It’s Not All Mary Poppins


In my last post, I suggested that children don’t need incessant adult hovering to be safe. In fact, my belief goes further than that: incessant adult hovering increases the risks to that child.

I began to develop this idea some years ago. I had a friend who micro-supervised her two children. When in the park, she was never more than a foot away, helping, guiding, assisting. “Put your foot here.” Every movement they made, there she was. “Careful, careful”. If they overreached, she caught them; if they slipped and fell, she picked them up. If they wanted to climb a structure and couldn’t manage it themselves, she’d lift them up. Her monitoring was diligent and unceasing.

When she wasn’t around, which wasn’t often, this woman’s children were two of the most accident-prone I’d ever seen! Clearly, they needed that tight supervision. Or did they?

As I watched her children, and compared them to other, less tightly monitored kids – the kids of those “unaware” moms, nannies, and caregivers who sat on the benches, sipped coffee, chatted with friends, or even read a book (shocking!) while their children played. These children weren’t constantly falling, slipping, landing badly after dropping from a platform, as were my friends’.

It became very clear to me that because her children were never allowed to take a risk, no matter how small, they had no capacity at all for judging them. In her very caring efforts to protect and encourage her children, she was actually robbing them of the ability to care for themselves.

They call themselves “involved”, and “caring” (which implies that the rest of us are ‘uninvolved’, and ‘uncaring’.) I would call them “overinvolved”, and “untrusting of their childrens’ capacities”. They see themselves as protecting their children. Perhaps they are, in the very short term; in the long term, they are endangering their children.

So, give yourself a break, Earnest Mommy and Daddy. Take your kid to the park, then park yourself on a bench. Enjoy the sunshine. Chat with a friend. If your child says “I can’t reach this tire!” , don’t jump up to lift them! Just call back, “Well, if you can’t manage it by yourself, it’s not safe for you.” Let them take a tumble now and then, and let your comforting be calm and matter-of-fact. “Whoops. Sometimes that happens when you swing by your arms, doesn’t it?” Dust them off, give them a kiss, and send them back to try again.

Trust them.

April 15, 2005 Posted by | controversy, parenting, socializing | 3 Comments

Parenting Styles – Different Can Be Good

At the park yesterday. What a beautiful day! There with a caregiver friend, and together we watch over our small charges. We sip our coffee, chat, and intervene with the children as necessary. Everyone is content.

Another woman – mother? grandmother? – enters the park with a little girl of four or five. The child trots into the sand and onto the play structure. The woman follows. For the next 45 minutes, she trails this child wherever she goes, talking, encouraging, advising, warning. My friend and I continue in our pattern: occasional forays into the sand to dissuade, explain, answer a question, or assist, but otherwise leaving the children to their play.

This is perfectly acceptable, each adult interacting with their child(ren) in their chosen manner. Well, it was perfectly acceptable to my friend and I, but clearly not acceptable to the other woman, who, after shooting us unfriendly glowers for a quarter of an hour, starts to call out warnings and advisories on our childrens’ activities:

“Your little boy is climbing this ladder!”
“Should she be up there?”
“Did you know that little girl is on the bench?”

Our answers were polite, though increasingly, we were annoyed and offended. “Yes, it’s all right, he’s safe. Yes, she’s fine. Yes, we see her, thanks.”

Eventually she gave up on us, and we know that there went a woman who is inwardly disparaging us for our poor supervision of the children. She sees it through the window of her expectations: to properly supervise children, you must be within arms’ reach of their every action. We see it through ours: that children who are playing happily can be allowed to do so unhindered. It’s a matter of respect for the child, and a little bit of adult humility. I don’t believe that the only quality interaction for a child is with an adult. Yes, adult perspectives can enrich a child’s life, but they’re pretty good at discovering things themselves. They don’t need incessant adult hovering. Our children were happy, they were safe.

I’ve noted that, generally speaking, people with only one child make a few, often unconscious, assumptions: that their nurture will determine the nature of their child in a direct and encompassing way; that the way they do things as parents is the right way; and the way their children were at a certain age is the way all children of that age are (or should be). People who have reared more than one child discover that children raised by the same parents in the same way turn out quite, quite differently; that in fact, there are almost as many good ways to raise a child as there are parents and children; and that there is huge variation in what is “normal”.

So, glowering woman in the park: Take your judgments elsewhere. Open your mind to the concept that differences can be good, that different is valid. And learn to trust your child a little more.

April 15, 2005 Posted by | controversy, parenting | Leave a comment