The other day, a good friend of mine was at the park, enjoying a day with her daughters, when someone approached her and told her that they were concerned with how far her kids were from her. The suggestion was that she was failing as a parent because her children were outside of her physical reach.
I’ve been the parent at the park wondering where the hell some kid’s parents or caregivers are. When a kid is shoveling rocks into his mouth or sitting on top of the slide holding up traffic, I often look around, trying to find the disinterested owner of said child.
But we need to stop.
I’ve been home with my kids for almost six years. I have a five-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter. They’re the love of my life. When it was just my son and I, I spent my whole entire day focused solely on him. I helped him build. I sat with him. I lay with him. All the live-long day. And now we’re paying for that.
My son is the antithesis of independent. He leans on us a lot. The running joke is that I’m responsible for wiping 75% of the butts in my house. That’s too high of a percentage of butts. But in the case of my son, it’s become a little bit of a problem.
Getting him to play, read, or even BE on his own is an everyday struggle. So, when we get to the park, we do our best to actively avoid him. It probably sounds to the casual observer that we don’t like our kid, and they’re mostly wrong. We’re simply trying to give him the ability to exist on his own.
When I was a kid, my mom was a single parent working full time and attending university. I was an only child. As you can imagine, this meant a lot of time spent on my own. And I think that was great for me. I developed an incredible imagination, was an avid reader, and loved to write. That came from the necessity of independence.
Now, we sit on top of our kids all the time. Any parent that isn’t physically holding their child is a monster and a bad parent, and they are ruining it for everyone else, right?
I’m a very judgmental person. I’m aware that this is not a good quality, but when it comes to kids and parents, I try my best to keep it in check. Here’s the thing. If you watched a child and a parent at a park every day… for a year… you’d know about a tenth of a hundredth of a thousandth of a millionth about that relationship. We think we know what kids are like. We don’t. We know a little tiny bit about that exact moment. We don’t know who cried today. Or why. We don’t know if that kid is a runner and that parent HAS to be on top of them, or if that child is a young explorer who is at their best when they’re afforded a little bit of freedom.
So, you might see me at the park, museum, or the library and you’ll see me staying away from my kids. Or I might be insisting that they leave me alone. It may be that I’m ignoring them.
I’m not suggesting that absentee parenting is not a problem. Rather, I’m suggesting that you don’t know if that’s what’s happening. You don’t know if my child’s freedom is earned… or required… or an achievement. If some kid is slapping your kid silly or throwing rocks at everyone, obviously you may need to take a more active role in community parenting.
But maybe we should consider the idea that maybe, just maybe, that person knows what they’re doing.