Anyone who’s met me, or my kids, will tell you that I’m a fairly protective parent.
Or as my kids lovingly refer to me, 'The Fun Police'.
I didn’t plan to be this type of parent – one who monitors what they eat, where they are and how much sleep they get. But plan or no plan, it's happened.
I so love being a parent – introducing kids to new things, reading great books, having those fun parent/kid secrets that all families should have – it’s just this other side of parenting that bugs me.
I wasn’t always this way; it was a slow but steady rise.
I think it started when I took those parenting classes they offer at the hospital for first-time parents. I wanted to be a good parent, an informed parent – but I got more than I bargained for when we attended! If you tell me to have my child sleep on their back because it’s healthy and safe, that’s a good enough reason for me. I really didn’t need to know about SIDS and the like. And of course, hearing things like that led me to read every book I could about the best things you can do for your newborn, right?!
I believe fear of what could happen is the first phase of becoming a ‘Fun Police’ parent.
And then we had some minor health issues – my daughter’s poor ability to ‘latch on’ when she was younger, my son’s bout with bronchitis/pneumonia and a final diagnosis of asthma when he was 3, and slow growth issues with my daughter to name a few.
Concern about your child’s health gets you one step closer to that ‘Fun Police’ status.
So, the kids start to grow and instead of the constant ‘doing for them’, they begin to do for themselves. I can’t tell you how many times my daughter would choke on food because she would eat it too quickly. Or that wonderful age of 2 - when they are so mobile, but so quiet, that they are quickly out of your sight and sound range and you are frantically looking for them.
Stitch signing my daughter's cast on our summer vacation -- my son also had a cast on too!!
And then there are those unexpected things, like broken bones – 4 of them in a one year span! You don’t know how many friends & family members suggested we wrap the kids in bubble wrap. And when you take a summer vacation with both kids in casts, you begin to seriously doubt your ability to protect your kids from pain -- and those crazy thoughts of ‘how can I protect them from this happening again’ go through your head.
Fear for your child’s safety is yet another rung on the ladder toward ‘Fun Police’.
There’s also that balance you feel you need to give when you're a parent – you know, balance against what the rest of the world is showing your kids vs. your values and beliefs. For example, all the media exposure to scary stories, Viagara commercials, fashions that are really not acceptable for kids, and what’s currently the 'popular' trend. Or what they text/see/hear on their phones, on YouTube or in the hallways at school. And then there's the need to balance their food intake because of all the donuts, candy, and processed foods that exist in our lives.
The feeling that the world doesn't care about your kids as much as you do can really amp up those protective instincts.
Well, there you have it -- my slow but steady rise to ‘Fun Police’ status. Not something I'm proud of, but something I realize that I need to deal with.
So, what have I learned along the way:
1. Accept that kids will get hurt but know that it makes them stronger
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no matter how much you try to protect them, kids do get hurt. I know, we want to stop the really bad stuff from happening -- but sometimes you can't even control that.
My son has had 4 broken bones and three of those incidents happened when he was supervised by responsible adults. But I've learned that injuries do make kids stronger. They learn how to adapt quickly, they heal quickly, they move on quickly -- and we should too.
2. Work to create resilient & self-reliant (not fearful and dependent) kids
Too often, we try to 'scare' our kids instead of explaining things to them. "Don't climb too high or you'll fall!" Or, "If you don't look both ways when crossing the street, a car could hit you". Yes, those things COULD happen - but more than likely, they WON'T happen.
Don't raise them to be afraid of the world. As parents, we need to stop being afraid of what could happen and be prepared to comfort and care for them if it does. We need to work to build their skills and behaviors so they feel that they can handle what life does toss at them.
Bottom Line: They need to be able to 'police' themselves by the time they are adults.
3. Don't change your parenting, just your hovering
We all have our own parenting styles and it's important for our kids that we stay consistent in our overall parenting. You shouldn't go from overprotecting your kids to never supervising anything they do.
Take small steps along the way to be less overprotective. Do you really need to be watching over their shoulder as they complete their homework? Can't they walk to the neighbor's house alone? Are you sure you 'need' to be at all their activities? Give them some space and see what they do with it.
4. Have a hobby or project (other than protecting your kids)
Really! Sometimes we get so involved with what we think we 'need' to do for our kids, that we get a little obsessed about it (yes, I admit to being guilty here!). I want to be the best parent that I can be, but I've learned that in order to do that, I can't only be a parent.
I use to give up exercising so I could be at all the kid's sports practices 'just in case someone got hurt'. And you know what, they never really got hurt, and if they did the coach was there to help! ;-) There's a balance to life, so do something you like and enjoy (you'll still be a great parent)!
5. Stop worshiping the 'experts' and don't judge others
I just can't say this enough. Every child is different - some are ready to walk home alone when they are 6, and others won't be ready until they're 12. Yes, read all the books you want to -- but form your own ideas and rules based on your family. You don't want to prevent your child from learning a new responsibility or skill just because a book may have said they aren't old enough.
If you haven't read Free-Range Kids, a blog by Lenore Skenazy, stop by and take a look. Lenore will let you know she's not an expert, just a parent like the rest of us that's passionate about doing what fits her family best - and reminding us all that parenting doesn't have to be as 'worrisome' as we sometimes make it out to be.
And please don't judge what other parents do with their kids. They aren't your kids. Yes, you may get arguments and backlash about 'but my friends are doing it'. Be strong! Kids need to understand that all families have different rules, different expectations and different lives. Some kids may get to do things that their friends don't yet do, so what?! Everything in life isn't fair and equal - that's what keeps life interesting!
I haven't mastered all these lessons but I'm working on them with each new experience. And yes, the kids do still call me "the Fun Police". But in an understanding "I know you're doing this because you love me" kind of way. Maybe by the time I have grandkids they'll understand; but until then, I'll try to hover less and enjoy more!