Here’s the the thing about parenting: just when you think you have it all figured out, your child throws you a curve ball and you have to start all over again.
In third grade, eight years into this whole mom-and-dad gig, we were cruising along on auto-pilot, feeling pretty good about our parenting choices to date.
Then everything turned upside down when our son asked if he could go outside to play. Without adult supervision.
We live in a wonderful neighborhood, on a wonderful street, with wonderful people. There are lots of sweet kids, ranging in age from preschoolers to teens. We are friendly with everyone on the street, and we all keep an eye out for each other.
When the school bus unloads its cargo of children at the end of the day, they swarm to the driveway du jour, shedding backpacks and lunch boxes as they go. Within minutes, they mount up on bikes and scooters, bounce the basketball or set up bases for kickball. They shriek and laugh and run, and quite frankly, it’s glorious to behold.
He wanted to experience it, rightfully so, without a watchful eye. But, even though he is eight (or maybe because of it), it was tough to say ok.
I mean, he’s old enough. And he’s responsible. He’s a rule-follower and he’s cautious. But he doesn’t ALWAYS pay attention before darting into the street. And he’s not ALWAYS 100% focused when riding his bike. And I’m his mom and it’s my job to protect him forever and ever.
We had a million excuses to tell him no. To invent some activity we needed to do in the front yard or garage so we could keep an eye out. To hide in the bushes and spy. But it wasn’t fair to him, trying to assert his independence and find his way, nor was it fair to us.
So we said yes and started small. His realm was the cul-de-sac and the house next door. Within that perimeter, he was free to go and do as he pleased. We could peep out the front window or (pretend to) check the mailbox to keep an eye on him, but we agreed amongst ourselves to let him be.
Every so often, we extended his boundaries, ultimately giving him a full block of range.
We charged up the walkie talkies so he could check in, and sent him out. He was so proud of his independence, and we were so glad that he was having so much fun.
The shape of our weekends has changed a bit. On fairweather days, if the kids are out and about, he bolts his breakfast and rushes out of the house. He turns up around noon and makes a sandwich. He eats half standing up and runs back out with the other half clutched in his hand. We don’t see him again until right before dinner time, when he declares he is exhausted and hungry and ready to chill.
I’m not going to lie – we miss him on those days.
But this is the point of parenting – we share our knowledge and we guide and we teach, in the hopes that our children can effectively put it all to use. Much as I may want to hide in the bushes near where he is playing, ever vigilant in case he needs me, I need to be strong and allow him the chance to exercise good judgment, to navigate his own social situations and to find his way. It’s hard letting go, but it’s worth it to see him having fun and growing up.
In my heart, no matter where life takes him, I know he’s always going to need his mom.