When I was a kid in the 70’s, it was such a different world for kids from how it is today. In the summer when I was seven, I left the house after breakfast and my mother had no idea where I was until I came home for lunch; the same was true between lunch and dinner. I got on my bike and headed out to play with my friends. It all went well, but to think of it now, there is no seven year-old kid who should have that kind of free rein. It was just a matter of fact back in the 70’s.
I was an alter boy at Mount Carmel Church in East Boston, and quite often I served morning mass. It was nothing for me to get up, get dressed, and walk to church alone at 6:30 in the morning. In the winter months, the streets were still dark at that time. No one reputable was on the streets; quite a scary thought, not for me at 7, but terrifying to me now that I am 47 and have kids of my own.
As much as it scares me as a parent to think about that state of no supervision, I know that same independence is what allowed me to gain experience and common sense that you could never learn in school. The freedom gave me the opportunity to make decisions that parents make for their kids every single day. I made choices and, at times, mistakes from which I was able to learn and grow. The laisser-faire attitude that parents had in the 70’s was way too lax. Yet, I watch many parents today make every decision for their kids; at age 7, it doesn’t concern me too much but by age 27, it scares me. Ok, I am exaggerating a bit, but I have witnessed twenty-something’s going to their parents to help make a basic decision. I have also have been told stories of college students having their parents lobby on their behalf for a higher grade. This, too, is scary to me.
As with all things in life, there needs to be balance. As parents, we should provide solid direction and guidance, but we also have to ease up on the reins and let our kids make mistakes and fail at times. It’s not easy, I struggle with it myself; what is that perfect mix of guidance and freedom? The answer is, there is no perfect mix. As parents you are bound to make mistakes as well. But aiming for balance is a key factor. You brought your kids into this world or adopted the responsibility; you have to set your priorities aside and focus on what is best for your kids at their current phase of life.
I believe most parents go wrong when decisions are made based on the parent’s own preferences rather than what makes sense for their kids at the time of the decision. The selfishness is the ruination. Not having the discipline to follow through with your kids in all areas, both good and bad, due to inconvenience, discomfort, or downright laziness is a huge problem. I see it all too often. A parent tells a kid to stop doing something five times, but never really puts the effort in to support what they are saying. Empty threats and promises erode the fibers of the parent/child relationship.
I will tell you that with as much freedom as I had in the 70’s, I only had to be told once not to do something. The same was true for my friends. So, it’s a little bit twisted in the sense that parents today are spending so much time with their kids, handling their schedule, making their decisions, and hovering over them, yet kids today do not seem to behave with the same sense of urgency as we did. I am generalizing of course, but I question if the familiarity with parents is causing a shift in the relationship to lean more toward friendship than authoritative.
Patricia and I are particularly struggling with the balance of freedom and supervision now that our kids are entering their teen years. We know we can’t view things as our parents did, but we do have to let go so the kids can be self-reliant and independent advocators. It’s definitely going to be easier for the kids than it will be for us as parents, but providing more independence now will allow the kids to grow and flourish, and be more confident in the future.