“I Allowed My Children to Put Themselves at Risk of Injury”

Hi Folks — I can see myself being just as hamstrung as this mom, who describes herself as a married mother of four who lives on five acres near Harrisonburg, VA, where she homeschools the kids, gardens, bakes, blogs, and reads. On the one hand: childhood independence! On the other hand…yiiiiiiiikes! — L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: Recently, I wrote a post about the 16-foot high clubhouse that my 12-year-old son built. He and his siblings worked on it for two days before it blew over.

One of my commenters asked me what I thought I was doing, putting my children at risk for serious injury. How could I? she wanted to know.

This question stings, but it also rings true. It stings because it questions my judgment — something I do on a regular basis — and because it implies that I don’t care about my children as much as I should. And it rings true because it touches on the wisps of anxiety and fear I experienced while I was watching the fort go up. I even called my husband at work a couple times to ask him if it was really okay. (He didn’t have a firm answer, either.)

Playing it safe is such a balancing act. On one hand, my son was getting an immense amount of satisfaction from working hard and creating something. On the other hand, there was a chance that someone might fall and break a leg which would be miserable. I’m constantly holding the two perspectives, weighing them against each other. (And I really do picture it as though my hands are physically holding the options, safety versus risk.)

Often, I hedge my bets with the former option — the one with all the dangerous risks — because playful and productive creativity rocks. I don’t want to deprive my children of the deep-seated joy that comes from making something with their own hands just because there’s a possibility that someone might get hurt. Actually, that perspective has its own dangerous side effects, such as lowered self-esteem, fear, anxiety, etc. I think I’d rather have the broken leg.

Hoping I didn’t just jinx myself! — Jennifer, who thanks this blog for the message it’s working to get across.