Hover [verb]– to keep lingering about; wait near at hand.
Mike and I have been wrestling with the issue of freedom and responsibility with our children for years. Within our home we allow much freedom and encourage a high level of responsibility. We teach our children to use the stove, cut with scissors, babysit, run a dishwasher, wash, dry and fold laundry, answer the phone, feed the animals, change diapers, and the list goes on. Outside of our home is a different story.
Just a few weeks ago, I allowed my daughters (age 13 and 14) to ride bikes to my office a few blocks from home. They wanted to come for a visit and in the moment it sounded like a great idea. As I hung up the phone, I began to panic. I had never let them ride bikes that far. In fact I couldn’t think of a time I had ever allowed them to cross a busy street. I began texting instructions to my husband. “Remind them to look both ways,” “Tell them only to cross at the crosswalk,” “Make sure they know not to talk to strangers.” For the next 10 minutes my heart pounded. I could see them through the office window as they parked their bikes. Their laughter filled the parking lot. They were ALIVE!
As I breathed a sigh of relief, I realized how silly I had been. They weren’t just alive, they were actually living. They were empowered by that small taste of freedom, the wind blowing through their hair, and the potential danger of the busy street. I had trusted them and the joy of that felt-trust was beaming out of them.
My husband and I began to explore more deeply why we keep our children so close to home. Were we really afraid they would be abducted? Did we think they would do something wrong? Were we worried that they would harm themselves or someone else? We are a family of faith, did we not trust our God to care for our children? We answered “no” to every question. We also realized we didn’t see anyone else letting their children play outside. The neighborhood children play in their yards under the watchful eye of caregivers, and our parks are mostly empty. After some honest conversation we admitted it all boiled down to the perception we have of other families. We’re afraid they will judge our parenting if we are not present to defend ourselves. We are afraid they will judge our children if we are not hovering over them ready to pounce at the first sign of trouble.
Our fear stems from a desire to cling to our reputation more than a legitimate concern for children’s safety. Our fear has been preventing our children from practicing the independence they will ultimately acquire.
One day she will disagree with a college roommate and we will not be there to mediate.
One day his coworker will not want to be friends and we will not be there to make him play fair.
One day a mom on the PTA will talk behind her back and we will not be there to set her straight.
One day he will need to pay the electric bill and we will not be there with a checkbook in hand.
One day she will encounter someone who wants to harm her and we will not be there to speak words of caution.
One day, very soon, they will be adults and we will have neglected to teach them to cross the busy street.
One day. It’s not far off. It’s right around the corner. Our children’s safety is top priority, but so is teaching them to navigate through life. What better time to teach them than now!
What are your thoughts on free-range parenting verses hovering?