I like to think of myself as having a laid back, easy going approach to parenthood. But my oldest – my 5th grader - says it ain’t so. This is my kid who has had a mohawk since kindergarten. My kid who had his mohawk dyed orange. And yet when I respond with a, “no” to some of his notions, (riding his bike without a helmet; walking a mile to school alone in the wee hours of the morning; seeing the movie “The Dark Knight Rises”; ordering beer…) I am “…THE most overprotective mom – EVER!!!” On the outside, I shake it off. “This is just the way it is. I want you safe. It’s my job.” But inside, I fret. Am I overprotective? Am I setting myself up for a massive rebellion? Should I be saving up my “nos” for the big stuff like, “Mom- I-want-to-backpack-all-over-Europe-specifically-Amsterdam-and-ditch-on-the-whole-college-deal-because-education-is-overrated?”
My kid has said more than once, “we live in the suburbs for G-d sakes! Geeze!” implying that my fear of him being thrown into a windowless white van by a menacing, hulking stranger is baseless. And this is most probably true. When we looked for a house to buy, we considered three things: Jewish community, my husband’s ability to bike to work, and safety. We are grateful that things like a lawn Gnome being stolen makes the local paper because that’s about the most eventful thing that happens here. But still.
Myself, I was a rebellious child. I got into trouble. I snuck out of the house after I checked-in. I stole money from my parent’s piggybank. I practiced driving without a permit. I had a mouth on me. I got picked up by the cops for curfew violation. I hung with the bad boys and numerous other unmentionables. I recently had to admit to my kids that at a (few) point(s) and time(s) in my youth, I smoked. Since then my middle son likes to occasionally exclaim, “You were a smoker!?” “Experimented,” I say. “I was never a smoker.” He doesn’t buy it. And the questions (and the answering of them) become a slippery slope. “Ever been drunk?” he asked while on a grocery run during our vacation in Michigan. “Yes.” I answer. “When?” “Um…” I stammer. “In college?” he presses. “Yes.” I answer while over-analyzing a wheat-free cracker box. “Since we’ve been born?” he asks with his big blue eyes boring into the side of my head. Oy.
So how long do we keep this proverabal leash on our kids? Do we do a yank, pull. yank, pull and finally release? Do we white-knuckle grip it all the way? As a mother of four and having 10+ years under my belt in parenting, (and having had the privilege and honor of practicing on many borrowed kids in my professional life prior to parenthood) my conclusion is this: I really don’t know. I think I probably have to contemplate my own demons first – the worry that too much freedom will lead him to the trouble I found. Needing to sort through the fear about not knowing what’s going to happen to him and the anxiety about what he is ultimately going to decide to do for himself. And then, I need to take a long look at him. Really see him. View him for who he is separate from me. I need to give him (and myself) the courage to be brave. And to fail. And to not be perfect and to develop the confidence to be out in the world choosing vanilla or chocolate, looking both ways, saying no when it’s wrong and saying yes when it’s right.