Mother nature instinctively teaches us to protect our children no matter what the cost, so when it comes to letting our children grow up how easy is it to stand back and remove the safety net that we have carefully placed around them?
As parents we are presented with this challenge each time our children pass another milestone. Some milestones and the responses they evoke are more ludicrous than others. Am I alone in having felt that wave of panic when your preschool child first goes on a play date with a new friend? It is an irrational panic of course that makes you spend your precious childfree time apart wondering if they are OK with these "relative strangers" and have remembered everything you told them not to do, like not to eat a grape whole in case they choke and the parent isn't profficient in the heimlich manoeuvre!!
Or how about an invitation to the theatre, cinema or a shopping centre that brings you out in hives as you have nightmares about their becoming separated and lost forever. Then there is the hurdle of the school trip. I have seen goliath mothers reduced to gibbering wrecks at the anxiety of being separated from their offspring for more than 24 hours.
Everyone's anxieties are different and there is no right or wrong response to a scenario other than ensuring you make the right decision fundamentally for you and your child. However, as each of these milestones are passed and our children survive, the safety net is widened some more and new caveats introduced as they take on more individual responsibility - going to the corner shop alone, catching a bus with a friend - basically there is always the "next thing" they want to do.
Now, however, as a parent to teenagers I have noticed the challenges to the safety nets I have erected to protect them are more frequent and on occasion more sinister.
Last year our daughter, the youngest teen signed up for an end of year school trip to France. Unfortunately, six months prior to the trip in late 2015, France was blighted by a series of terrorist attacks. Some school trips were reported in the media as cancelled on the advice of the Foreign Office. By the time of our daughter's trip, however, the no travel alert had been lifted and it was deemed safe for everything to go ahead as planned. Some parents, however, disagreed and their daughters pulled out. Now I have a first class degree in worrying but for my part, I felt that it was important to maintain perspective on the level of threat at that time and an air of calm as I didn't want my daughter to feel an unecessary sense of alarm. After all being caught in a terrorist attack has a lower likelihood than that of contracting cancer.
Despite feeling confident in my decision I would be lying, however, if I didn't say that their doubt didn't force me to question whether I was being a "responsible parent" in allowing her to go, much to the annoyance of my husband who finds such paranoia beyond comprehension. But that is what happens when someone plants a seed of doubt in your mind.
In another instance a series of attempted abductions in our area forced parents to reconsider the "safety" of their children walking home from school. There was a feeling of needing to protect our girls but simultaneously not wanting to take it to such an extreme that they would think there was a bogey man on every street corner. At the end of the day it came down to reinforcing the safety net for a while and insisting the girls did not travel alone.
On a different note, my eldest teen attended a Grime concert in Kentish Town recently. For those not familiar with the world of Grime, it is a music movement that began in East London in 2001 and includes artists like Dizzee Rascal. The essence of the music is anti-establishment and the lyrics are fast and full of authentic accents and slang.
This all seems harmless enough but one of the elements of Grime music, is the moshpits it provokes. Now for me ie "the oldie in the corner" the moshpit has always simply been the huddle at the front near the stage, but as the teen said quite clearly "Oh Mum you just don't understand!" - in the Grime world it means so much more. According to the teen the concerts are highly charged and the moshpits involve forming a circle and on the order of the artist, charging in to the centre.
Sometimes I have found with teenagers that there is such a thing as too much information and this revelation was one of those times. Not only was he travelling to the other side of London, but he was also placing himself voluntarily in an aggressive scenario. He is almost 18 and perfectly capable of looking after himself but for me it was time to worry some more about his safety. Why couldn't he go to a "nice" concert with seats and just stand up and wave his arms around?? His answer of course was "That's boring!"
As parents it is natural to worry and mothers in particular are very good at it, but as my teenagers grow up and explore more I have found it is important to keep a balanced view and not to freak out, lock them in the house and stop them doing things . It is not easy sometimes to stand back and remove that safety net but as my daughter's French teacher said prior to the trip, if you stifle young people's opportunities and stop them doing things, you run the risk of them being anxious. We all want children with lifeskills and an ability to be independent, not children who are afraid to venture out in to the world, take risks and explore what life has to offer don't we?
What do you think? How do you manage the balance of keeping your child safe and letting them explore life's possibilities?
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