As parents we are constantly balancing on a tightrope. To the left is our child’s independence, and to the right is safety in our loving arms. Some parents find it easier to just fall to the left and let their children figure things out, and others fall to the right keeping the little ones cocooned from any possible threats.
Most of us, however, find ourselves trying our best to balance. We occasionally fall, but the further we get, the better we become at finding the right balance.
After reading the story about the teenagers who caused a brawl and stampede at a Louisiana mall, I instantly remembered the first time my twin sister and I were allowed to venture to them mall with friends – sans parents.
We were in the 5th grade when we asked our dad if we could go to the mall with friends. At first he was reluctant. Eventually he gave us each a small amount of money and a laundry list of rules to follow. He told us not to shop with our hands in our pockets to avoid looking like shoplifters.
He cautioned us to keep our money in our purse, and to stay at the counter until we put the change away. We were to stay together at all times, even if only one of us had to go to the bathroom. We were told for the 7 millionth time not to talk to strangers, but it was the first time were warned not to leave the mall with anyone.
We arranged a pick-up time and location, and there were to be no excuses for being late. If we needed to make a call, we couldn’t rely on a cell phone. We used a pay phone or asked a store if we could use their phone.
My dad was really good at balancing the parental tightrope. He always gave us very clear expectations and laid out the consequences for failing to meet them. He gave us enough room to have little adventures, but he always made sure we knew how to be safe.
On the occasions we failed to follow his rules, he was swift with the consequence. There was no getting out of my dad’s punishments. That was mostly because the worst punishment was losing his trust.
As I try to walk this same rope with my children, I wonder how he did it so well. I wonder if he sat worried to death every time we spread our wings a little wider. I do. I worry when I sit in the car while my 10-year old buys a soda in the convenient store. I worry when she and her friend play outside. I worry when I walk to the linen closet 15 feet away from where my 3-year old is bathing. I worried when I stopped carrying him and held his hand instead.
But with all the worry also comes the voice of reason. It’s the voice that tells me they can’t be my little ones forever. Eventually they will be all grown up, and it will be because I let them spread their wings that they will be capable grownups.
Cat Koehler is married with two children. She works full time. Read her Mondays on momaha.com
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