Saturday, June 6, 2009

Trust and Children

My daughter is seeking more and more freedom. She wants us to trust her, to trust that she can handle what the world brings to her. It's not that I don't trust her.... I'm just not sure that she could assert herself were a dangerous situation to arise. I know it took me awhile to develop that ability.

Many parents will argue that it is not their kids that they distrust, but the neighborhood. I'm to a considerable degree sympathetic with that fear. Partly because fewer kids are outdoors playing, many neighborhoods may in fact be less safe now than then. It used to be that if anyone harassed someone outdoors, there would be many kids around, of all ages, as witnesses and deterrents. It is also the case that today, with both parents in most families away at work, there are fewer adults at home in any given neighborhood, fewer adults who could spot potential problems. People (adults as well as children) are also less likely to know their neighbors today than in the past, and that too makes neighborhoods less safe. And, of course, there are more cars on the streets than there used to be, and communities no longer feel that it is their duty to construct and maintain sidewalks, parks, and playgrounds. “No Child Left Inside”: An Example of The Wrong Way to Solve a National Problem by Peter Gray

It's not that I don't trust the world; I do...for the most part. I think that there is "good" in everyone, but, conversely, I think there is "bad" in everyone. And it is those few who act on their "bad" impulses that I don't trust. When 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by age 18, how could I?

So, while I love the idea of Free-Range Kids and Summerhill, a HUGE part of me has reservations. I want to do everything in my power to prevent my daughter from becoming a statistic.

However, I remember. I remember thinking feeling that my parents didn't trust in my ability to handle myself in the world. This holding tight and loosening is a process, yes? And so I let small ways. I let Anouk explore with my little sister at the whole earth festival. I let her go to the bathrooms with a friend at a concert in the park (different vibe and fetched them when they lingered). I let her ride bikes with her friends on the camping trip.

I listen to my intuition and encourage her to be aware and listen to hers. But somehow that is not enough. I know there's no going back now. She's hungry to experience the world on her own two feet. Soon, she'll not be satisfied by my intuition and will feel smothered by my fears.

In the next couple of years, I would like to enroll us in this empowering self-defense class, which comes highly recommended by a friend of mine. And, perhaps I should continue to examine what trust means to me. How can I develop trust in her ability to stand on her own two feet? How do I give her the skills she'll need? How do I create a safe environment in the meantime, one in which she can experience freedom?

Work outside of the school system to develop safe places for children to play. Let the legislators in your community know that they should start spending less money on schools and more money on sidewalks, parks, and police protection in areas where children can play. Urge your community to develop and maintain parks that are safe yet provide opportunities for adventure--parks that have woods to explore, trees to climb, ponds and streams to fish in. Develop and support programs that allow children to engage with the outdoors in their own playful ways, on their own time, with others of their own choosing, without adult supervision and certainly without testing. Meet with other parents in your neighborhood to talk about the problem of providing safe places and opportunities to play. Maybe you can set up a neighborhood watch, which will help assure people that the neighborhood is safe for children's play. Maybe you can find ways to take weekend trips with other families, to campgrounds or other places where the kids can play safely, with one another in new and exciting settings, while the adults ignore them and socialize among themselves in their own chosen ways. “No Child Left Inside”: An Example of The Wrong Way to Solve a National Problem by Peter Gray

I want to cut to the quick of trust. Is this enough?


  1. Oh, my Dear...I can really understand what you're wrestling with here...even though Savannah is only 6. Already she asks when she'll be 'old enough' to go to the park on her own...(it's a stone's throw from our house but we can't see her from our yard) or ride around the neighbourhood on her bike without an adult. Old enough? NEVER, I scream in my head...:)

    Its difficult because in our neighbourhood there is much in the way of absentee parenting...children *I* would consider much too young to be playing out unsupervised, do so all the time. (I'm talking 4 and 5 year olds). Our housing complex is 'enclosed' and the play areas surrounded by houses so I imagine there are always people watching...and a couple of us adults supervising our own but.....*sigh*...well, it's a loaded issue and I suppose, its MY issue because those parents must be fine with the status quo....

    I don't envy you where you are at this point with your daughter....I can't imagine how agonizing knowing that its something you really need to do when every Mothering cell in your body wants to wrap itself around her and keep her safe forever....

    My instincts tell me that free-range is the way it *should* be...but the reality is so much more frightening that it gets in the way...

    Sorry for the rambling've raised a very confounding issue here...

  2. I am a real worrier. I do trust my daughter, she is extremely reliable, but I view the world as an unsafe place. For example, your photo gave me absolute chills, partly because I'm scared of heights, but also because I know a woman whose daughter fell off a cliff and died! Like you, I am trying to listen to my instincts and let her have more freedom when it feels appropriate.

    I'm interested in the notion of education and freedom. I feel the same way about "unschooling" as I do about letting my child roam the neighbourhood without me. It will probably be fine - but I want those risk factors covered! :-)

  3. This is a constant issue for me as we live in an apartment, and my children need to be outside! I allow them to play outside unsupervised (they are 5 and 6 1/2) but they cannot leave the apt. complex. Once in a while I get nervous, but there's never been a problem in reality. In a way it's "safer" in that there seem to always be people around, as you mentioned. Most people seem to drive slowly, and there are lots of kids, at least when school is out.

    Still, I worry.

  4. Jenell,
    I just wrote a long response to your post and I lost it somehow. Just know that I love you, your daughter, your words, your insights, your support.
    I look forward to spending time with you and Anouk this fall. I will miss you both his summer.
    Much love,

  5. Great post. I will look into your "No Child Left Inside" link since I haven't heard of that one. I like what he has to say so far.

    As you know, I really love the Free Range Kids idea, and Lenore Sarkazy's book, etc. But I still worry too! And I still walk or bike my 10 and 12yo kids to the 2-blocks-away park, though if they have a group of friends there I'll let them play while I go home. Little by little, we let go. But of course, there's always worry...

    I know what you're feeling!

  6. Mel, please don't apologize for "rambling" comments. I LOVE hearing from you.

    Sarah, I hesitated to say that I don't trust my daughter-or her abilities. I just know where she's at developmentally, and, like you said, try to help her experience appropriate freedom/responsibility. I am pretty protective, though. And I'm okay with it to a certain extent; it's my parental duty...right? I just sense that if my protectiveness is unwarranted (or unexamined), and I do not support her in becoming increasingly independent, I will polarize our relationship. She will see me as captor and her as captive. She will want to flee. I don't want that, for sure. We're not there, yet. I've just had a little future vision of it, a taste. And I want to find another way.

    Mel and Anthromama, The world can be a dangerous place. And worry and fear are useful feelings, messengers telling us to pay attention. I just know that, when they consume me, I shut down and close myself to good possibilities, too. You never know what could happen or what might come of it.

    Destiny. I always think about this passage in Heidi, where her friend in a wheelchair is upset because God didn't answer her prayers. Heidi tells her something like her situation is a gift from God and what she needs will unfold when the time is right. I know this doesn't make things all better when bad things happen. If my child died or were tragically disabled or was sexually abused, I might just throw this theory out the window.... But it has helped me in times of confusion and great darkness. I'm so sorry for your friend, Sarah. How devastating. Life is so precious and so heartbreaking. I wish I had answers....

    Lisa, that article I referenced is good, but it's more about how schools are starting to implement a program to combat nature deficit disorder and are imposing an uninspired, static, overly-intellectualized nature curriculum on children (if I remember right).

    And Georgia, sorry blogger dumped your response. I would love to hear your thoughts. Maybe another time. We'll miss you this summer, too! Be prepared for your indebtedness upon your return. *wicked grin!*

  7. This is a biggie in parenting, isn't it? Even when tey're babies - trying not to fix every mishap. A friend is going through the whole 'first time in pre-school' thing and I'm so glad I won't be. But eventually I'll have to deal with this 'away from me' independence, I do NOT look foward to it.

    I do want to do a couple of things. One, keep our trusting and connected relationship. Lke your concerns over causing strain because she'll feel like a captive.
    And I want to give her coping skills but without instilling a belief that the world is an unsafe place. Not easy. :)

  8. Mmm, yes, Mon. A trusting and connected relationship is sooo important. Thank you for bringing that up. It's probably THE most important thing, huh?

    Ya know, I love reading your posts about your parenting journey. Even though your child is still a wee one, you really consider who she is and what she needs. And somehow it seems to transcend age. I appreciate you!

  9. Like many other parents, I certainly feel this issue to be close to home. I have so many of the same concerns you've expressed here. It's a fine balance to try and create the sense of safety (for us as much as our children I think!), and yet to let our children feel a sense of freedom.

    I also find this difficult, because now I am in the heart of a city, (with lots of green space), but where there are no children just playing alone. It's always a high level of supervision, and often these parks and fields, and the creek where we live are completely empty, so there's not the constant buzz of people - especially children - around us. It makes me hesitate to let my little girl loose. And yet, I had such a wild, wild, free-range type of childhood myself. I long for that for her, but can't do it here.

  10. Hi Jenell, I understand where you're coming from. My little ones are only 2 and 6 months...I already feel the struggle, anxiety, and nervousness at times. I can already see the pattern and wonder how does one overcome the legitimate fear. I guess it's about trusting our insincts and helping to create the environment that we want our children to live in. Also, knowing to trust ourselves when we feel it's unsafe. I won't say much, since I'm not there yet but please know that you're not alone.

  11. I so hear you here. I trust my son tremendously. It's traffic I don't trust. I don't think I have a "stranger-danger" fear though. I think it's over 100% of abuse or kidnapping happens at the hands of people we know - neighbors, relatives, friends. And I certainly can't keep him from everyone we know. I just work on empowering him with a voice to speak up and I create as many safe environments as possible, so he knows an unsafe one when he sees it.


  12. Oops!! Meant to say over 99% of abuse or kidnapping. lol


  13. I was and still am a protective parent even though my girls are now 27 and 30. You never stop worrying and they will forever be your babies. It was easiest when they were little as I had complete control over their well being from what they ate, where they went and who they were with. As they get older you have to let go a little at a time to let them experience life on their own in small doses while at the same time remaining close in case you need to step in and give them a little nudge in a different direction.

    The preteen and teen years were the hardest especially for my youngest, whose friends were quite different than those of my eldest. Just a few years difference in age seemed to make a big difference in parenting strategies. While I found the parents of my eldest daughter's friends were of pretty much the same mind set as me as to limits and rules the parents of my youngest daughter's friends were more liberal and they children were allowed to "hang" where ever and whenever they wanted. I often wondered if they were afraid that if they said "No" to their children they would not be loved. We are not our childrens best friend but are parents first.I always told my kids that my first priority was to keep them safe as long as they were in my care, after that it was out of my hands. When the turned 18 they were left to their own devices and managed university on their own and are happily living their own lives.

    Children are poor predictors of the future. They see things like going down a slide standing on their feet as a fun thing to do, not something that can see them in the hospital with major injuries.

    Times haven't really changed that much. Yes, my generation may have had more freedom to roam from sun up to dusk but there were just as many
    "bad people" then, and although we knew the "dirty old men" were, there were many others out there that were not labeled, many were so called "pillars of society." It seems that there is more abuse today and it may be easier with the internet etc., but I think it's more that we are just hearing about it more due to the media. Plus, we kept quite about our abuse, often not speaking about it until 30 - 40 years later or never at all.

    There is a difference between protecting a child and smothering a child which can cause a lot of emotional and developmental damage. Go with your heart and you will do alright. Just remember, your child may not always like you but with love and compassion, it will all come out in the wash.

  14. docwitch, you remind me that, as protective as my parents were, I was pretty free-range, too. When I was an adolescent, we moved to the country. We lived in a forest next to a lake. Oh, it was awesome! I think being free-range probably saved my life through that awkwardness. Yes, I too, wish my daughter could have that same experience of freedom (especially now that she's an adolescent). But we're currently city-bound. So I've got to figure something else out.

    MamaRose, you don't have a child as old as mine, but I you've got to face trust issues, too. Like letting your toddler climb on things, teaching them about street safety, showing them how to use a knife. I saw that you started cooking with your little boy. That's awesome! They love to help out on the big people chores (fun for them, more work for us)!

    Tara, that's an interesting way of putting it, "I create as many safe environments as possible, so he knows an unsafe one when he sees it." That is empowering. Hmmm...that brings up further thoughts of boundaries--honoring children when they say, "stop," showing them to honor your boundaries, stuff like that. You also reminded me of a book that was recommended to me, that I haven't read yet. It's called Protecting the Gift by Gavin De Becker. I think that might be on my next to read list (once I'm done with the other multitude of books stacked beside my bed).

    I hope you all have a beautiful day!

  15. marjean, hi! I missed your post while I was typing. My daughter and I are buddies. But I agree that our role is primarily parent and not best friend, and that there is a difference between protecting and smothering. But when you're in the midst of these things and still growing yourself, it is not always easy to see what that difference is.

    As a younger child, I let her do somewhat dangerous things, like climbing trees and balancing on fences (in pretty skirts and dresses, mind you!). I did it, knowing that her judgment was not always sound but also trusting how capable she was. Yes, she fell sometimes. She got hurt. She ripped up some pretty dresses.

    Now that she's older, I don't worry about the physical risks so much. I remember when I was in junior high, a group of girls flashed the cars on the highway next to our school. Luckily, I wasn't in that clique or I might have done the same. My emotions and boundaries wildly vascilated. But through this turbulence, I very clearly wanted to stand on my own, to be free. I can empathize with my daughter. And now I can empathize with my parents. I hate to be cliche and by saying, "It's a balancing act", because really, what is this "balance" anyway?! But it so feels like I'm juggling on a unicycle. You know the minute corrections they need to make with that one wheel? I guess that's where the intuition and heart comes in. The minute corrections we make in order to stay upright--and balanced.

    Thanks for your wisdom, marjean. I so appreciate hearing multiple viewpoints.

  16. Hi Jenell! I'm not there yet with my little guy, but I know I'll feel the same way when it comes time.

    When I was a kid in the boonies, we could go anywhere we wanted- the woods, all up and down our dirt road. We didn't tell my Mom where we were going often. She was comfortable with us being on our own and coming home for dinner. It seems to be a different world now. I'm not sure I could do that, even if I lived there where I grew up. Trust, it's a hard one.


  17. Oh wow...great post. I'm sure that so many parents will agree with you on this. What a different world it would be for our children if we all got together and made some profound decisions about the way that a safe, happy community should be for the next generation! I enjoy reading your blog.

  18. "B" I wonder if the world's different now. Studying history, I see that there has always been some sort of danger and war. Intuitively, though, I feel that it's different. But maybe I'm different--now it's MY child, and I think about MY vision of an ideal world.

    Jennifer, it would be great to get together and reenvision what a safe, happy community means. I kinda think that's what alot of these homeschooling blogs are about.