Right after we pulled into the garage on the last day of school, twelve-year-old Slim ran across the street toward some girls who were playing outside. A few minutes later he came back into the house.
“Why are you back inside, Slim?” I asked.
“Oh, those girls saw me coming and ran into their house,” he shrugged, matter-of-factly. “I guess they couldn’t handle my awesomeness.”
Slim has high-functioning autism. Whether he really thought that or realized the girls were trying to get away from him because they think he’s weird remains to be seen. But this is one of the many reasons that, despite what kind of a childhood I had, my sons will not be having a free-range summer.
Alphabet letters. In addition to the ASD, my son also has ADHD. He has one brother who has ADD. These boys need structure this summer. Honestly, all kids need structure. The first two weeks before lessons and camps and activities got started, Slim tried to plan out our entire day minute-by-minute. It was maddening, but I understand his need for order and schedules. Sure, sometimes we’ll wake up and just fly by the seats of our pants; but most days we will have a routine of chores, summer school work, screen time, active time, lessons, camps, etc . . .
Screens. When I was my sons' ages, cable television was a new thing and Atari was just a fuzzy game my brother played that I didn't have any interest in. Once "Fraggle Rock" was over and HBO was showing Nine to Five for the fifty-gazillionth time, I turned off the t.v. Now our kids have so many channels and options and personal devices and gaming systems. If I didn’t set limits, my sons would only emerge from their boy cave long enough to pee and grab more bags of Veggie Straws (Seriously, have you tried them? They’re surprisingly good.).
Competition. Gone are the lazy, explorative days of our childhood. My sons cannot possibly take the summer off from school work, learning how to code, or perfecting their three-pointers. Nowadays, there is a camp, a class, or lesson for everything. If there's not, there is a private tutor or coach waiting to teach your child to be the best. I'd like my kids to at least have a chance. (It's a lot, isn't it? Have you read this article about why most kids quit sports before high school?)
Nosy neighbors and CPS. When they were in Junior High, my brother and his friend built an elaborate tree fort whose size rivaled a small NYC apartment or one of those trendy tiny houses. No one gave a thought to two twelve-year-olds with tools and nails and boards and anything else they could scavenge. All four of their parents were working; in fact, I was only ten and staying home by myself. Now, the "village" is all up in everyone else's business. I feel like if I don't check on my boys every ten minutes, I'm going to get judged as a bad mother.
Mean kids. I'll admit that I hover around my kids. The primary reason I do is to make sure they are behaving and being nice to other children. "Catching them in the act" is the perfect time for reteaching and role playing. But, I will admit, too, that I watch Slim like a hawk to see how other children are treating him and reacting to him. I've had to stand up for him in the past, but I'm really trying hard to get him to understand what is appropriate in social situations and what is not. While he really wants to be social, he's not always the best at it.
Fear of loss. I woke up one day seven years ago and my whole life changed. There wasn't a thing I could do about that. But if something happened to one of my boys now and I could have prevented it, I would never be able to live with myself. One day last summer, I wasn't checking on Lil' C every ten minutes outside, and he rode off on his bicycle. We couldn't find him for about twenty minutes and I was panicking, thinking of every kidnapping scenario and desperately trying to remember exactly what he had been wearing. Just as I had pulled out my phone to call 911, he came riding back, happy as a clam at his adventure. We used to ride our bikes EVERYWHERE, but somehow I feel like this is a different time.
I asked my mother once about all this, if she worried about these things, too. There were no cell phones growing up, so she had to trust that we were where we said we'd be. Also, there were no online predators to worry about, though there were actual predators. She said childhood cancer wasn't as prevalent as it is now, but occasionally you did hear of a child who'd died from it. She worried about mean kids and drugs and car accidents and freak accidents and everything we moms today worry about.
But, I still think it was a different time. I think with every generation comes a loss of innocence that we cannot get back. The more we move forward, we the more we lose.
I guess this makes me a helicopter parent; and you know what? I'm okay with that. They are only little for a short time, and I am going to control things as much as I can. The older they get, the more opportunities for independence they will have. I'm okay with that, too. But right now, at 12, 10, 8, and 4 years old, I think I still have a few things to teach them.
By the time they are old enough to apply those lessons, maybe I'll be ready to let go, too.
Do you consider yourself a "free-range" parent? What aspects of their childhood do you control?