Dear Family: ‘The Deeps’ raises parenting issuesTwo kids got hurt this summer making the 90-foot jump into the Lester River. This worries me.
The July 20 News Tribune story “More Danger at the Deeps” worried me. Apparently two kids got hurt this summer making the 90-foot jump into the Lester River. What worried me wasn’t that more kids might try the jump. My fear was that somebody, over-anxious parents for instance, would begin to push some kind of legislation to shut down this gorgeous, natural place in order to ensure that our daring children won’t try to kill themselves.
At the same time, I realized that I have several daring children who might seek out the Deeps themselves. Even as I was looking at the article, Danny, who loves heights and whose cerebral cortex hasn’t fully developed, looked at the newspaper picture and gushed, “When can we go there?”
I don’t want to see my kids jump off the Deeps. There is this thing that happens when you become a mother. Your imagination goes morbid. You have to imagine the worst possible situation, the bloodiest, the most terror filled, in order to protect your children from that very thing. Of course this isn’t logical. I received a “C” in my college logic course.
When Will bikes to the park, I don’t picture him falling off his bike and skinning his knee. No, I envision him falling off, being dragged behind his bike somehow — with his head smashing repeatedly on granite rocks. Then his body plummets into a gully where he silently suffers for five hours before some derelict finds him, takes him home and locks him in his basement. My imagination runs through several variations of this story. I mentally walk through my search for him, how I will care for his fractured body, how I will speak to the derelict as our friends from the sheriff’s department recover my dear boy.
Then the phone rings and Will is on the other end asking if he can go to a friend’s house. See? I worried him safely into another fine, summer afternoon.
Sometimes parental anxiety and the “safety first” mentality can limit growth. I’m not advocating setting a 1-year-old in the middle of the road to see if she can learn to avoid traffic.
But there should always be space for handing kids a little more responsibility and freedom to challenge them. If rules are born out of parental fear, rather than sensibility, then kids never learn how to make and manage their own boundaries.
Have you seen the kids jumping 15 feet from the walking bridge in Lincoln Park into a 6-foot-wide rock crevice into Miller Creek below? It makes me grind my teeth. But I bet Native American kids were jumping off those rocks 200 years ago. One thing I know about the Native American culture is that 200 years ago that behavior was considered courageous and brave. Did their mothers worry? I assume so, but courage and bravery were valued more than safety.
I am not advocating that we send our children to the Deeps to see what kind of metal they are made of. I am advocating against a knee-jerk reaction of limiting all risky behavior.
For some reason my generation seems to think we are in total control of our children and can keep them safe. This cocooning backfires. Either we produce children who are so limited and whose world is so controlled that they can’t handle the discomfort of reality … or we make kids who just can’t wait to defy our nervousness and do something crazy.
Last weekend my kids wanted to jump off a tree into a creek at our grandma’s farm — maybe 10 feet. Sure I let them. Sure they could have broken their legs. Sure their dad was right alongside them, showing them how it was done. The other mothers there didn’t want their kids jumping: too dangerous. But I’m glad my kids took the risk. They had a blast, and they walked away from that experience feeling strong and empowered. If I’d given into my fear, they would have all stayed in the air-conditioned living room watching TV. Where is the true danger?
As we were walking the other morning, Will said to me, “I’m glad you’re not a safety freak like some other moms.” I hope Social Services sees it that way.
Monthly Budgeteer columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.