“Do we overprotect our children?
Do our concerns about the potential dangers get in the way of their independence and confidence?
This was the question posed by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour which got me thinking. I remember ‘playing out’ as a child which literally meant playing in the street with no other props apart from chalk for writing on the pavement, playing hopscotch etc. and a bike, (your own or borrowed). You knew all of the other children in the street and it was like having a happily dysfunctional extended family.
I lived in a cul-de-sac which with hindsight must have removed some of the parental stress about being mowed down by speeding lorries or abducted by aliens or people in the next road. But that unstructured play was bliss. No sense of time or place, just total abandonment to the game. No parental supervision. No watchful nannies hovering with cloths to wipe up mess. Firm friendships with school pals turned to fierce rivalry and back to bosom buddies again before you were called in for your tea.
Admittedly some parents had to look longer for their kids, but on the whole the it worked without any major adult intervention. If I were to suggest to a middle class mother today that she leave her children to ‘play out’ in the street for three hours playing whatever they wanted, with whom they wanted, I’m sure she would think I was two slices short of a loaf.
I think the question posed only makes sense to parents who have the luxury of worrying about how their children spend their time. It’s a very first world question, [ it’s called knowing your audience ] as surely every mother’s instinct is to protect her offspring and provide the love and nourishment they need to thrive and to keep them from overt danger?
But if in protecting your children, you are preventing then from stepping into their own mistakes, you are not really protecting them from the hills and valleys of life, you are actually ensuring that by keeping them at the top of a very well-manicured and fortressed hill, when they eventually trip and fall ~ as we all do ~ they will fall and hurt themselves very hard indeed.
My advice? Keep the rope as tight as you can for as long as you can, but sooner than you think is imaginable, your child will ask for the ropes of love between you to be slackened so they can run and breathe.
A truly loving and responsible parent will unravel the bonds, smiling outwardly as they do, whilst inwardly sending up a thousand prayers of protection as their beloved child steps out into the world.
© Suzy Rigg