Helicopter moms, prepare your best stink-eye to be thrown in my direction.
*Clears throat loudly* I allowed my daughter to go to a new friend’s house without me. I had never driven by the house (though I knew the neighborhood); I had never met her mother face-to-face. And, I allowed this mother to pick up our daughters after school, transport them to her home, and let them play together until I got off of work. (gasp!)
In my defense (and I’m not sure why I feel like I need one), I had talked to this mom on the phone and our daughters had been Face-timing for the last few evenings. I had seen both her parents on the screen, and heard the background noises of their everyday lives while our 7-year-olds talked about the epic Minecraft castle they would build together. I wasn’t overwhelmed with worry about my daughter’s safety, and simply made sure she understood that if she ever felt uncomfortable at someone’s house, I was merely a phone-call away.
The hands-free, no-mom-attached playdate was fantastic. My daughter had a great afternoon with her friend, and I was able to avoid that awkward mom-date that mentally drains me and leads to playdates spaced very far apart.
My friends who live in subdivisions have the same “problem” I do: We have to create “playdates” in order for our kids to have any friends.
It’s unfair, really; it’s unfair to all involved.
[…] Society — and, in particular, mommyhood — has comfortably moved entirely away from hanging-out-with-the-kid-down-the-street, to a playdate mentality, where we need to invite people with other children over for a short span of hours.
We are supposed to then engage in slightly awkward small talk while our children interact. Afterward, we part and go back home, across town or to different towns.
What was your childhood like?
I remember leaving the house almost immediately after the bus dropped me off in the afternoon. I’d grab my bike and head to my friend’s house. She didn’t live on my street, and, in fact, lived a few streets over. I always told my mom where I was going, but my visit to Holly’s house included plenty of bike riding through the neighborhood, playing in ditches when it rained, and very little adult supervision. Oh, I forgot to add: I was in 2nd grade. And I lived in Nashville, TN.
When I think about it, I remember relatively few “playdates” in which my mom and siblings came along for the duration of the visit. I don’t remember feeling scared without my mom, and I don’t remember any uncomfortable situations. I look back on my childhood with fond memories of playing outside until dark, and meeting up in the neighborhood with friends of my choosing. It was sacred kid time.
My kids don’t have that.
My children’s childhood seems to be in stark contrast from my own. My 7yo had a friend whom she begged to have over for months. When I talked to her mom about the possibility, I was told that it would have to be on the weekend because they didn’t allow their daughter to be anywhere without a parent or grandparent present. (?!) My 7yo has never walked through the neighborhood on her own. Our youngest children have never taken their bikes down to the playground only a block away from our back door. If they want to play with other kids, we’ve got to arrange it for them. And in today’s playdate society, my children often only spend time playing with friends under the watchful eye of not one, but two moms who awkwardly make conversation in the next room.
No doubt, this playdate society is partially influenced by our inflated sense of danger around every corner. I’m sure it would shock many parents to learn that crime rates are now lower than they’ve been since the 1960’s. We may feel like we’re keeping our kids safe by never letting them out of our sight, but new research suggests that we’re rendering them incapable of dealing with the world. Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of “The Price of Privilege,” and contributor to this year to an article in SLATE about the effect of helicopter parenting on our kids, wrote:
“When we parent this way we deprive our kids of the opportunity to be creative, to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience, to figure out what makes them happy, to figure out who they are. In short, it deprives them of the chance to be, well, human. Although we over-involve ourselves to protect our kids and it may in fact lead to short-term gains, our behavior actually delivers the rather soul-crushing news: Kid, you can’t actually do any of this without me.”
Our kids will be fine.
Instead of teaching your children that they should be fearful of strangers (which isn’t true), teach them how to spot “tricky people.” Instead of refusing to leave your kids at home alone for 5 minutes while you run out to get milk, teach them basic household safety skills. Teach them how to call 911. Teach them where to go if there is a fire. Teach them how to find a helpful adult and how to ask for help should they need it. (A great piece of advice I once heard was to tell your kids to find another mom with children.) Teach them “good touches” and “bad touches.” . With all of my heart, I believe the world to be an inherently good and beautiful place and I want my children to thrive in it. I want to teach my kids how to be safe in the world, without teaching them to be scared of the world.
I don’t want to come to your house for a playdate because I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that they can’t handle the world without me. If I’m letting my child come to your house, I’m trusting that you’ll do your best to keep my child safe. If you let your child come here, I promise to do the same. Our kids will be fine. (If we’ll allow it.)