Wednesday, April 1, 2009

FREEDOM; from Mom and Dad?!

Have you ever been swept off your parenting feet onto your "sitting down part" by someone's words in a way that can change your life? This happened to me listening to the keynote address a week or so ago at a Waldorf conference in Milwaukee.

Mary O'Connell was the speaker. She is the director of Lifeways, a childcare center associated with Waldorf. She spoke of the importance of play in a compelling and informative way. The necessity for play both in early childhood and later. The definition of play; free, unstructured time without adult guidance, inventive and repetitive. How to foster it if it has gone by the wayside in your home. That much I got. We are a low-media family and free, imaginative play takes up a good deal of our day every day.

The following information is what made me really stop and think. Outside play. Who plays outside anymore? "Mine do," I am smugly thinking. "We make it a point to go outside every day, always get a walk in, the kids play in the backyard all the time. We spend time together in nature. We are members and true believers of "No Child Left Inside." ...That is not all there is to it, friends. What liberty do they have to go anywhere besides the backyard? What other people do they have contact with when I am not around. NONE, thank you very much, all those potential preyers upon of children out there. The world is a different place than it used to be. Even older generations agree with that, shaking their heads in regret. Yes, we finally gave them permission to bike around the neighborhood last year, at 10 and 11 years old, but I gave them my cell-phone and many instructions, so many they did not repeat the experience often.

Deep down, it has been bothering me for some time. After all, where would our child heroes be without the freedom to get into trouble and find a way out of it without an adult coming to the rescue? Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Alice in Wonderland and...Harry Potter, battling evil itself and coming out on top.

So when I heard words describing the very thoughts and fears with which I have always justified my policy of protection; "We are worried that if we did not do all we could to protect them and something did happen, it would be our fault." I was stunned. Yes! That has always been the fear, but it is the terror of a whole generation. We live in a society so free of "real" problems that; 1) we believe we can and are obliged to control our kids' environment and 2) the media, having no better scary stories to tell, makes sensational each and every instance of a stranger approaching a child on their way home from school. I am the number one apostle of this creed, by the way.

Mary advocated the need to find yourself in a dangerous or at least uncomfortable situation and to find a way out of it. She emphasized the importance of practice with these minor situations as training for larger ones later in life. The statistics she provided were equally astounding: A child has a one in a million chance of being abducted by a stranger. A child has a one in five chance of being victim to a online predator. Would you like to see that in numeric form? 1/1,000,000 vs. 1/5. I have paraphrased her words, but not the numbers and hopefully not her intentions. I hope to have a link to her speech for you later in the week.

So enjoy a cup of tea and some quiet while your kids get in a little trouble today!


  1. Hurray!!

    I've been preaching this, along with allowing children to be dirty, for several years in my workshops for preschool children.

    We need to reverse the trend of a boogey man behind every tree.

    Twitter: susan_stewart

  2. This is just WONDERFUL!!! Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    Much food for thought here...

  3. i completely agree with you. best, julia

  4. Very powerful, to see the numbers like that.

  5. In the spirit of this post, today the kids and I split up at the park. I didn't call them until _after_ I found my geocache. they were all happy as clams, in the same spot.

  6. Thanks, all, for the insights you offer. This is a huge struggle, but it has been a great journey of letting go, as all of parenthood will be, won't it?

    help! They're getting too big too fast.


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