Fear versus Logic (or Why my neighbor won’t let her two year old walk while holding a stick…)

As my hubby and I consider a third child, we are confronting the overly burdensome style of parenting we have somehow taken on. Just the sheer amount of work, worry and preparation it takes for two kids makes us pause at adding another to our brood.

Now I fully recognize that these thoughts are silly and self-absorbed. Trillions of people before us have had more than two offspring. You figure out how to make it work and then life transitions to a new normal. But the idea of a third child has made it clear that we add a lot of unnecessary work and worry on ourselves.

Now some of it is needed. For instance, my son has food sensitivities that can transform him into a zero-impulse-control crazed child. So I make most of what we eat (including bread) from scratch. Trust me…it is worth it!

Some of the extra work is due to sheer preference and valuing my sanity. You know how some people crawl out of their skin when nails are dragged across a chalk board? I am that way with dishes in my sink. Yup!

We add other things because of insecurities and pressure to be a “good mommy”. Mommy blogs, Pinterest and well-meaning friends add to this pressure. It starts from the moment we find out we are pregnant and does not let up till those babies are grown adults.

But the straw that breaks the camel’s (or mom’s) back is that many of us are parenting out of fear. We lead with the “what’s the worst case” and then choose how to act based on keeping our kids out of that particular harm’s way.

Let me give you a personal example.

In the summer we regularly visit our neighborhood pool club. It is a private club, located in an out-of-the-way place, with someone manning the front desk and very family-centric. Now last summer my daughter was five. She is a mature and responsible five year old. But do you think I could let the girl go to the bathroom by herself? Nope. It wasn’t that I was worried about her having issues going to the restroom – I was worried about what could happen to her outside of my protective site.

So let be really logical and break this scenario down. In order for her to be kidnapped the following must happen:

Step 1: The kidnapper would have to be a member of the club to pass the security desk. So they would wait the three + years to get an invitation, get two current members to vouch for them and then pass the background check.

Step 2: Since the woman’s restroom / locker-room is extremely busy, it would be really hard for a man to slip in. So the crazed kidnapper would have to be a woman.

Step 3: The kidnapper and my child would have to be in the bathroom at the same time. Probably during a weekday. So the kidnapper does not have a typical office job – maybe they work at a restaurant.

Step 4: Once snatched, the kidnapper would have to run past the front desk guard undetected with my hollering (hopefully) child, get in their car, and then proceed to drive down the 10 windy streets to access a major highway and make their get-away.

What is the likelihood of all that happening??  Yup – NOT-A-CHANCE!

Yet this type of thinking is so common place in our parenting. Last week I saw my sweet level headed, professionally successful neighbor yelling at her two year old daughter to “Put down the stick Eva!! Put down the stick!!” God-forbid she accidently falls…on the stick…while it is pointed-up…and lands in her eye…and has to live like a pirate the rest of her life.

Just visit any modern playground and you will see how leading with the “what’s the worst case” impacts daily lives. Anything that could remotely be dangerous (aka FUN) has been removed. Now oversized plastic forts and wide slides rule the playground scene. Gone are the days of teeter-totters and those crazy metal merry-go-rounds that you got going so fast you thought you would hurl.

Even the child toy recalls are getting ridiculous. There is a new recall almost every single day. Is it realistic to expect any toy, product, or even our lives to be 100% safe?

Since we have a tendency to overblow potential risk, how do we better align our perception of potential risk with actual reality?

When I feel that “knee-jerk” reaction to a situation or I find myself saying “no” to my kids when they want to do something independent, I run through these questions in my head:

1)      What am I afraid of? What is the likelihood of it happening? And if it happens, what is the impact?

2)      What are the steps that have to occur for my fear to become real?

3)      Is the possible solution more burdensome (or harmful) than the potential problem?

4)      If I do not intervene or if I allow my kids to do what they want, will they come out stronger because of the challenge or adventure?

There is no exact science in deciding how to keep our kids safe and when to lift our protective wing. But Lenore Skenazy at her blog Free Range Kids has a great quote that she uses frequently

We can’t “child proof” the world, we must try to world-proof our children. Preparing them for the times we’re not with them is part of that, as is encouraging flexibility in the face of the unknown.

I think back to the countless hours as a child I spent in the woods with friends and by myself. These are some of my favorite memories.

Now in full disclosure, I would never let my kids leave for 6 hours at a time…by themselves….to roam-around in God knows where…with God knows who. But yesterday I did allow them to explore a hiking trail by themselves that was part of a national park. Yes, I totally felt weird not seeing or hearing them, but I knew they were only a few minutes jog up a path and that they would yell if they needed me. Boy you should have seen them beaming about their “adventure” when they came back 15 minutes later.

As a culture, we need to become better at assessing real risk because it does not stop with our kids. Turn on the news and you will hear well-meaning people pressing the government to protect them from what they fear rather than what is actually threatening and in the realm of possibilities. Anyone fly lately?? Think the TSA confiscating our shaving cream is actually stopping determined terrorists?

So next time you feel that sense of panic or say ‘no’ because something “could” happen – run through those list of questions to help assess the real risk, lift-up your protective wing and see your kids soar!

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