Guest Post: Don’t Call Me Brave!

Hey Readers — I’m not getting totally lazy (I hope), but I DO keep getting these great things I want to post and that I think you’ll love, too. Here’s the latest, from a Tucson, AZ.,  mom of four:

DON’T CALL ME BRAVE, by AMY UTZINGER

I don’t like being called brave. You’d think it’s a positive thing, but I don’t t think so.

So my kids are going to diving lessons this summer. We drive there on the way back from another activity, but the pool is quite near my house. The first day I stayed just to see what they were learning and how the class worked, but my 6-year-old is too young to attend and he was squirmy and bored sitting on the side of the pool for an hour and a half. So ever since the first day I’ve dropped the kids off and gone home for most of their lesson, then we stop by a bit before it’s over to catch the last few minutes and see what they’ve learned. When I did this, a few of the other moms (who had stayed the whole time) said, “You dropped them off and went home?!? You’re brave!”

What they really meant, of course, is that in their opinion I’m nuts and am taking unnecessary risks with my children’s safety. Then one mom, probably seeking to defend me, popped up with, “Well her oldest is 13, he can look after the younger ones in case something happens.”

In case what happens? It’s at a public pool with people swimming, diving and sunning themselves all over the place. What is likely to happen that my presence could prevent? A masked gunman could come in and shoot everyone, but I’m not bulletproof and I’d be of little help. I guess someone could drown, but the moms are all busy yakking with each other anyway and not paying attention to the kids, so that wouldn’t be any help either. I’m not depending on my 13-year-old to protect the others from anything, because I don’t think there is anything they need to be protected from during diving class.

I was called brave when two of my kids took a plane as unaccompanied minors to visit their grandparents. But it was a nonstop flight, and we put them on the plane, and their grandparents met them at the other end. They were in good hands throughout.

I was called brave when my first grader was assigned the chore of taking our dog for a walk, even though he only ever walks her around the block.

I was called brave when my 12-year-old started taking the public bus to his middle school, although he says it’s a lot calmer and more well mannered than the school bus ever was.

They even said I was brave to let my 8-year-old daughter go to a sleepaway camp that doesn’t let prents call, text or email for the 5 days the kids are there.

In each of these cases, the person calling me brave was looking at me like I was completely bonkers. It seems to be a code for saying, “What you are doing is reckless and foolhardy, but I’ll put a positive spin on it by calling it brave.”

But in a way I guess I am brave. Brave enough to go against the prevailing parenting theory that your child is never quite safe enough. Brave enough to ignore the peer pressure to never let my children out of my sight. Brave to allow my children the freedom to explore and have adventures without me looking over their shoulders.

What about you? Ever been called “brave” by someone who is giving you that “you’re nuts” look, for allowng your children to do something that was totally normal 20 years ago? Just curious! — A.U.

95 Responses

  1. I think you’re being called “brave” in the “I wish I had the courage to buck convention like you doing.

  2. In Germany we’d say you were normal …If anyone noticed.

  3. Wait.

    You left them with a TEACHER and you’re brave? They’re taking lessons with whom, Crusty the Clown?

    What. Er. I mean… what do these people think is happening at school?

    I leave my three-year-old with a swim teacher! Nobody ever said anything to me about that. Dear God, what has it come to?!? (!??!?)

  4. I can totally relate to this! It happens a lot to me as I also allow many of the things you do. I tend to think I’m being “normal” and not “brave.” I’m just raising my children to be independent, confident children the best way I know how.

  5. My daughter was grade 2 when I first sent her and her brother, grade 4, to a week sleep away camp. They encourage the parents to NOT call as it only makes them think of home and realize they should be home sick. She’s gone again every year since.

    My son has gone to a 3 week camp every year for the last 4 years. Again, we usually don’t talk to him the whole time. I live by the rule, if it’s bad they’ll call.

    So yes, I’ve gotten the “you’re nuts” looks plenty of times. It’s a badge of honor!

    What are these parents going to do when their kids leave for college? Isn’t my job to develop them into independant adults? As much as I love my kids I really don’t want them living at home the rest of their lives.

  6. Apparently I’m ‘brave’ for letting my 2 yr old climb up the climbing wall to go down the ‘big slide’ at the playground. Sure, I hovered underneath him the first 50 times, but he’s proven pretty conclusively to me that he isn’t going to fall. The playground is built on that recycled-rubber surface too – when I was a kid I played over concrete! Shouldn’t having more safety features make us feel… safer?

  7. Just have to ask… What’s the name of the awesome summer camp?!

  8. Seconding Elizabeth’s comment; they’re attending a class at the pool, and therefore supervised by the teacher(s) and I would assume at least one lifeguard. What do these parents think is going to happen?

    Heck, I’d welcome the opportunity to spend time at home without all the kids. I suspect the six year old also welcomes having mommy to himself for a bit.

    Also, I was *walking* alone to and from middle school. In the middle of a largeish city. Started taking the public bus to and from school in HS, because the district found it cheaper and easier than paying to bus kids that age. Where did these parents who think that’s brave grow up?O_o

  9. I let my 7 yr. old go to sleepaway camp last summer (for 4 whole days! at 6!) and let him walk the 0.4 miles to and from school all through 1st grade. Most people framed their wide-eyed comments as “My kid could NEVER do that!”

  10. What about you? Ever been called “brave” by someone who is giving you that “you’re nuts” look, for allowng your children to do something that was totally normal 20 years ago? Just curious!

    Oh yes. And for a lot of the same stuff! Unaccompanied minor on a plane, my kids riding the bus, dropping them at the park or letting them bike to get groceries, etc etc.

    In my experience some people are complimenting me and some are being kind of crappy. I definitely feel you and want to offer my support to you and other “brave” parents and carers out there

  11. Rachel, The awesome camp is the Triangle Y camp in Oracle, AZ

  12. Dropping your kids off for their diving lesson instead of spending 1.5 hrs watching poolside? That’s not brave, that’s sane.

  13. Brave for when my 6 yr old was performing in the opera and I dropped him off for rehearsals. (Before the first performance he told my husband and I to go out to eat, he didn’t need us backstage.) (And honestly – is there a safer place from predators than the OPERA? Talk about slim pickings.)

    And brave when at age 7 I dropped him off at the University for a program he was taking there. I let him walk to the classroom by himself.

  14. This is awful, but I was called “brave” for letting my almost 2 year old go down a slide by himself. I was 10 feet away, pushing his baby brother in a swing and watching the 4 year old in the splashpad.

    The slide ended on one of those padded-playground-floors, and he’s done it a hundred times before, but one of the other moms felt it completely necessary to try holding MY CHILD’S hand as he slid.

    When I told her he was big enough to go it alone, she raised her eyebrows and used the “b” word: brave.

  15. I’m used to parents thinking I’m nuts. They have been drinking the “modern parenting” kool-aid. I have experience from having helped raise a bunch of actual kids during the 1970s-80s. Along with a very good memory and lots of old books under my belt. And maybe even a brain that is used to actually thinking for itself.

    What’s worse is when they pick out the ONE INCIDENT that didn’t go exactly as planned, and use it to put you down. My kid was just under 3 when I first took her and her 3yo sister to the art museum. We took a houseguest along. DD1 asked a question about a painting and I sat down to answer her. DD2 ran off with Houseguest to “look at” a Monet, and despite my clear instructions, put her hand briefly on the painting. (No damage was done and she was disciplined, etc.) In the past 7 months, this was the ONLY time something “bad” happened as a result of my not chaining my kids to me. But last week, Houseguest (who seems to be here indefinitely) felt the need to inform another person of the incident. For what reason, I don’t know – maybe to protect the other person from being fooled by the usually good behavior of my free-range 3-year-olds.

    Ugh.

    There is nothing scary, “brave,” or irresponsible about any of the things the original poster let her kids do.

    Someday the pendulum will swing back – I know it will.

  16. Apparently, I am brave because I let my 15 year old (!) daughter wander around our small town with her friends without knowing EXACTLY where she was. It was one of those first warm, sunny days following a long New England winter, and she had her cell phone, but when I couldn’t reach her on it and I told another Mother that I didn’t know where she was, the response from the Mother was “REALLY?!” in shock.

    My daughter returned home safe and sound, btw. 🙂

  17. I remember when I was 6, and my mother had a newborn at home, I was sent to my swimming lessons in a taxi by myself! I don’t remember how I got home, but obviously I did🙂.

  18. @SKL
    Thanks for bringing that up. I hate that too. When something goes “amiss” slightly or even when it doesn’t and people use the imagined or real incident (or non-incident) as “proof” one should leash/chain/constantly supervise/operate in a state of high paranoia.

    Yeah. Who knew I’d have to have my kids operate at a high degree of “perfection” according to the whims of strangers/acquaintances for my parenting style to be considered anything except extreme.

    < le sigh! >

  19. Ugh, the playground stuff. I don’t get too much interference, but when I do, I butt in and say (nicely, I hope) “they can do __ by themselves.”

    But the other day, a bunch of kids were climbing on something and one little one, about 2-3, seemed to be losing his grip and likely to fall headfirst. I first asked “do you need help?” Partly because I hate it when someone interferes when my kids are doing something “they” wouldn’t expect at the playground. And partly because I don’t know what the kid’s mom would think of me touching him (“stranger danger”). He said “yes,” so I helped, and the mom had an unreadable reaction. Concern? Irritation? But she reminded her kid to thank me and that was the end of that.

  20. Most people who have said “you’re brave” to me have meant it, I think. That is, they feel like they are too scared to let their children do such and such, but they would like to be more relaxed, they just don’t feel they can. If people mean “you’re crazy,” they don’t usually say. “you’re brave,” they say, “Well, I wouldn’t do that…such and such could happen…”

  21. “I helped, and the mom had an unreadable reaction. Concern? Irritation? But she reminded her kid to thank me and that was the end of that”

    My guess? Concern that you were judging her for not immediately rushing to her kid’s aid, or for hovering near enough to her kid to help at any moment. That is always my waryness when a stranger helps my kid. I tended to let my kids get hurt on the playground figuring they would learn better cordination that way (nothing deadly, of course!), and so when people helped them, I always wondered what they were thinking – why isn’t the mom right here right now preventing this tumble!

  22. Living in Oregon, I recently got a comment that my six year old shouldn’t be out of my sight at the park (she was on the other side of a grassy hill): ‘You heard what happened last week, right?’ (Meaning the missing child in portland, Kyron). I think it’s nice if we can be aware of children in our community, it would make them all safer, but not just to zing their parents because you might think they aren’t being watched closely enough to protect from stranger abductions (which are so rare, and really quite hard to predict!)

  23. Sky, I know where you’re coming from. I think I tend to be defensive myself – maybe too defensive at times. Once my 3yo was hanging from some rings and acting nervous about jumping down. She had jumped from there before so she and I both knew it was safe. So though I saw her having second thoughts, I didn’t “rush to her rescue.” Another mom came along and was about to help her down when I said, “she’s OK, she can jump down.” The other mom said, “oh, OK, I wasn’t sure.” I think she felt a little defensive herself at that point. It’s sad that there is so much mom-to-mom judgment that we are all practically expecting it half of the time.

  24. And for the record, I was not judging that little boy’s mom at all. She wasn’t doing anything I don’t do all the time (stand or walk at a distance from the kids when they are playing). All kids get themselves into sticky situations. Had the kid fallen, he wouldn’t have died. I just didn’t feel right standing by and watching it happen. I hope she feels that she would have done the same for my kid if the tables were turned. But yeah, she doesn’t know me and may wonder if I was judging her.

    Ugh! We sure know how to make life complicated.

  25. And, CarrieM, he was taken from SCHOOL. So….

    I don’t think you’re brave. I think you’re SMART.

    My three kids have swimming lessons right now – after their first class, they bring me a yellow slip that has their teacher’s name on it and some information. One of the ‘requirements’ is that I stay in the pool area At All Times During The Lesson.

    Hell, no. They are small classes. My oldest two (12, 14) are in the highest class offered before lifeguarding classes. My youngest (nearly 10) is only two classes behind them.

    What do they need me there, for? There are lifeguards AND the teacher and right across the hall is the workout room, where I’ll be walking on the treadmill. I’m IN the building. That should be good enough.

    Additionally, the oldest two have their lesson at noon. While I work out, my youngest goes across the street to the park where they have some organized activities and even offer a free lunch (this is part of the school district and USDA making sure lower income kids are fed when school is out – but anyone can participate.) She’s been having a really great time playing with other kids, doing the activities and being proud of being on her own. She knows where I am if she really needs me.

    I did also notice that generally in my town, there’s not a lot of hovering. There were two kids, maybe 11 or 12, waiting at the public bus stop near the park. No ‘adult’ with them. They were waiting politely and not making any trouble. I was very pleased.🙂

    Long comment is long….

  26. Then, of course, there’s the imagined “brave” comments. We left our 8 year old at a church playground last night while we took a bike ride. He was invited to come along but wanted to go to the playground. He’s been there alone before, but there were several people there and likely to be more – I think they were getting ready for a baseball game. And it was all the people that had me a nervous wreck! I knew my son would be fine, but I kept thinking…what if a busybody asks him where his parents are and wants to call CPS. Then, about 15 minutes later, my son called us to say he had changed his mind and wanted to ride with us. He asked a parent to borrow their phone. They didn’t freak out (that I know of) to have an unattended child ask to borrow a phone. I’m hoping that the local parents are actually more freerange than I give them credit for… Time will tell!

  27. When I start getting called brave (my daughter is -10 weeks old), I’m going to have to bite my tongue to keep from responding, “if that’s brave, you’re a coward.”

  28. @SKL and it’s not even just mom-to-mom judgement!

    We were at a barbeque at a friend’s house when my daughter (15 months old at the time) was trying constantly to go over to a cat we knew was not friendly. I tried the usual things, distraction, firm “no”, just holding her, but nothing was helping the situation. Finally I asked my husband (and my cousin who’s child also wanted to see the cat – even though she was older and knew what “not friendly” meant and understood that the cat was mean) if we should just let my daughter learn that not all animals are nice by experience. After all, she has the same attitude with dogs, and at least a cat is not likely to kill or maim her during the lesson. In any case, the owner of this cat (my friend who does not have children) noticed that we were letting the girls go towards the mean pet and rushed over to say no and shoo the cat away. I tried to explain that we were conscious of what we were doing, but at the same time I understood that the owner wouldn’t want her cat to hurt anyone.

    Of course, my daughter was completely unimpressed that the cat had run away and decided to do the “wet noodle” and have a fit in the garden. I thought…well, now she’ll need a bath because I’m sure she has dirt in her hair, but I’m not responding to such tactics from her. At which point I told her to stop fussing and come with me as I walked back toward the fire pit. This is when the second intervention from a non-parent happened. A male friend of ours (who is awesome with our daughter and has babysat for us quite a few times) said “if you don’t get your daughter, I will.” I said that I was unimpressed with her behaviour, but upon turning around I noticed that she wasn’t just having a fit anymore, but she was sort of stuck like a turtle on it’s shell because of the dirt in the garden. So I went to pick her up. I was irritated that I felt as though I looked incompetent even though I was being quite deliberate.

    Teaching our kids isn’t always easy, but it’s a lot tougher when people start getting involved and putting a spot light on every choice you make whether it’s good or bad.

  29. Last night my son spent the night with his best friend, both will turn 11 this summer. When the mom picked my son up, she asked my opinion on whether the boys should be allowed to ride bikes to a lake a mile from her home. Her son has recently been invited to ride there with a neighbor boy and was unsure if it was acceptable. Her question did not come across “my son does this, is yours allowed to also” but more like “I don’t know if I should allow this, what do you think”. I told her my son is allowed to ride to another friends house who lives 3 miles from our home. The boys ended up not going, but only because it was so hot they opted for the pool at home rather than a long bike ride.

    Her home is in the middle of nowhere. Gravel roads only to the lake, no traffic. Frankly, I was baffled that she would even have to think about it! At age 11 I was riding the 5 miles between my two sets of grandparents, on opposite sides of a small town. She IS one of my more worry-wart friends, so I guess I should not have been surprised. At least I helped her son gain a small amount of freedom for the future.

    The word “brave” never actually came up, but I bet she was thinking it!

  30. My boys, ages 6 1/2 and 9 just left for their summer vacation. They will spend 3 wks with one set of grandparents in IL and 6 wks with another set of grandparents in FL. I will miss them. We will talk on the phone. They will be home in August and glad that they went.

  31. How about this as a reply (to the “brave” adjective)?

    “No, just rational”

    Optionally, add:

    “I prefer to sweat the big stuff – the small stuff takes care of itself”

    Or: “No, not at all. What exactly is there to fear?”

    (opens a chance to extol the FRK philosophy)

  32. Wow, I never thought of how summer camps must have changed with technology. When I was a kid, we went to a two week summer camp and generally got one or two hand-written letters from home (that I had to share with my brother! gasp!)

    Just replace “brave” with “reasonable” and all those comments come from the reality I’d like to live in.😀

  33. I suppose one could insert an anecdote about when your child was brave “You should have seen her at the doctor– she held still for her shot all by herself!” Introduces perspective and a chance to brag about your kid.
    I went to camp every summer when I was a kid, and WROTE LETTERS HOME. My mom told me later that they would write a letter before I went so I could have a letter the first day or so… Email does not sound as much fun (but I think my camp has unfortunately joined the 21st century in that regard).
    I found as a camper– and, later, a counselor– that there is no quicker cure for homesickness than writing a letter home about all the fun things that happen at camp.

  34. Brave may not be the best word to describe one’s parenting style. Brave parenting is the term sometimes used to describe kids sailing or climbing the far reaches of the world. Both helicopter parenting and Mr. Sunderland are neglectful in teaching kids how to make wise decisions. The sensible middle ground is actually Free Range Parenting, but for the crazy extremists classified as the other two schools of thought, we are the nutty ones. Lenore posted this last week:
    http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-barcott-girl-sailor-20100616,0,5515408.story

  35. If people mean “you’re crazy,” they don’t usually say. “you’re brave,” they say, “Well, I wouldn’t do that…such and such could happen…”

    I have to disagree. When people mean “you’re crazy,” they ALWAYS say “you’re brave.” I’ve had three homebirths, and I’ve heard “Wow,you’re brave!” more times than I could ever count as a response when I tell someone I had my kids at home. I’d venture to say it is pretty much the only response I get.

  36. Well, not about my kids. . . . .

    But my then ma-in-law told me I was ‘brave’ (facial expression said ‘STUPID’) for flying to Britain in the early days of the first Iraq war. I figured Mr S. Hussein had nothing personal against me and I was pretty safe.

    It was great: the jumbo was pretty much empty, coz there weren’t a lot of brave/crazy people like me around at the time, it seems.

  37. If anyone ever called me “brave” for dropping off my kids at a lesson or class of any kind, I would have no choice but to react to them if they are utterly insane. Why on EARTH would I just want to sit there watching them? Part of what I’m paying for is the childcare! When I drop off my daughter at gymnastics, I’m amazed that there are parents who stay for the whole session. The parents aren’t even allowed in the gym; they have to watch out of a window, Their kids can’t see them, and most of the time they can’t see their kids. Get a life, people!!!! P.S. obviously there is an exception for watching competitive sporting events or anything else where having parents watch is actually important to the child.

  38. I am always astounded by the number of mothers clogging up the lobby when I arrive at my dance school for my scheduled classes. They will sit there for HOURS while their kids take 2 or 3 lessons back to back.

    I can’t even imagine. I drop my kid off for his guitar lessons and go grocery shopping. I don’t have time to sit around for an hour doing nothing while he’s in private instruction.

  39. In defense of some of the ballet moms, I know some moms in that situation who would drop off their kids if it made sense, but they come from distances that make it not worthwhile going home, and there are only so many “errands close to the ballet” one can run, especially depending on where the ballet is located.

    I also know that some can’t imagine leaving their child “alone” at the ballet for an hour or two, even if they’re of the age where they go to school “alone” (by the same definition: in a group of children with multiple responsible adults in charge) for six or seven hours. It’s a strange, strange world.

  40. Hmmm….I may have to rethink current practices, particularly since my kids are getting older (10 & 8). I have sat through innumerable classes and lessons over the years, but it never occurred to me not to! EVERY other parent does the same thing!

    I usually bring a book along and mind my own business (not always keen on yakking with the other parents), but maybe this fall, when the lineup of sports and other activities resumes, I’ll be “brave” and do a drop-and-run. Maybe it’ll occur to some other parents to do so too!

  41. yup! from letting my baby chew on solid foods (she made a litlte cough and spat it back out!) your brave to let her eat big things etc Im too scared my kid will choke (two of my kids refused pureed food but would eat anything they could hold)

    to letting my almost 4 year old who loves to climb anything and everything people say your brave to let yor child do that etc some even said your child makes me nervous etc yet she has never fallen (and we are talking low heights like a park table, a little wall )

    i was lamenting one time i did nt want to turn out like my mother and grandmother (anxiety issues, yet we still had a normal free rangish childhood) and a parent said to me oh you are the most relaxed parent here….

    that didnt make me feel good! It seem to be another way to say that I was too easy on my kids etc.

  42. I love this post. IMO they do mean “crazy”. Or at least saying they don’t approve. Just like people saying you’re wearing a “bold” outfit. It’s not a compliment, they mean it doesn’t really work, you look kind of ridiculous. I remember being called brave for wearing a kimono to the senior class dinner in high school (and it wasn’t by the sole Asian in our school). What you’re doing is great and thank you for letting us all know about it. I keep laughing at how 12-year-olds are not allowed to be at HOME alone anymore. We were babysitting newborns at that age!! (And that, looking back, was a little brave of the parents.)

  43. For something to do while the kids are at a kid-only activity, if I kinda have to stay close, I’ll take the opportunity to go for a walk or have a conference call. Assuming the snow isn’t knee-deep and I’m not in heels, of course.

  44. About three years ago, when my youngest was just six and taking dance lessons, I opted to use the 45 minutes of class time to walk around the business park area where her studio was located, for some exercise. I even told the teacher. My daughter got a little nervous about it, but Teacher said, “No, you’re with me here! Mom’s going to walk because she wants to and then she’ll be back when class is over.” Clearly the teacher (who is the same age as my mom, exactly, even, lol) had no concerns with my not being there. And for the past two seasons, I’ve routinely dropped both girls off (classes that cross times on the same day) and gone back home to continue working and preparing dinner, and daddy arrives some time later to pick them up again. No one has ever had a problem with this.

  45. I was told I was brave when I tooky 6 month old to day care and didn’t call and check on him. I figured I had researched the place and that they would call me if needed. I would be in grad school classes — what would I find out that would necessitate any action on my part? How would any of us benefit from my obsessive checking?

    And I have 2 kids in diving. One on team for 2 years and one just starting lessons. I often leave the 9 year old at practice. I think the coaches actually prefer it that way. And aren’t lifeguards there to deal with accidents? I only stay for lessons because it’s too far for me to go home during that time.

    You’re not brave. That would imply that there’s something to be worried or scared about. In this day and age, I simply applaud you for being sensible.

  46. I had two thoughts. When I took my niece to swimming lessons a few years ago (class time changed and Sis and BIL couldn’t get away from work in time to take her), we were specifically told we MUST leave the pool area during the lesson. I didn’t go anywhere because I didn’t really have anywhere near there I wanted to go. So I just took a book and read in a room they had set aside for peole who didn’t leave.

    I went to a 6 weeks sleep away camp when I was 10 – 11 yo. The rule was no calls period only letters. They did encourage parents to write possitive letters a couple days before came so everyone had a letter the 1st mail call.

  47. Wow, this really hits home!! Its such a relief when you read something that rings so true in your own life! Amy, I do the same kind of things with my kids. And yes, when people say “You’re brave,” what they really mean is, “You’re irresponsible”! I think the more kids you have, the easier it becomes to be “brave”, because, well, you just dont have a choice sometimes. People with one or two kids dont get that. This ranks right up there with parents who stay for every sports practice (who drive me nuts.) I have come to the conclusion that soooo many problems would be solved if parents simply stayed out of it …neighborhood issues, school issues, sports/coaching issues…another good reason NOT to stay for practices/classes!
    Thanks for posting this, I love it and will link to FB.

  48. Actually, I get those remarks all the time. They’re bad enough, but what really annoys me is when I tell people I have seven children and they get that same “Are you stupid?” look on their faces and ask me if I understand how reproduction works. As for the free-range thing, I had social workers at my door last year because I was letting my two sons (ages 8 and 5 at the time) take the dog around the block together.

  49. Sorry, just gotta say, I reread this and I love it more the second time around….Its so darn RELEVANT! Amy, thank you for reminding me that I’M NOT CRAZY!!

  50. I’ve been dubbed the B-Word more times than I can count. Guess CPS will be banging on my door any day now.

    Yes I let my kids cross the street by themselves, play by themselves and even swim on the pool with me being more than “a hugs reach away” (the hug thing really grates!). Sigh. I just don’t get the helicopter attitude!

  51. A lot of it is what your used to and the social norms of where you live. Many people tell me I’m brave for letting my daughter take public transit to school. It seems brave to them because they rarely or never take it themselves. Here many of the kids do it – there are no school buses after elementary school – so it’s not seen as being particularly brave. But if I lived somewhere else, I might think it was brave. My MIL thinks we’re brave for living in a city. I think SHE’S brave to live by herself at 80+ on 400 acres with no other house in sight. I could never do it.

    All this talk about what is or isn’t brave reminds me of a comment my daughter made today that jarred me. It’s the last week of school here, so in one of the classes they watched a movie for fun. She was telling us about the movie, and it sounded really funny, but I had never heard of it. She told me that it wasn’t really old – not black and white – but it must have been kind of old because it was from the time when kids were allowed to wander around town without grownups. Ouch.

  52. Great article.
    I don’t think I’ve ever been called brave for letting my kids do something. Not to my face (maybe online) because everyone here treats their kids free-range.

    I have been called “brave” and gotten that look when people find out I’m pregnant with my 5th child and my other kids are 4, 7, 8 and almost 10. That started when I was pregnant with my 3rd child in less than 2 years. They’d say brave but the tone said “insane”, lol.

    I learned to shrug it off.

    I also don’t talk much about what my kids are allowed to do with parents I know aren’t free-range. That way I avoid the look.

  53. Had to laugh about this, I tend to stick out among my friends as well. I don’t think they’ve ever called me brave, extreme is the word I hear most often. It’s usually done in love though🙂

  54. “n case what happens? It’s at a public pool with people swimming, diving and sunning themselves all over the place. What is likely to happen that my presence could prevent? A masked gunman could come in and shoot everyone, but I’m not bulletproof and I’d be of little help.”

    Excellent point. I recall that once I wanted to go to a concert in a not-so-great part of town, and my parents objected to my going because of the dangers of waiting in line by myself, of all things, even though I had a ride there and back. I think waiting in line in public is pretty safe. If there is a drive-by shooting, well… I don’t think parental presence can prevent drive-bys…

  55. I have the feeling the concern with “kid alone at pool” would be the dreaded changing room molester. But if a 13-year-old can’t go into a changing room without his mother, that kid’s gonna be pretty messed up regardless.

  56. I’m now feeling vaguely guilty as I never even once considered that I

  57. @ andy in Germany I also live in Germany and agree with your comment about being called normal instead of brave. Free range kids appear to be the norm in Germany. It seems like parents here encourage their kids to be independent at an earlier age than in the States. Even first graders walk to school and back home alone. There isn’t rampant paranoia about kidnappers or child molesters lurking behind every tree.

    Judging from what I’ve read on this site, I’d be turned in to CPS for what I let my 11-year-old son do. He rides his bike to school, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, when the weather is nice. When he goes to a friend’s house, he goes alone on foot or on his bike. He has even ridden the train and bus by himself to visit friends in nearby towns. When the kids swim at the public pool, they go together as a group without parents in tow. I figure that any changing room molester wouldn’t bother a group of several boys together. And if there was a suspicious character lurking in the changing room, the kids all know how to get help.

  58. When we were children, my sister, cousin and I took swimming lessons at the same school. However, each of our lessons started at a different time. We were expected to bring something to keep us quietly entertained during the other girls’ lessons. My mother and Aunt did stay, but that was sort of badge of honor. The helicopter moms, whose kids cried when they didn’t want to do what they were told, were firmly asked to leave for the duration of the lesson.

  59. I was a latch-key kid starting in the first grade. Came home from school every afternoon and was by myself, to do my own homework and get my own snack ALL by myself, until my mom got home from work. I was probably alone for about 2 hours each afternoon. But, I did my homework, by myself, with little to no interference or input from my mom. So, my teachers were able to tell exactly what I needed help with because all of the answers were my own.

    I also flew alone on an airplane each summer to visit my grandparents in TX (I lived in GA). I did not act like a crazy person on the plane. I was respectful to the flight attendants (they were stewardesses then!) and other adults who were happy to help me get something from the overhead bin.

    So, yes, I do think it’s OK to leave my 8 year old home alone while I take my son to a lesson. She finishes her homework, dresses for soccer and has a snack. She rises to the occasion and is proud that I trust her with the responsibility.

    I just haven’t told many people (especially my mother in law!) that I do that so I have not been called ‘brave.’

  60. In my previous post I meant to say that I’d be turned in to CPS if I lived in the States.

  61. It’s pretty astounding that our child-rearing world is so whacked that a strongly positive word like “brave” is now a thinly-veiled insult.

  62. I laughed a little when you said ‘things that were totally normal 20 years ago”. It’s been 17 years since I was an exchange student – one year in another country, living with another family, and my mom got that “brave” thing all the time. I was 16! I was going off to college in another year anyway! It wasn’t like I was living on my OWN! So even then, people were overprotective….!

  63. Had the same experience over summer camp with our 2nd grader a few years back…friend looked at me like I had totally lost my marbles. I hate that we live on a country road but my kids can’t wander on bikes because a main thoroughfare has folks driving 60MPH on a two lane road…I’d let them ride for miles as most the rest of the roads are wide open and safe.

    We, as a society, have gone so far overboard that I was chastised for leaving my 3 sons…11, 10 and 7 in the toy aisle at Target together to look and dream while I went to get a few groceries. And I certainly don’t even consider that being all that “free range” BUT normal!

    My own mother has chnaged radically with this thinking, as when I was little we walked to the store by ourselves when we were about 12 or so and it was 2 miles away in Southern California. Today she is telling me she is very scared for me to come to CA alone with my 5 kids or take them to Disneyland because I won’t be able to watch them well enough and she is worried about my 12 year old son going to the bathroom alone in a public place!!

    I refuse to be a Helicopter parent, but there are times when I do see that choice as “brave”…brave because we have to buck societal norms these days!

  64. By 12/13, I was walking myself to swim practice daily, and often getting myself to meets (either by setting up a pickup at the local pool with the coach or via Chicago’s public transit system). Long before that my mom was leaving me at various sports practices and taking off to run errands or deal with getting other kids other places.

    Although, regarding pools and the tweet about the pool who raised its swim-only age with lifeguards present (and has the regulation that if no lifeguard is present, those under age 18 must be accompanied by an adult over the age 21) . . . my god, I WAS the lifeguard at age 16.

  65. I stay for my child’s lessons. Not because I’m helicoptering or afraid to leave her there alone but because I don’t really want to drive there, drop her off, get back in the car, drive home, sit for 15 minutes and then go back. I also can’t just drive-up and get her. Both gymnastics and swim lessons require that I walk into the building to drop her off and pick her up so I have to park and get out of the car twice anyway. It’s simply easier to stick around.

    I also have to admit that sometimes I enjoy watching her lessons. It’s fun to watch her learn to do new things. She’s only 4 and just starting lessons so this will probably wear off eventually but for now it’s kinda fun and cute. So I wouldn’t discount all the people sitting there as helicopter parents. Some may have nowhere else to go and some may just really enjoy watching their kid.

    That said, when the weather was nice, I usually loaded up the dog and took him to gymnastics with us so I could take him for a walk during the lesson. And I have bought some goggles so that I can do some laps myself during swimming lessons.

  66. @ Cindy LaJoy – Isn’t the change in our mothers amazing? When I was a kid, I was set loose on a bike with the only requirement being that I return home when the street lights came on. My mother did not know where I was for hours of the day. I stayed home alone after school starting at 8.

    We lived near a small lake during elementary and middle school. Part of the lake was at the end of our 3 house street but the swimming area was on the opposite side of the lake. There was a second, much larger lake spitting distance from the one that we lived on. I was trusted to run free through the neighborhood and not drown in either lake. I could ice skate on our lake in the winter without adult supervision (after it had been tested by adults) from age 8. I could ride my bike around the lake to the swimming area and swim by myself (life guards were there) at 10.

    My mother freaks out that I let my 4 year old play in the yard by herself. My house is downtown but very secluded. There are trees and bushes rimming the yard such that in the summer, you can barely see my house from the street.. Nobody can even see my child in the yard. She lectured me about making sure I still watched my daughter carefully in the water now that she can swimm (barely) by herself. My free range mother definitely disappeared.

    I also wonder about today’s parents and my old hood. I haven’t been in the area in years but I somehow doubt that there are still packs of kids ice skating and playing pickup hockey games in the winter. I bet the lakes are used as a reason to keep kids within sight at all times lest they drown. I’m sure it’s forbidden for kids to go to the swimming area without adult supervision now. They probably can’t fish or explore the woods surrounding the big lake freely anymore. Or ride their bikes or sled down the BIG hill into the woods at Dead Man’s Curve. Or any other the other fun things we used to do.

  67. Another reason moms hang around at lessons, at least in my experience, is that they become casual friends and enjoy the socializing. This was definitely true at my girls’ ballet school. I don’t think it’s always about of a belief that they “can’t” leave their kids for that amount of time. If they want to go take a walk (neighborhood permitting) or whatever, fine, but there’s nothing wrong with hanging out and waiting unless it’s purely out of a misguided belief that there’s a safety issue with leaving your child with people you’re already entrusting them to, without keeping your own body in the building. Well, that, and the idea that you can’t stand to miss seeing even a minute of Precious Snowflake’s star behavior in ballet class. But I don’t see too much of that, either.

  68. BTW, that last sentence wasn’t aimed at Donna — there’s healthy interest, and then there’s the idea that everything Snowflake does is so precious it can’t be missed. I was aiming at the latter.

  69. I always remember that someone told me I was “brave” when I was pregnant, and 45 years old. I really resented it – especially because it’s difficult to respond to this type of remark.

  70. Hehehe…I was just reading about how free-range-mothers of the past are turning into worried grandmothers now. I live pretty far from my mom, so I’m not really sure how she is as a grandmother on a daily basis, but it get me thinking about my childhood.

    I was allowed to go to the river by myself from at least age 10. Come to think of it, that was completely ridiculous! I didn’t even have to have a buddy along and was allowed to swim.

    In any case, one day I guess my mom started thinking and said “what would you do if you saw a stranger?” To which I replied, “I know, I know, stop drop and roll”. And then laughed and went about my business. We always joked that if anyone kidnapped me, they’d likely bring me back because I was more trouble than I was worth. Ha!

    While I don’t think my daughter will be going swimming alone any place where there are no lifeguards present, I do hope she’ll be able to enjoy the feeling of freedom I grew up with!

  71. On a similar note to “Don’t call me brave,” I just got called “spineless” a moment ago because I opened the door to a stranger. He was a solicitor, asking me to sign up for something I wasn’t interested in. I wanted to let the guy finish speaking before I said “No thanks,” but apparently the fact that I didn’t slam the door shut in his face more quickly than that angered the people within my house. My mom grabbed my shoulder while I was waiting for him to finish talking, and shut the door, saying she wasn’t interested at precisely the moment I wasn’t planning to (awkwardly discordant ‘jinx you owe me a soda’ moment).

    Frankly, I don’t think it’s spineless to be polite to people. It also seems crazy to be fearful of those who solicit magazines.

  72. Well I must be a very brave parent — and I do get that comment from other parents. My daughter went to a 4 week sleep-away camp when she was 8 (the Summer after 2nd grade). I checked everything out thoroughly and knew that she would be safe and well taken care off — the hard part was being without her for those 4 weeks –we could only write letters, not call. She’s about to go for her 3rd Summer this year. She is also going to a 1 week sleep-away camp with two friends who’s Mom’s are finally letting them go to a sleep-away camp!!

    Also as soon as I was permitted to leave her during a ballet or other class I did so. It was so liberating to go off and grab a coffee or do some shopping. She was as young as 4 when I left her at a ballet class. After all she was with other students, the teacher and the assistant and I was always back before the class ended! She has also been spending a week with my Mom in the Summer since she was 5!

    ~Beth

  73. I’m truly amazed at what local parents don’t let their kids do. My almost 10 year old stays home alone for 1/2 an hour while I get the little guy from daycare. She does her homework, reads a book, or watches TV, or (GASP!) Skypes with her dad or my sister. I actually had to do the research to find out if this was technically legal here, since I’m a social worker and a CPS case would end my career. NY has the “reasonable judgement” rule. I would never, however, leave the 3 year old in her care. People think I’m out of my mind. I have a friend who *sets the burglar alarm* when she takes a shower while her kids (ages 10 and 15) are home.

    One reason we’re planning to move to a city (besides the cross-country move for a job that currently consumes our time…) is to give my almost 10 year old more freedom. I fully expect that within a month or so of our arrival, she’ll take the public bus to school on her own most days. I walked to school every day from around age 8 without incident. Taking a bus, from point A to point B in a bus full of people and with a driver seems like a pretty safe bet. And, in cities who are providing less and less in the way of buses for public school kids (but with no guarantee of being in a neighborhood school) what else are they supposed to do? Ah, yes… the nanny or chauffeur should drive them!

    Our Y pool doesn’t let kids under 12 swim w/o a parent present (and there are always 2 lifeguards…) I’ve even gotten comments when I was swimming laps in the next lane while DD and her friend played.

    What I really wonder is what is supposed to happen to these kids when they’re suddenly 18, away at college or on their own, who have never gone to a public bathroom alone, navigated public transportation, completed a purchase in a store, stayed alone…

    Michelle

  74. My new rant: Birthday parties. My son was invited to a party (b-day girl:5, son: 4). I was intending to drop him off, but all of the other moms were there, so I stayed. This meant that my daughter, who had been getting a lesson about how sometimes we’re not all invited, got to stay. Also, they served lunch, and I’m not sure if they intended to serve it to 10 extra adults and five or six extra children like my daughter. I don’t know how to ask if I’m expected to stay, because it sounds rude. I was taught that only the people on the invitation are invited, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

  75. @Casey- I think those grandmothers now have more time to think through the worst case scenarios. I recently let my 4 and 2yos swim in a small pool (3ft deep, 10fit wide) with only a nine year old for supervision. I know they’ll be okay. My son can touch and my daughter is like an octopus in the water and won’t let go of anyone. But if I start thinking, all sorts of worst cases come to mind, and if I were a grandmother who was not as desperate as I am for some peace and quiet, those thoughts might be overwhelming.

  76. @Cynthia – when you call to RSVP, ask. “Is it going to be all right if I drop her off and come back for her? It’s a really great opportunity to get my hair cut/do shopping without him/insert here”

    I never expected the parents to stay at parties I’ve thrown unless they were relatives, and only once did someone’s grandma stay with us the whole time. It actually bugged me – uh, I didn’t invite you and she’ll be fine…

  77. It’s almost getting to the point where adults who don’t stay to parties get a whiff of being considered ungracious or neglectful or uncaring, or something. “Oh, you’re welcome to stay!” And I’m thinking, “Well, um, I was planning to get my grocery shopping done…” and all the other parents seem to be staying, so now what — if I don’t stay, maybe my child’s okay, but I’m the party pooper who doesn’t want to accept a friendly invitation.

    Hey, if you want to throw a big, open party for whole families, SEND THE INVITATION TO THE FAMILY. It’s not that I don’t like parties — it’s that I hate being made to feel awkward because I didn’t plan around staying to a party that had one child’s name on the invitation, or being the meanie because I brought other kids along on the dropoff and now I won’t “let” them stay.

  78. Parents staying at parties appears to be mandatory here. I’ve yet to go to one where ANY parent even hinted at leaving. And these are parties at facilities where there are a number of employees to help watch the kids as well. It’s the reason that my child has never had a birthday party involving children – I don’t want to throw a party for her 20 classmates AND all their parents. What age do kids start attending parties by themselves, if ever? My coworker threw a 6th birthday party for his son and all the parents stayed (except one and that was at the insistence of the child – I like that kid). I don’t remember any parents staying at my childhood birthday parties.

  79. Re: the parties. I also don’t remember parents at parties as a kid, but the parties were just 4-6 kids at the very most. And it was pin the tail on the donkey, sing happy birthday, eat, and leave. Now, the schools want you to invite the whole class! And the kids expect that. I can deal with 4-6 kids (although honestly, I’d want some help with that, too). But 20-25 kids. Sorry, I need some additional traffic cops, if nothing else, especially if there’s anything more than pin the tail on the donkey (which today’s kids don’t even know about).

    We avoided the party altogether this year and took 2 friends to a parade.

  80. pentamom- my point exactly. Although the whole incident did make me think of the book _Beezus and Ramona_ when Ramona (age 4) invites about ten friends over for a party without telling her mom. And all of the kids either show up by themselves, or are dropped off by moms with one foot on the accelerator, eager to get something done while the little darlings are occupied. Actually, now that I think about it, a lot of my view on free ranging come from her books.

  81. Parties at our school go both ways – the whole class or 4-6 kids. Doesn’t matter. All the parents stay regardless. And schools may WANT you to invite the whole class but they certainly can’t force that reality unless they are going to plan the party, send out the invites and PAY. I promised my kid a bday party this year and we’ll invite the whole class since she wants it at a party place where it costs the same whether 2 or 25 kids come. As kiddo gets older and wants different kinds of parties (slumber, etc.), the number of kids invited will decrease substantially. I do admit that the only reason that I’m giving in on the large Pump it Up party is that I know all the parents will stay and I don’t want my kid’s friends’ parents hovering around my house. I don’t know those people and my house just isn’t big enough for everyone.

  82. Well, I guess my mom was REALLY brave…she let me and my sister go to sleep away camp that lasted for a whole month….and there was no calling (texting & email didn’t exist), only letters. And they could visit one weekend and take us off campus for lunch for a couple hours.

    It’s supervised diving lessons. To the moms saying you are brave, seriously ladies, get a grip….and enjoy a little time to yourself if you can.

  83. re: the parties

    I generally ask about dropping off (as mentioned, some parents throw big parties where it turns out I’m really expected to stay), although the last party my nine year old went to was one I did stay at for at least a while. I did this because it was his first time roller skating and I didn’t want to saddle the parents with multiple first-time skaters who might end up being dependent upon them. My kid was fine and after he did a quick warm-up on the “small” rink he didn’t want any help, so I never went out on the rink.

  84. People call me brave all the time – because I have six kids….. I’m sure they mean I’m crazy! But, we have a lot of fun in our big family, and we live overseas in Malawi, Africa , so my kids get a lot of freedom to do things they wouldn’t get to do in America, like take overnight school trips to game parks and come face to face in the wild with elephants and lions, crocodiles and hippos. All have come back alive!

  85. Just found this blog and want to commend you on this post! Well said! My 8-year-old son says his teacher gives him a sad look when he tells her he is biking home on his own, like he’s being neglected in some way by having to bike four blocks home all by himself. What she doesn’t see is how strong and independent he feels that we have trusted him enough to be able to manage his way all on his own. We have taught him the rules of the road and not to talk to strangers, blah, blah, blah – now we have set him free in one small way that will position him well to take on much bigger tasks that await him in the future with confidence! That’s what it’s all about, no?

  86. Definitions of Brave: .
    Possessing or displaying courage; valiant.
    Making a fine display; impressive or showy:

    A courageous person.
    To undergo or face courageously.
    To challenge; dare: “).

    I think bravery in our society is relative. You are normal, and compared to the neurotic, scaredycat parents, you APPEAR brave. A sad commentary on our times and our society. Whatever it is you are doing, keep it up. Because whether or not YOU are brave, you will be raising BRAVE children

  87. @ Casey, I believe that article had an accompanying picture of my MIL. Even in our backyard, she hovers over my son (age 2 1/2). It drives me nuts.

    Just yesterday we were at a family party. My son was playing in an old wagon which was a little wet inside. “You shouldn’t let him play there. His clothes will get dirty,” my MIL said. Um, isn’t that why they make washing machines? Then, I was letting him go for wagon rides down a hill in the backyard. The hill was VERY small and gradually sloping, so he wasn’t going down very fast. My MIL was watching from the sidelines, her usual look of worry and concern. Finally, she came over and told me I needed to stop; after all, he **might** get hurt. I patiently explained that I was not sending him down Mt. Fiji in a saucer. A couple of rides later, he fell out down the hill – giggling hysterically by the way – and she used that opportunity to say “I told you so.”

    Despite the friction, I might be willing to let a lot of smothering go, except her overprotection has rubbed off on my husband.

  88. DMT: Your description reminds me that there are really two separate components of overprotection/hovering. The first one is stunting kids by excessive attempts to protect them from serious, but extremely rare, dangers. The second, which is what your MIL seems to be doing, is more insidious and potentially even more damaging: trying to “protect” kids from things that are unpleasant (often only mildly so) but harmless (disappointments, arguments with friends, scraped knees) or merely inconvenient (dirt, dampness). In particular, I’ve got a hunch that trying to “protect” kids from getting dirty (as you said, what are washing machines for?) is actually related to the Big Thing That Cannot Be Discussed In American Society (hint: rhymes with “crass”); it’s Those People who get dirty, not Our KInd.

    The reason I think this is the more damaging of the two is that the former might result in anxiety disorders, but those can usually be treated with the right therapy and medications. What scares me about the latter is that there may be a window of brain development (childhood plasticity) when a normally-raised kid’s brain rewires itself in order to avoid paying too much attention to disappointments and “ouchies”; if that opportunity is missed due to lack of exposure, such things are going to seem larger-than-life to the resulting adolescent/adult and he/she may never be able to rewire his/her brain to dismiss them. Just speculation, but definitely possible.

    In particular, not letting kids learn how to handle conflicts by trial and error (I’m not counting protecting them against true bullying here, since bullying by definition involves abuse) when they’re little and the consequences of making a mistake are a few days of hurt feelings or maybe a mild parental punishment means they’ll have to do that learning in adolescence or adulthood, where the consequences could be physical injury, a lost job, or criminal charges. Like I said once before, imagine not lettings kids learn to stand up and walk until they’re adults, which is to say big enough that they’ll break bones if they stumble.

  89. I feel like I am “brave” as well because I actually let my kids go to our neighborhood school which has become very urban as our demographics changed and most of the parents in my neighborhood drive their kids to the “good part” of our school district. Same curriculum, but no “undesireable” kids that might taint their perfect kids lives. My kids ( and most) deserve a little credit for recognizing bad thing’s and influences, they have made friends with kids from all backgrounds and races and it is great. I just can’t drive for two hours a day in the name of a “good school”. But it just goes along with the safety issue, we can’t be there at every moment and they need to be able to make decisions about these thing’s on their own!

  90. Oh, and I actually let my kids walk to school, even on snowy and cold days, I am so weird!

  91. revious research has shown an increase in brain activity motor, visual, auditory processing and centers of the brain during sleep in infants.
    Scientists say the study of the response depends on the cerebellum of the brain. Accordingly, the present study have implications for future treatment of autism and dyslexia, two conditions associated with abnormal function of the cerebellum.

  92. Some parents should be more careful about child safety, though. I see parents let five-year-old kids cross driveways without looking, and it drives me nuts. Cars could be turning in from Queens Boulevard, without the ability to stop soon enough to prevent an accident. Unless the kids are schooled in safety basics, at least the parents should be.

  93. @WidiSwift13 3 unfollowed you between 7AM and 8AM. See who: http://t.co/x75PnCiF

  94. I’ve just been promoted to Level 6 in #MobsterWorld. Beat me in the game! http://t.co/MVXORXu7

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