I recently read a blog post by a mother who had gotten reprimanded for letting her child play alone outside. A woman, a neighbor, brought the child home, rang the doorbell and condescendingly let the mother know that she was being negligent as a mother in so many words both spoken and unspoken. But that wasn’t the end, and what ensued was a nightmare, unnecessary and downright dangerous. (There is a link to the blog post at the bottom so that you can read for yourself) This incident brought me back to a woman I know back home in Lexington. She lives across the street from her son’s elementary school. She had been letting him cross the street (this is not a major street, it’s a neighborhood side street) by himself in the morning to go to school, as she watched from the doorstep of their house. She could see almost all the way to the front entrance, and she could see her son’s classroom window from where she stood. After a week or so, she started to get reprimanded by other mothers who warned her not to do this. They stated that it was unsafe, and they treated her like she was a bad mother for doing so. She also had a toddler at home and it seemed ridiculous to get her and the toddler dressed every morning just to walk across the street. She ended up having to get dressed and accompany him with the toddler in tow, as she felt very bullied and judged by the other mothers. There were two instances this summer that I recall where mothers got arrested for letting their children go to the park alone, or dropping them off to play alone at the park. Anders often wanted to walk down the street to explore, or walk away from where we were in a park to explore another part. I did not let him, but it wasn’t because I didn’t trust him, or that I felt that he would be in danger. It was because I was worried that I would get in trouble or be reprimanded by someone else… another parent, or a police officer. That is kind of sad.
This is becoming more and more prevalent. Why can’t we let our children play outside? What are we doing to them by not giving them any freedom to explore, and figure things out on their own? Why are we judging each other so harshly? I have heard over and over back home, “it takes a village to raise a child….” Where is that village? Instead of judging each other, why aren’t we lifting one another up and looking out for each other as fellow neighbors, mothers, fathers, parents, men, women, and friends? If you are a neighbor, instead of condescendingly dropping a child off at their doorsteps and judging their parent(s), why don’t you get to know the parent(s) and the child? You can help as a neighbor and be a part of the community by being alert and helping to look out for children’s safety, while still letting them explore the world around them. I am afraid that we are doing our children a horrible disservice by not letting them have any freedom to explore, and there really is no conclusive data to back up that the world is a scarier and a more dangerous place than it was “back in our day.” And, if it is, shouldn’t we prepare our kids to be able to intelligently and confidently get around in it on their own without us hovering over them?
This is one of many reasons that we moved to Norway. We wanted Anders to roam through the neighborhood, ride his bike, knock on a friends’ door spontaneously without having a pre-arranged playtime set up by us. Since we moved here he has been doing this, and it feels so good. Many days after school he rides down the bike path, crosses the bridge that goes over the river and goes to a friend’s house. If that friend isn’t home he goes to the next one, and so on. He has a phone, and he can call me and I can call him. Even if he didn’t, I would be okay with it. I know where his friends live, and we use common sense and rules. There is a feeling here that parents and neighbors here are paying attention and looking out for one another.
I wish for the same for all children and I hope someday things will change. I understand that this is a complex issue. I hope that parents will stop judging each other. It’s not a contest, and in the end, if the kids have fun, learn, become independent, social, and happy everybody wins. I wish to add, that I know that every neighborhood and every parent is not like what I am describing, and there are many people who do not experience this at all, but I do worry about it because it has become far too prevalent.