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As a mom, I like to be on top of my children's safety, which sometimes means I am on top of my children. I never intended to be this way, but the girls were born and suddenly my heart was loose outside of my body and I just couldn't take any chances. So in my pursuit of peace of mind, I became irrationally overprotective. All it took was a couple weirdos looking a little too long at my children and one touch of hot glass on our fireplace and I was a full-blown helicopter mom.
The girls are older now, 8 and 10-years-old, and I trust them and I want them to be safe — but not in a way that they feel the outside world is too dangerous to venture into. Let's be honest: if I run after my girls to protect them from everything, they'll fear everything. I don't want that.
But where's the balance between keeping your child safe and giving them enough independence to learn how to navigate the world intelligently, with common sense and a little bit of caution? That is the hardest part of parenting; letting go enough to let them feel free while still maintaining our own peace of mind because if we hover over them forever, they truly will be vulnerable and they won't be equipped to survive alone and that will be our fault.
Here are few tips I to help find that happy balance for your peace of mind and their safety.
1. Let them play outside alone.
Sounds simple but for some of us, it's difficult to stretch those apron strings all the way out to the yard. For the longest time, every time my girls wanted to go outside I went out with them. I was bored and they felt like I didn't trust them. They weren't toddlers and they didn't need me. Now, they're allowed to play outside without me but I'm usually sitting at my dining room table with my windows open so that I can hear them and see them if I look up from my work. I'm beginning to see them stop themselves from doing dangerous things and be a lot more aware of their surroundings because I'm not there (or so they think) to stop them from getting in harm's way.
2. Let them walk to a friend's house alone.
When I was a kid, I walked and biked all over town and it was no big deal. Once I realized my girls could follow simple directions, know not to talk to strangers and proceed with caution, I allowed them to walk down the street to their friend's house alone (well, the two of them together without me). I won't lie, I usually stand in the yard and watch them walk, but they don't know I do that. They feel empowered and I still get to keep my sanity. My girls are still young, so they're only allowed to walk alone on our street right now. But as they get older, the perimeter will eventually expand to our neighborhood and then, they'll be driving. I don't even want to think about that.
3. Let them make their own food.
I was afraid of choking hazards, burning hazards and eating all the garbage and none of the good food but I was wrong. When I think back to it, when I was 8 and 10-years-old I was not only making my own food, I was using the stove to help make dinner. I've taught my girls to make sandwiches and heat things up in the microwave. My 8-year-old has been making her own toasted PB and J's since she was 6, and my 10-year-old is a pretty good sous chef. It's just a matter of time before she'll be capable of making an entire dinner without me. She can use the stove; I'm just not ready to make the leap with open flames yet. Soon, though!
4. Let them stay home alone.
This is a biggie. It would be so easy if they could stay home alone when I had to run menial tasks. I have not left my girls home alone yet — but it's coming. I trust the 10-year-old not to open the door for strangers, play with fire or knives, and to call 911 (and us) in an emergency. She's very responsible. It's coming and when it does this is my plan: leave for 15 minutes, stay in the neighborhood, park at the end of the street and watch the whole thing from our home security cameras. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. At least until we all feel comfortable.
Being a parent is hard but being a kid is hard, too. It's just as hard for us to let go as it is for our kids to learn to navigate life on their own terms without us there to make all the decisions. But this is an integral part of raising empowered, independent and self-confident people. It's a necessary evil. We have to let go so that they can fly but that doesn't mean we can't keep an eye on them to make sure they don't fall.