Let parents be parents and kids be kids already

standard September 23, 2014 16 responses

Maybe it's time to let parents be parents and kids be kids.

There is an article making the rounds on the Internet titled “11-year-old girl goes on vacation alone, horrifying parents around the world.” I am no more immune to sensationalized article headers, so, like many people I clicked on the link, somewhat spurred on by the photo of a smiling girl wearing a backpack and holding her thumb up, in what I assumed was meant to make it look like she was hitchhiking.

Turns out, this 11-year-old girl was being put on a plane by her parents and being received at the other end by family members who then would take her into their home for her “vacation.”

Now, I’m sorry, but she’s far from the only 11-year-old traveling as an Unaccompanied Minor and I really don’t think that being on your own (with airline attendant supervision) on a plane is the same thing as “going on vacation” alone.

Let’s set aside for a second the sensationalization of something rather banal in the hopes of getting readers all riled up.

I traveled as an Unaccompanied Minor for the first time when I was four.

I walked to school, going from one end of town to the other, on my own, when I was 9.

I took the London Tube (the subway) and hailed cabs on my own when I was 11.

These things are not crazy. It was not a “sign of the times.” It was not irresponsible of my parents to let me do these things. They taught me to make smart decisions and then let me make them.

That is nothing more than good parenting.

The job of a parent isn’t to solely keep their child safe. It’s to teach them to be ready to live in the world. If we spend all of our time coddling and shielding our kids from the pitfalls that might, maybe, could possibly happen, all we’re doing is making it impossible for them to ever know how to manage on their own.

That’s what’s not ok.

For a time, the phenomenon was known as Helicopter Parenting. You hovered, watched, stood by, darted in to fix things when the situation started to look a bit dicey. Now it’s called Lawnmower Parenting. The parents plow through all possible obstacles, smoothing the way so their child is never challenged in any way.

Does that sound ok to you?

I’ve seen it many times. Kids who are never allowed to explore, never allowed to figure things out on their own, go hog wild when finally freed.

Imagine the teen never allowed even a tiny sip of beer at home going off to college for the first time. Imagine the child never allowed out with friends sneaking out of a window. Imagine the teen never allowed to manage his or her own money finally getting a credit card.

These things never end well.

As a parent, our job is to teach our kids to do things safely and smartly while we’re still in the wings to steer them back on path. 

America was once a great nation of innovation and grit. We had to be. There was no one to pave the road or show us the way. We can’t always be with them, so we’d better be teaching them to make good decisions. That can’t happen if there are never any decisions to make. 

Art, music, science experimentation have already been taken away from our schools. If we take away the ability to play outside, to explore, to discover the world without a hovering parent, we will be reduced to a nation of rule following, line toeing citizens, who have lost the ability to innovate and grow. 

When my kids were toddlers I let them climb onto chairs by themselves, I let them fail, let them try again, and I applauded their success when they finally reached their goal.

These days…

I let my kids play for hours without checking in to see what they’re doing.

I let my kids go to the bathroom on their own in restaurants.

I let my kids play with toys and art supplies as they see fit, even if it’s not according to manufacturer’s instructions.

I let my kids try daring stunts on playground equipment.

I let my kids climb trees.

I let my kids walk home from school with friends.

I let my kids walk to their friends’ house down the street.

I let my kids walk the dog on their own.

I let my kids make their own breakfast.

I let my kids do their own homework.

I let my kids make mistakes, and fix them on their own.

I let my kids have hours and hours of unstructured, unscheduled time.

I let my kids get bored… and then find their own way out of that boredom. 

I consider myself their coach and their encouragement. I don’t do things for them. I don’t pave the road they travel. 

We used to be a nation of problem solvers. If our children never have to face any problems, how will they ever develop that skill? 

We are reaching a ridiculous state where it seems to no longer be acceptable to parent in a way that will allow our kids to grow up strong, smart, independent, and able.

That’s not just a crying shame. That’s a crime.

Child monkeying around at the park

What if we raised our kids to be more like Charles Ramsey?

standard May 7, 2013 Leave a response

A few weekends ago, after a leisurely day spent walking around San Francisco with my sister and her fiance, we all headed back towards their apartment to say goodnight before making our way home.

We’d been together since the early afternoon and the kids were tired from all the walking and window shopping. It was Sunday night and I was a bit anxious about getting them into the car fast so we could get home to put them to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour.

It’s always when you’re anxious to be somewhere else that fate interferes.

So there we were, dusk, warm day, tired kids, tired parents, tired aunt and soon-to-be-uncle. Bellies full from a great dinner and facing an hour long drive home. And that’s when the couple just a few feet from us morphed from ‘random couple on a bench’ to ‘potentially explosive situation hard to deal with in front of kids.’

She stood up, tried to get away from him, he grabbed her arm and held her, she crashed to the ground, and he fell on top of her.

Hard.

The four of us looked at each other.

The girl lay on the ground and curled into a ball, sobbing her heart out. The boy stood over her, doing nothing.

Every bone in my body was screaming to keep walking, to get my kids away from the situation, to just go get in the car and drive home. But she lay there and just sobbed.

The kids stared at her, at us, and back at her again.

And that’s when I realized that, as much as I wanted to hustle them away, to shield them from what seriously looked like an abusive relationship situation, I couldn’t.

“Is she okay?” We asked the boyfriend.

He shrugged, looked at her helplessly. He babbled about how she was his girlfriend, had been for years. They were just visiting. He just wanted to go back to their hotel.

It was 6pm and they were both utterly wasted.

She struggled to sit up and we helped her get back onto the bench. He handed her her shoe and her sunglasses and she tried to put her sunglasses on her foot.

M asked if we needed to call the cops.

And all this time the girls gaped.

We talked to them for a bit, silently assessing the situation. In the end we cancelled the call to the police, she got her shoe on her foot and her glasses on her head. He helped her to stand up with gentle touches, caring touches. They walked away, she, in front, like she was still mad at him about something, him trailing behind, trying to catch up.

We’ll never know what really happened, but before we let them go we were all pretty confident that what had at first looked like an abuse situation was nothing more than a regular spat exacerbated by too much booze.

The girls still talk about the strange girl who tried to put her glasses on her foot.

I still think about the urge to walk away, to not get involved.

I grew up in Paris, a city where, if you’re looking, you can find gnarly situations on every street corner. I learned early on that getting involved was dangerous and not recommended. I grew up looking the other way.

I don’t want my kids growing up that way. I want them to know that they can help. That they can make a difference.

Yesterday a man stopped and didn’t look the other way when a girl screamed for help from behind his neighbor’s front door. Today that girl and at least two others are safely reunited with their families. Families they hadn’t seen for 10 years.

He could so easily have walked away, have pretended he hadn’t heard, have refused to get involved. So many people would.

I’m glad we’re teaching our children to be more like him and less like them.

1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.* 
More than 5 children die every day from the result of child abuse.** 

What if more people were like Charles Ramsey? Would those numbers go down?

*NCADV.org
**Childhelp_USA.com 

Are we fighting the wrong people?

standard March 19, 2013 1 response

This month my book club read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a book that was pretty far out of my reading norm. The story, set in modern day Mumbai, India, was written by Katherine Boo, an American woman who spent three years in the slums of Mumbai interviewing locals and observing the daily comings and goings of the residents.

Let me preface this with a small disclaimer. I am something of a Pollyanna innocent. I tend to see the best in people. I tend to imagine that people are better off than they are.

I knew that many people in India live in extreme poverty. I just don’t think I grasped just how atrocious their quality of life really was.

The book was incredibly well written and researched. It read just like a novel, and it was hard at times to force myself to remember that it was all true, all documented, all still happening today.

Aside from being an incurable Pollyanna, I also happen to be a bleeding heart liberal. And, let me tell you, that’s a terrible combination.

See, until I dove deep into this book’s story, I kinda harbored some faith in the notion that if you donate enough time and money to a cause you can actually help people.

But no. See, what I wasn’t taking into account was the rampant corruption this book exposes. Start with money and good intentions at the top, but by the time it trickles down, lining pockets as it goes, it won’t get to the people who need it most.

Now, one of my friends last night exhorted me to come up with a solution, but I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t have one.

How do you help people who have no interest in helping each other?

I’m glad I read this book, but a little part of me would like to still live in my head where people down on their luck still find it in their hearts to be kind to the people around them, just because it’s what people do. (It’s pretty in my head. You should come visit. We have tea and cookies.)

The thing that’s still going around and around in my head is this.

India houses 1/4 of the world’s hungry, 1/3rd of the world’s impovrished. If those people stopped fighting with each other, stopped stabbing each other in the back to get a tiny bit ahead, stopped robbing each other blind, if those people started working together, trusting each other, helping each other, they could overthow the entire country, the entire corrupt system, in a matter of weeks.

I woke up this morning with the same thought buzzing in my head. Then I hopped onto Facebook and saw that the topic of the day was once again “the Mommy Wars.” (Thank you CNN.) Once again, as we hash out Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, we’re once again seeing women spend countless hours tearing each other down, discrediting each other, back stabbing each other.

I have news for you people.

We’re fighting the wrong people.

Tearing another woman down in an effort to get ahead only serves to bring down all of womankind. You’re not gaining anything.

What could we achieve if instead of envying others their success, if instead of wasting time sabotaging others, if instead of judging, critiquing, and tearing down, we stood shoulder to shoulder and helped each other up?

Maybe, like the residents of the slums we could also overthrow a system that doesn’t serve us. Or are we, like them, too wrapped up in our pettiness and envy to ever achieve that goal?

Wonderful read. Truly eye opening. But don’t believe the cover, there wasn’t a lot of hope in there.

Maybe Lindsay Lohan isn’t entirely to blame here

standard July 8, 2010 3 responses

I’m not saying she’s not at fault. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be punished. And I’m definitely not saying I’m not glad a judge finally threw the book at her.

I’m just saying that maybe, just maybe, the blame shouldn’t be placed squarely on Lindsay Lohan’s shoulders.

Imagine you’re a child who’s always been taught that “right” is everything you want and “wrong” is everything you don’t want. How skewed would your vision of right and wrong be?

Imagine you’re a very impressionable young girl who gets exposed to a lot of things a kid shouldn’t be exposed to – drugs, alcohol, sex, entitled behavior, unjustifiable rudeness – and no one is there to say “Hey, let’s not do this. You’re too young to go to that party.” or  “Wait a minute. This isn’t a place for kids. We’re leaving.” or my personal favorite “That’s not how we behave! Apologize right now!”

You know what happens? Well, you end up 24 years old without a clue about what’s right or wrong or that you’re supposed to be responsible for yourself or your actions. You’re a kid in an adult body and you don’t know how to follow the rules.

Ironic for a girl who played that very role in a movie.

Everyone is outraged that she never showed up to court appointed meetings. But, duh, why would she? Experience has taught her that she can do what she wants and someone will fix the rest.

What I want to know is this. Where were the parents in all this? What were they doing when they should have been teaching her right from wrong, personal responsibility, and accountability? Oh, right, they were busy enjoying the celebrity lifestyle.

I’m glad that someone is finally putting their foot down and standing up to Lohan. I’m glad someone is going to teach her that she doesn’t live outside the laws, that she’s not a child who gets away with whatever she wants. I’m secretly hoping that this whole ordeal might make Lindsay grow up a bit, might make her learn what no one has taken the time to teach her before. Funny it took a judge to start acting like a parent.

And yes, I could be completely off base about this whole thing. I didn’t spend hours researching Lindsay Lohan’s life nor did I interview anyone in her close surroundings. But I’m a mom – a strict one at that – and to me this whole thing smacks of parenting gone terribly awry, and of a world that allows child actors to never grow up.

And that my friends is not just a crying shame, it’s a terrible, terrible waste.

Doesn’t she look just like a confused child?