Hovering at a distance

It wasn’t that long ago, while my oldest was still 8, that I started encouraging him to go a little farther up the street with his bike. To turn around a corner at the local park on his own, without fear that he will get kidnapped or hurt. To maybe enter the store and purchase a popsicle with his pocket money while I stand nearby and watch him do it on his own.

But he refused. The school told him it was not safe or legal and who am I to tell him otherwise?

Well. I’m his mom. Last time I checked, I birthed this child. He is mine, not the state’s, and if I feel he is ready to learn how to navigate just a little bit more independence, then that is my right as a parent.


He is still not that comfortable with the idea, despite being 9 now. But I started anyway. I started when he was sick and throwing up on the couch by leaving him home alone to drop his sister off at school. By teaching him how to use the phone to call one of us, to call 911, to not answer the door when he is home alone for 15 minutes. I accompany him to the store and stand beside him while he pays for his bag of chips on his own. I send him to the library counter without hovering.

It’s slowly coming along, his confidence to do things on his own. But he’s still not comfortable to do it completely on his own, despite the fact that he will be changing schools next year, for grade 4, where he will have to take a school bus on his own. A school bus that leaves from his old school half an hour prior to his sister starting class at that school. What it means for my boy is that he will be going to school to catch the bus on his own for the firs time in his life, and I’m both excited and slightly apprehensive about this whole idea.

He’s not thrilled. Even though he will be buddying up with another boy about halfway to school. Pick him up on the way and walk together to catch the bus.

This brings me back to the whole idea of kids and independence (or lack thereof). What has happened to me? How did I become this hovering, protective parent? I was, after all, sent to Kindergarten on my own back in the day, with my mom standing at the window waving. I was sent up the street, and ACROSS the street, for recorder practice in the late afternoon by myself. I played not just in the playground behind my home by myself, but wandered here and there to play at the creek’s edge, or in the forest, by myself and with friends. I rode my bike down the alley by the cemetery and sometimes went across town to visit my grandparents. On my own.

And now? Even if I want my 9 year old to go pick up eggs at the store at the top of the street by himself, he refuses because of what he’s been taught. He’s been taught both at school and in society (other parents, community) that it is not safe to send a child out someplace alone.

It’s not safe.

So what happens to me if I contradict this statement and send him out on his own anyway? Will the community shun me? Will my son lose his friends because their parents refuse to let their child be friends with someone who dares to send their own child to the school bus on his own?

There’s a nagging fear peculating in me. On the one hand, I cannot wait for the children to exhibit slightly more independence (or, perhaps less dependence on ME).  On the other hand…I don’t feel ready, exactly. But when I think about just simple things around the house, I see that this whole helicopter parenting is trickling down into the daily life of my kids too. How is it that I’m the only one who notices the guinea pig’s water bottle needs filling? Why is it up to me to set the habit and then remind of the habit continually? How did I learn, as a child, about situational awareness? How do I do this for my children, now, today?

By letting them go. That’s how. Except…it’s not quite that simple, is it. The world is different today and we live in a big city (with a small community, but still) and it’s different. It just is.

Is it?

I fear that the unspeakable may happen. We all know it does happen. We all know it can happen, despite the fact that statistically, it is highly unlikely. I remember the children’s names who were reported  in the media, despite not having known them personally. The names Tory Stafford and Holly Jones, to name but two, are forever ingrained in my brain.  I remember them and the crimes that have occurred to them that caused them to be ripped out of their lives so tragically, and I fear for my own children.

But not so much that I want to continue to parent them like toddlers. It’s time, is what I’m saying, to help them navigate some parts of their lives without supervision from me all the time.

It’s not that difficult to let them go a little further in certain parts of our lives. At the park down by the lake, they want to climb the rocks along the shore. Momma prefers to sit and soak up the sun…so off they go on their own. Interestingly, it’s the 9 year old boy, not the 6 year old girl, who keeps checking on me, visually, to assure himself I’m still there.

The Globe and Mail recently reported on this exact topic, focusing particularly on the style of parenting that is often referred to as helicopter parenting. They call all the new policies, from banning soccer balls at school to food restrictions in the lunch room “bureaucratic responses to imagined crises – or statistically insignificant ones – designed to address dangers that exist predominantly as figments in the overprotective imagination.” They talk about the Toronto District School Board’s mandate for parents to be police checked before they can enter the school as a volunteer to assist a teacher:

Such is precisely the case with a new rule under consideration by the Toronto District School Board that would require any parent wishing to volunteer at their child’s school to submit to a criminal background check, including a look into mental health records. It’s a classic case of policy overreach preying on parental fear that eclipses common sense. Ironically, this rule would also present an obstacle to helicopter parents, who see it as both a moral duty and a citizen’s right to volunteer at their children’s school. Obtaining a criminal background check is no small thing, and drives down parental participation, which is why there’s been such pushback.

They also talk about how this police check came about (and I appreciate the education, thank you @globeandmail).

If the proposal for the new rule didn’t arise from a desire to solve an authentic problem, how, exactly did it come about? The answer serves to further underscore its ridiculousness. It stems from an inquest into the horrific death of Jeffrey Baldwin, a five-year-old boy who died after being neglected, abused and ultimately starved to death by his grandparents in 2002.

The jury at Jeffrey’s coroner’s inquest recommended that “a Vulnerable Sector Screening be completed for all volunteers,” at the TDSB, “with an updated Vulnerable Sector Screening to be completed by each volunteer no less than every five years.” This despite the fact that Jeffrey’s mistreatment took place exclusively in his grandparents’ home. Not at his school.

Such a sad story…and yet now  “the proposed new rule implicitly suggests that child predators lurk among them”, referring to parent volunteers at schools, despite that “there has never been a single incident involving a volunteer threatening the safety of a child at TDSB school. Not one. Not ever.”

This summer we will be encouraging our 9 year old son to learn how to become more situationally aware, and how to function in unfamiliar situations when he can’t ask a parent at that moment. Another parent has brought up this exact topic to me yesterday at the baseball diamond, so I know I’m not the only one in the neighbourhood considering this. Reading blogs has also evoked the awareness that I am not alone with these thoughts. Jeni wrote about how a more ‘free-range’ style of parenting in childhood can better prepare a teenager. It’s all around us, this topic. Ironically, we current parents of school-aged kids are the ones that had a much freer upbringing…so how did this happen, this overprotective parenting of contemporary kids?

I remind myself every now and then that our son is already a well-behaved, respectful and cautious boy with plenty of common sense and an acute sense of what is right and what is wrong. He is not a risk-taker, and more importantly, I feel that he is ready to take some baby-steps away from me.


All that is left now is for us parents to get used to the idea.

3 thoughts on “Hovering at a distance

  1. Kids are all different. My first has been much more independent than my 2nd, but also much less responsible. At 12 he now stays home alone for up to 2 hours, will go buy eggs, and walks to karate. My 9 year old still has issues ordering what he wants at subway or harvey’s. My youngest at not yet 6 thinks he can do everything his 12 year old brother can. And he probably could, except it would be called illegal.

    Society has made us scared and for those of us who would like to hover less, other parents call children’s aid.

    • My second one too, who is only 6, is much more comfortable with freedom of all sorts. A completely different kids so I hear you. Thank you for taking the time to comment! 🙂

  2. I have been thinking a lot about this exact same issue lately – you’ve captured it so well. As the kids get older I realize I need to be more proactive about helping them become more independent (thanks mostly to my husband, who is strongly anti-coddling). It’s hard to trust the world what with all the horror stories out there, but at the same time, we cannot release them into the wild at age 18, when they’re off at university, never having made a decision for themselves before. They need to start taking on more responsibility when they’re still young enough for us to help them correct their mistakes.

    So I’ve also been conciously trying to get my oldest (age 11) to do things like buy his own stuff at a store, make his own snacks, call his own friends to schedule his own playdates. It’s been a TOUGH sell – he’s so shy and scared. Meanwhile, my 9-year-old daughter is always pushing for more – recently she’s been wanting to bike to school herself – and that’s probably good for her and for us.

    As you say though – it’s ME who has to adjust first. And it’s hard. But we’ll all get there.

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