Last week as I stood waiting for the bus to bring my 4-year-old daughter home from camp, a terrible accident was taking place in my neighbourhood. I heard the sirens wail and felt in my gut that something was wrong. Reports indicate that a 6-year-old girl was walking across the street as an oncoming van was making a right turn. No charges have been laid, but the investigation is on going.
No matter what happened, the pain must be enormous: for the sweet girl's family and the 50-year-old driver of the van, I just can't imagine the horror they're living through.
The accident took place at an intersection we cross almost daily to visit our local library and park. Today, the intersection is filled with flowers, messages, and a beautiful photo of the little girl, Georgia Walsh. Pink ribbons have been tied to trees, streetlights, and stop signs throughout our neighbourhood. The entire community is in mourning.
After something like this happens so close to home, how do you not feel afraid every time you walk down the street with your kids?
I found this very poignant message in the comments section of a Toronto Star story that ran today about a fund set up in Georgia’s memory. It read:
“Note to motorists - many of us want our children to be strong and independent and that means teaching and allowing them to cross the street safely. Be extra vigilant in residential neighbourhoods, because children can make mistakes just like the rest of us.”
How true! I so badly want to let go of some of my “helicopter parenting” tendencies and allow my children the freedom to explore and navigate their surroundings independently as they grow up. But when something like this happens so close to home, it almost stops you in your tracks and makes the idea of Free-Range parenting seem terrifying.
I know if I spend my whole life telling my kids to “be careful” I’ll drive them and myself crazy…so what’s the middle ground? How do we protect our kids while also letting them, as the commenter above said, be strong and independent?
Since I'm lucky enough to work with a wise and insightful group of women here at the Yummy Mummy Club, I turned to my fellow bloggers for their thoughts on this. They eagerly weighed in:
Jeni Cargill Marinucci of the Panic Button Years said:
“I routinely let my children walk to the store or school on their own (ages 7 and up) and they haven’t held my hand doing so in many years. I think Free-Range is the way to go and yes, it is hard to develop this mindset, but it is something I do despite the discomfort because in my opinion, it is more damaging to our children to NOT allow them freedoms.”
Then Melissa Gaston of Find The Light made an interesting point:
"There's an old interview around with Al Gore I think where he talks about how he was holding his kid's hand, and the kid bolted and in a second was hit by a car and very seriously injured. So maybe even hand-holding gives us a false sense of security.”
So true! These little people aren’t as likely as adults to over-think things…they’re guided by their hearts rather than their heads. And, while this is so wonderful in so many ways, it’s also very scary for us parents.
Kat Armstrong of Celebritease is Free-Range all the way. She says:
"Our kids walk alone. We live on a main street (Roncesvalles, like right on it). Up until this year, it was always hands held to cross. My son knows to stop at each corner and wait, then we practice looking both ways! We feel good about it."
Finally, Andrea Nair our resident parenting expert says:
"I'm a free-ranger. There are a minute number of serious or fatal incidents that occur, however if one of those is near you, it can feel like an absolute thing. Kids need to gain the sixth sense to be aware of their environment (it's a thing called "physical literacy") keeping an eye on what is out of place or rushing toward them. This is only learned by moving around in space alone. I say more about that in this post."
There are so many things to worry about as we raise our kids in this crazy world, and so the most important thing we can do—I think—is to cherish every moment we have with them, enjoy them, laugh with them, and stay as present as possible as we help them navigate each stage.
Today I’m holding my daughters a bit closer as I send love and prayers to the family of Georgia Walsh, for whom life will never be the same.
What do you think? How do you raise strong and independent kids when the world seems so scary? Do you hover like a helicopter or take a more Free-Range approach? How do you come to terms with your decision?