You know what’s mind-boggling to me? The idea that preventing my kidlet from harm isn’t always the best parenting choice. That sometimes anticipating a negative outcome and allowing it to come to fruition at little Harvey’s expense is the right thing to do.
Doesn’t that sound nuts?
OK, phrasing it that way makes it sound particularly negligent, but I’m actually just talking about my recent efforts to quiet the whooshing thumps of my inner helicopter parent. (I hope you just made an audible helicopter sound.)
But the problem is: Letting toddler-legs-Harvey run so fast he’ll likely tank it goes against every fiber in my uptight, anxiety-riddled, mama-bear being. Hey, growing dude, are you maybe too tall to stand up under the table anymo — bonk!
And I don’t know if Harvey just bruises like a peach, if he’s particularly klutzy or maybe just a daredevil, but his legs and elbows are constantly covered with boo-boos. A friend noticed those adventure remnants recently and complimented Elenor and me for our son’s “summer knees.”
Turns out good parenting means not trying to stop your kid from being a kid.
The logic of it is antithetical to my emotional impulses, which drive me to keep him from anything other than joy and pleasure. Curbing those knee-jerk instincts takes serious commitment and mindfulness and, as it turns out, really toned facial muscles from all the grimacing I do while I watch him learn about such important things as gravity, momentum and consequence.
But life isn’t all Popsicles and bubbles (annoyingly), so while we’d like never to see our kiddo in pain, we have to allow him the experiences that will teach him to fear pain, anticipate challenges and bounce back.
And despite the overabundance of advice (backseat parenting) from the world at large (“Calm down, he’ll be fine” with an eyeroll or “I can’t believe you’d let him do that” with a report halfway filled out to child protective services), it’s tough to know in the moment which risks are good ones and which are not.
Do we let Harvey eat the thing off the floor? Do we let him walk on the pool cover? What about roughhousing on the couch even though one time he bonked his head and got a golf-ball-size forehead adornment? How about negotiating autonomously with other toddlers about toy ownership? Should he be banned from coloring because he eats crayons and licks markers sometimes?
Are there height specifications for things that are good for him to possibly fall off? Like, is couch-to-floor a good lesson but table-to-floor too high? (I know he shouldn’t be on top of the table, but let’s tackle one issue at a time here.)
Parenting is tricky enough when you think your job is to protect your kids, and it gets markedly more complex when you’re only supposed to protect them some of the time (and shrug coolly the other times like all of this is super easy and not a biggie).
And since there is no widely available manual anywhere nor a Helicopters Anonymous group around, I guess you’ll have to just wish us — perhaps particularly Harvey — mostly good luck.
Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at firstname.lastname@example.org.