In which she has to re-evaluate her entire parenting philosophy

by DaniGirl on October 26, 2013 · 8 comments

in Ah, me boys, Mothering without a licence

I recently had one of those moments that make you completely rethink everything you’re doing as a parent. Like most world-shaking insights, it was innocuous in its beginnings.

Tristan and I were standing in line at Pet Smart, buying dog food. There’s a Bulk Barn next door, and I’d wanted to pick up a few of Beloved’s favourite candies for him. Time was getting tight, so I contemplated sending Tristan over to Bulk Barn to pick up the candies while I waited in the longish queue for dog food. I was fairly confident he would be able to complete the transaction without any trouble, but I realized as I was pulling a twenty out of my wallet that he might never have gone in to a store to buy something by himself before.

I actually paused in surprise. Could that be possible? Has my eleven-and-a-half year old son never actually been in to a store by himself before? So I explained what I wanted him to do and asked him if he wanted to do it. Ever agreeable, he said, “Sure!” and off he went.

I was done in my queue before he was done in Bulk Barn, so I stood outside between the stores, wanting him to complete the entire transaction by himself. He came out clutching the bag of candy in one hand and my balled-up change and receipt in the other.

I thanked him, then asked if he had ever been in a store by himself before. “Um, nope, I don’t think so.”

I was gobsmacked. How has this happened? Me, who espouses a parenting philosophy of trust until proven otherwise and benign neglect and argues against coddling kids at every turn? I am all about the free-range kids, about letting them walk home from school by themselves and play outside by themselves and letting them earn trust and independence. I’m the mom who was mortified to send a child out to walk over to a friend’s house for a playdate, only to have the other parent walk my child back to the house afterward. How is it possible that a child of mine is almost a teenager and has never been in a store to buy something without a parent or grandparent with him?

My understanding of myself as a parent is seriously compromised here.

Going to the corner store was a huge part of my childhood. I was probably four, maybe five, when I started. It was all of a three block walk, but it was a hella busy road, and we moved when I was six so I know I was doing it before I hit the first grade. I can clearly remember being eight or nine and getting an allowance of 25c. I had to budget two weeks of allowance to accommodate the tax on my favourite treat, a 25c bag of chips. (Remember, the foil and paper ones ones you could split down the fold in the side?) And let’s not even talk about all the times I wandered down to pick up some smokes for my parents. Hey, it was the 1970s, none of us knew any better. And I couldn’t have been much older than 10 or 11 when I walked from my Granny’s house to Kmart on my own for the first time.

I was talking to Beloved about my utter shock at this realization, but he was less perturbed than me. “The store is pretty far from our house, and you hate walking down Bridge Street even when you’re with them because of all those trucks and the traffic. You’d never let him go alone.” It’s true, the traffic on Bridge St gives me a stomach ache, and there’s no stores on the island, but still!

photograph of a boy walking a dog

(I suppose it’s a good thing that I don’t have any pictures of my kids walking by themselves in traffic to illustrate this post, right?)

It makes me sad that so many of the experiences that shaped my childhood will never happen for the boys. I can’t get over the fact that he’s almost a teenager and he’s never been to the store by himself. When I was not much older than him I was taking the bus downtown to check out the book and music stores. There isn’t much in the way of public transit out here either, which makes me wonder whether he’ll be in his thirties by the time he makes it downtown on his own. I’m only being a little bit sarcastic.

Is this just the norm for kids now, or did I miss some essential parenting here?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 angela ( angfromthedock ) October 26, 2013 at 9:02 am

Oh…i have so much to say on this. I am the parent who allows their kids to do the things we did as kids. Which included equipping my 12 year old with a bus pass and sending her off to school in downtown Montreal, one day after moving to Montreal. Trial by fire? Maybe. But amazing and liberating for the kid:). I heartily believe that kids are ridiculously able to navigate themselves in most situations. I also think that we have been distracted from this reality by scare tactics and reactive over parenting. I am not criticizing parents – the fears of what can happen to our kids are everywhere, and there are entire industries based on these worries…but it does definite help create situtations like the one you found yourself in.

When I was a kid…well, the abandoned quarry with the old campground with the treacherous never filled in, not so empty inground pool was where I loved to play best. And I could. Now? Oy. Can you imagine the grief my mom and dad would get? Oh yeah…the same grief I got sending my kid downtown solo. There were tons of other moms riding that train with their daughters but I just felt she could do it on her own. And now? Two years later? She has proved me right time and again ( which is rare with a teen and I revel in it;)).

So…all that said? I think it is the norm…but there is nothing wrong with being a little abnormal:)

2 Charlene October 26, 2013 at 9:37 am

Interesting. I guess I don’t write parenting blog posts because I don’t really analyze my parenting choices and to be honest I’m just making it up as I go along anyway. I’ve never consciously thought if I was a Tiger-mom or a helicopter mom or a free range mom.If I had to put a label I guess I’ll go with inconsistent mom because my momus-operandi changes based on so many variables.I have Velcro moments then I have run & be free moments- and they have been different with each kid.There…I said it…I don’t treat each kid the same either. The funny thing about parenting is that we really don’t know if we’ve done it right until its too late to do anything else. Don’t beat yourself up about your choices. You do the best you can with the information you have at the time.

3 Sarah McCormack October 27, 2013 at 8:47 pm

OMG Dani. I love this post. I read it a few days ago, but had to sit with it awhile before leaving a comment. Basically, what Charlene said…. but that is lazy.. so let me say this.

The world is really not a more dangerous place than it was in the 70’s when we were kids. Statistics back me up. However, people’s attitudes have change a lot. I often wonder that if I sent my 9 year old to the park by himself (with friends) and one of them got hurt whether most parents’ reactions would be judgemental……. ie. “why wasn’t his mother there?”.

I am trying very hard to strike the balance, as we all are. I loooove what Charlene says about parenting your own kids differently. I had never thought of that, but I do that. My younger one is the “baby” and we don’t give him as much freedom and I think this blog has really made me want to change that.

This is the tremendous power of blogging/writing, or sharing… makes us think. Thanks Dani. needed this one.

4 Amy October 27, 2013 at 9:20 pm

We had a corner store and I was the same, taking my allowance down there at a young age, but we’re in the burbs now and I will wait longer before I let my kid walk up next to a busy street to get to the closest store.

5 smothermother October 28, 2013 at 7:36 am

We have the kids outside playing all the time without any of the street parents around, and I love it. They know the boundaries that they are allowed and we just let them roam free. Like when I was a kid. but I have never let the jellybean go to the store by himself. then again, he has never asked. but i too remember doing it all by myself from an early age. 8 maybe? i guess we’ll see in a couple of years if he wants to go get a treat. the corner store is only a few blocks away. hmm, i wonder what i will say.

6 Steve October 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm

You bought one bag of chips with 50 cents? Rookie. I use to get like 47 or 48 1cent candies ina brown paper bag after walking to the corner store “Charlie’s” in Sandy Hill all by myself. As for my kids, at 9 and a half I’m failrly certain my oldest daughter has yet to esperience this too sadly. I’m not sure I agree with Sarah and sadly I do feel it is a more dangerous place.

7 HollyStar October 30, 2013 at 11:27 am

Thanks SO much for this post, Dani. I had a similiar childhood experience growing up in Centretown in Ottawa and going to the corner store at a very early age. I also frequently bought cigarettes for family members! I lived in a co-operative housing project (mad props to the CCOC!) where everyone looked out for everyone and I always felt safe despite the fact that the neigbourhood was quite a bit rougher then than now.

The sad thing is that I make some of my parenting decisions based on what other parents will think (and judge) and not on what works best for my kids or my family. I need to think more about that fact and how it impacts my parenting.

My dudes are still young enough (6, 4 and 2) that independent adventures aren’t quite in the cards just yet but this is definitely food for thought.

8 Mary @ Parenthood October 31, 2013 at 5:15 pm

We observed CAS at work in a family over a couple years recently & their attitudes towards roaming kids negative enough that I think I will wait until my kids are legally allowed to be by themselves before making any experiments of that sort. Sometimes bureaucracy is scarier than anything.

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