Preface: If you’re a parent, want to be a parent someday, or you are just wondering what a parent may be thinking these days, this post is for you. I begin this way because I feel my topic is talked about much, so much so I don’t want to waste your time and be redundant. I guess I just need to get this off my chest. I certainly have rehashed this subject with other moms as well, to the point that I’ve just accepted that this is simply a different time now for my kids than when I grew up.
It’s usually this time of year, the beginning of summer, when I start the tape. First, I throw up my hands and panic a little wondering how my kids will stay busy for nine weeks. Sure there’s summer camp but some of them are quite pricey and certainly I cannot afford them all summer long. Then I engage with other moms about their kids and we agree summer can be a challenge. We may even start reminiscing about the time when we were kids. Remember when kids used to run with other kids and not their moms. They used to run in gangs, multi-aged, co-ed, siblings allowed. I was part of this era. I’m dating myself now.
I can only speak about my own experience. I realize your childhood may resemble something totally different. But I remember it this way. We were outside a lot, playing games like Rover Red Rover and Red Light Green Light, not with mom but with other kids. We hung out until dinner time and our parents didn’t know where were all day or what we’d been up to. I don’t recall it was ever called a “playdate.”
I remember families being much bigger, generally. For example, there were six kids in my family and across the street there were ten kids. Wow! That was sixteen kids right there. (Yes, we were Catholic families). The neighborhood was swarming with children. But what’s more I think there was a sense of community intact. My mom’s best friend lived across the street, and while my parents didn’t hang out with all the other parents in the neighborhood, they did know each other.
There was this big tree in the backyard we used to climb and hang out in. And, swimming, lots and lots of swimming. I was a fish. We didn’t travel for any summer vacation, except to visit relatives. However, we did have a pool and lots of kids came over to swim. My parents had many swim parties where hoards of people came over. I don’t think we cared so much if things looked perfect, because, well, they weren’t. We played lots of games in the pool like volleyball, basketball, and keep away. None of the party guests seemed to care too much about the time, and I don’t remember anyone leaving because they needed to stick to a bedtime schedule. I also remember our little block being quite smaller. I don’t think we were ever too far away to begin with if we weren’t at home.
Now it seems as though we parents have issued some unspoken edict to not let our kids out of our sight, ever. Every gathering must be prearranged. No spontaneity allowed. Usually spontaneity doesn’t work anyway because someone has something scheduled. And, if we do let them go it alone outside they cannot leave the front yard. Now, I know this is probably wise. I’m not wanting sympathy or pity, and I’m not suggesting I want to be off the hook and not be a responsible parent by letting my kids run loose in the neighborhood.
Actually, what concerns me more is that I feel my kids are being cheated out of a healthy childhood. Kids spending time with their peers can’t be beat. I’m not just speaking about their wild imaginations, stuff you couldn’t dream up even if you researched it. It’s also about problem solving and working together. Yes, we need math and science, but we also need kids to play together. This is what our future is about. I’m know I’m not the first one to point this out. I don’t think parents can teach kids what kids can teach other.
I know this hits a cord with a lot of parents, recalling a few years ago when mother and writer Lenore Skenazy put her 9-year-old child on a subway in New York City all alone. That got quite some press and her book that followed was well received. “Free Range Kids” began a national movement. I applaud her effort. That couldn’t have been easy. She was, after all, later described as the “World’s Worst Mom.” I believe lots of other great titles followed her book if I quickly consult Amazon. I’m sure they are chock full of insightful, well-intentioned information, provided by qualified professionals.
But here’s the funny thing. These books didn’t exist when I was a kid. I’m not entirely certain of this, but I do know this. My parents didn’t read any of them if they did exist. So, were my parents just so much smarter then? Did they not know the dangers that can lurk within a neighborhood? Were they just more sure of their parenting? Had less gone wrong thus far in the history of child rearing?
I’ve often wondered what my mom would say about the times I live in as a parent. I will ask her next time I see her because I want to see her expression. I really don’t know what she’ll say. I suspect she may just shrug her shoulders and say, “It was just what people did back then.” She may also say that we kids looked after each other. It was necessary because things were always hectic since there was so many of us. It was a lot about coping, surviving, and helping each other. The concerns I have today were never on her radar.
Now there are a few kids in the neighborhood that my kids play with, and I’m so especially grateful for that. I also see segments of our block where kids all hang out, with a group of parents present. It’s not quite the same but at least the kids are outside playing together.
Maybe it’s different in your neighborhood, and I hope it is. I hope there are scores of kids running around, enjoying the outdoors and getting their exercise, engaged and resolving their differences, completely unaware of what time it is, and having an absolute ball.
In the meantime, I will accept it is a different time. I will do my best to encourage independence. I will also be scheduling playdates and finding enriching, fun, educational, and stimulating activities and outings for my kids, and if I’m feeling daring, just tell them to go outside and play, unattended.