at us is different, so the gameplan has to change.

You know when you have that feeling in your heart that tells you "this is not a good situation for your child"? A few years ago we had a new family move into our neighborhood and this feeling shouted from my chest. Dave thought I was being ridiculous, but I requested that E or CW was never left alone with these kids or their mom. My kids weren't aware of how I felt, but I just kept an extra eye on the situation. A couple years later we found out that the son (who is 9 now) had sexually abused a boy 1 year younger than Eli that lived near us. It would be a safe assumption that the 9 year old (7 at the time) had been or was being abused also. It also turned out that all sorts of inappropriate, sad stuff was happening over there. Dave is grateful now, but at the time did not understand what the heck I was so worried about.

I think that as their mom, it is my job to protect them from things and guide them through situations. If this means that if I think one kid's influence on my child is not great, then we limit time with them. If I see that my kid is not nice to someone, then we chill out for a while and give it a break. There have been times when I see that certain relationships that my kids are having with others are not beneficial at that time. There was a boy that E used to play with. Each time they played (and I am sure that I have mentioned this before) Eli came home about 2 inches shorter. I don't think that boy is a bad kid, I just don't think that the dynamics were ideal at that time. There are also friends that use language and behave in a way that I find inappropriate. Eli and I talk about it and I am sure Eli has said or done these things when I am not around. These are good learning situations. Caroline has a friend that she fights with frequently. The mother and I know this happens and if they are having a bad day we agree it does no one any good to prolong the play date. There are also houses where the rules are not the same as ours. And although Eli does a good job of letting a parent or friend know that he doesn't watch a certain show, I can't expect my 7 year old to always stand up for himself. Once I sent him over to a friend's house and he told me later that they had watched an action movie that, in my opinion, is rated PG-13 for a reason. He had nightmares. It is that parent's choice to let their kids watch that show if they choose, but it is up to me to let Eli know that it is not a great choice for him. He doesn't need to be exposed to violence and sexuality already. Yeah, I'm protective. I'm doing what I think is best for my kids.

Unfortunately we don't live in an age where I feel it is safe to send the kids out the front door and tell him to find someone to play with. The world is different. It isn't even always safe inside our own house. Technology has brought up many fantastic things, but with that also comes more responsibility to put safeguards in place for our children. Yes, there are wonderful people everywhere I look, but there are scary ones too. And just because Eli, Caroline and Joey will inevitably encounter situations that are not ideal, that does not mean I can't do all in my power to provide the ideal ones too. The stick is finding the balance between sheltering them too much and exposing them to things that their little hearts and minds aren't ready for. Each day I learn a little more about parenting, each day I find that I was right or maybe even wrong about a choice I made. It is a constant learning process. It's kicking my mothering tail.


Angel said...

I agree with both of you. I wish we could bring up children in the same carefree childhood. It was awesome! However, the world has changed and it's too scary not to know who you kids are with or what they are watching/doing. I think mothers (and fathers too) know what and who are good for their children. I see B personality change depending on who he had been playing with. Ultimately we are responsible for guiding them towards good choices, including choices about friends.

Kenny said...

I'm so glad I tuned in to your blog tonight to read about strawberry jelly. Thanks for that mental picture. I'm sorry I left that image stained in your memory, I had long forgotten, but I do remember your wipeout on Mitchell.

Those were the good ol' days. My mom was the most overprotective parent in the neighborhood and she still let me run all over the place. Now days, kids are quarantined to their own homes because creeps and weirdos have ruined it for everyone.

aimee heff said...

Gosh, I think this is one of the biggest battles as a parent. I do not have kids so I do not know from personal experience but I have been with many clients that have had "mom/dad issues" being too neglectful or on the other end too overbearing and have studied relationship dynamics around parent/child interactions.

The balance is hard to strike. I think kids need to experience things that are difficult (being teased, being mean, making and breaking friendships) so they learn how to be healthy people. When parents protect them too much than children do not understand how to think for themselves and work to build a sense of self all their own. Sometimes that means getting in trouble or getting hurt or making the wrong decision about something. Hopefully it is just not too extreme examples of those things. Enmeshment is the therapy term for parents that are so over involved that you can't see where the child ends and the parents begins. It isn't healthy.

When parents are too unstructured kids also suffer. I have many stories that should of never happened if a parent was being attentive. It is funny as I have worked with women who were sexually abused (and now have major addictions as a consequence) they are often more unforgiving of the parent that was supposed to protect them than the perpetrator. When I started seeing this pattern it broke my heart.

I believe there is a balance and I have seen many families do it so I know it is possible.

One of my professors said that she would never tell her children whether or not they could hang out with a particular friend. She said if they don't learn themselves how to pick their friends and choose to be around people that make them happy and feel good about themselves then they will never grow up knowing how to do this. It may mean seeing your children get burned by "the mean girl" etc but if the parent is always telling them how someone is or isn't good for them than they never learn how to discern for themselves. I thought this was so interesting and I really want to remember it for when I have my own kids.

Great post. Parenthood is an ever evolving role and I love when I see people doing it thoughtfully and taking it seriously.

(Sorry I just wrote a novel here in your comments! I will stop now.)

Tiffany And Co. said...

Wow, nothing's changed since Kenny was a kid...I still catch him wiping his nose on his shirt when he's outside mowing the lawn. Old habits die hard.

Sam said...

Yeah, I miss those days. Even in the nice quiet neighborhoods, you feel like you still need to be cautious. Kinda stinks.

I am probably too protective of my boys...but there is really an edge nowadays to kids and parents alike and that drives me crazy. Its still great to be a just aint easy being a parent.