I have always believed that people will usually rise (or lower themselves) to meet your expectations of them. In other words, if you think someone is a jerk, he will probably act like one toward you. If you show someone that you trust and respect her, she is likely to behave in an honourable and honest way. I am beginning to see how true this is when it comes to parenting. You might remember that I resolved that this summer will be my summer of "Free Range Parenting". I'm sure that neither my mother nor Lenore Skenazy would endorse it as truly "free range", but it was a departure from my parenting style up to now, which tends to veer toward over-protective mama-bear style parenting. I didn't let my kids take public transit on their own or bike to Sobey's to pick up some milk, but I did relax the apron strings quite a bit, and learned that the more trust I put in my kids, the more responsible and mature their behaviour is. I've got a long way to go but I made some in-roads.
This delicious summer is drawing to a close and I wanted to check in on the topic of "Free Range Parenting" which has been my most well-read post to date. I think that post really struck a chord with a lot of people (thank you to everyone who read and commented on it) because many people of my generation are realizing how different their children's childhoods are from their own. Sometimes that is a good thing and we don't really stop to ponder the divide much. They have healthier food, BPA-free water bottles, and much better clothes and haircuts. We think, "My kids have it good. We're doing a good job. Phew..."
But every once in a while, we have to admit that perhaps, gulp, in some ways our own parents did it... better. It's an unsettling feeling.
Well, my kids had an absolutely amazing summer. Here are a few of the things they did this summer that they had not done before:
1. Lemonade stand. Unsupervised. (Mainly because it took place during that nail-biting US/Canada women's soccer game in which the referees pretty much just handed the game to the US team who was outplayed for the entire game, but I digress...)
2. First slumber party at our house. (I made myself invisible and let the six nine year-olds do what six nine-year olds will do when left unattended, which probably involves mostly video games and fart jokes, but I don't know because I was reading Bill Bryson's book about Shakespeare, which you really have to read. But I digress. Again.)
3. First sleepover at a friend's house. (OK, the mother is my neighbour and a good friend, so it's not like I let them camp out in a subway tunnel or anything, but still...)
4. A whole lot of swimming, during which time I relaxed a little and did some swimming of my own instead of holding onto them the whole time. Which they really appreciated because they can actually swim better than me and it's only a matter of time before they are lapping me in the lane swim at the pool.
5. Many, many bike rides. Sometimes we ride together, but I also learned that this is a great way for me to get a run into my day while still spending time with them. I let them ride on ahead and told them to stop when they came to a fork in the road or if they sensed I was too far behind, pull over to the side and wait for me. It turns out that kids don't evaporate into thin air if you take your eyes off of them for a few minutes, even when they are riding a bike.
6. I sent them to the school park on their own. This one was hard. The first time I let them go, it was mainly because they were wound up and bouncing off the walls. They had been in the house most of the day and I was trying to make dinner and they were getting on my nerves big time. So I said, "Get your shoes on, run to the park, do one lap around the playground and run straight back." It's probably about a kilometre round-trip. Then I poured myself a glass of wine. When they got back, everyone was much happier.
7. They played card games like Go Fish and board games like Trouble. And I didn't monitor to make sure that everyone was being fair. They need to get wise to when people are trying to cheat them, because that's life.
8. Buy their own Slurpees. Do you remember the joy of heading to the 7-Eleven on your no-speed bike, pouring yourself a swamp-water Slurpee and heading up to the till to pay for your treat with a shiny coin? In the day, that coin was a quarter and not a Toonie, but I'm pretty sure that the feeling is the same.
9. House-sit. My neighbour (the lovely lady who also invited them both for a sleepover with her son) went away for two weeks and my oldest son took care of their cat and watered their plants. I went with him each time to check on the house and make sure he locked the door behind him, but I let him do most of the work himself. When she handed him his pay envelope, I thought he would burst with pride.
10. Go to swim lessons on their own. OK, the truth is that I didn't do this. But my husband did. Swim lessons end at 12 and he called me at 11:55 to say that he wasn't going to make it back to the pool and could I pick them up. I just about fell off my chair. Doesn't he know that you are supposed to wait in the bleachers and watch? I raced down to the pool and when I ran into the lobby, my boys were standing there. One of them had passed his level and the other one hadn't, but they were both beaming with pride.
So now we are off on vacation for the last week of this glorious summer and I'm looking forward to engaging in some free-range parenting where it was meant to be enjoyed - at the lake.