Trust and Failure

Earlier this month, the NY Sun published an article by Lenore Skenazy, a woman who let her nine-year-old son ride the bus home from Manhattan, unaccompanied, as an exercise in building confidence and independence. She was subsequently labeled the worst mom in the world.

I’m totally in support of her goal to break us out of the deer-in-headlights state of fear that so many parents fall into: “Children are precious. The world is scary. We must protect them at all costs…”

Except, of course, that we shouldn’t protect them at all costs. That’s a conscious choice I made when Ruby was born: that I would not do everything in my power to make her happy, comfortable, and safe. She will, for the most part, be given a relatively luxurious life (globally and historically speaking) but she’ll also be given the opportunity to fall off the monkey bars, trip on the sidewalk, embarrass herself, fail, and have her heart broken a few times.

I don’t wish these on her, and my heart will be broken every time hers is. But I also understand the importance of letting her choose and take her own risks so that she can truly appreciate the consequences of her failure and her successes. When she wants to, and when we think she’s ready, we’ll let her take the bus home too. And of course we’ll sit anxiously on the porch awaiting her arrival. But that anxiousness is the price we pay for the joy of parenting the best way we can.

[Ms. Skenazy now has a blog devoted to this subject: Free Range Kids]

What’s the worst best that could happen?

I am deliberately trying to be an uncautious parent.

 At a drop-in parent’s group we attended a few days ago, one mother worried about whether she should tell her child’s name to strangers she encountered while walking in her neighbourhood.  Another told us we should remove any fleece liners we may have put in our car seats “because they weren’t recommended by the manufacturer”.

American culture has become obsessed with safety and abhorrent of risk.  We end up spending way more to avoid misfortune than the misfortune would ever end up costing.  Not only is this bad math, but we’re also missing out on the flip side: instead of asking what’s the worst that could happen, ask: what’s the best?

If you tell that stranger your child’s name, maybe he’ll be able to smile and wave and say hello to your daughter every single day.  If you use that fleece blanket, maybe your child won’t cry every time she gets in the car.

Instead of worrying about avoiding that single giant horrible thing, I’m going to work hard to create a million tiny wonderful things.