Over coffee with a friend last week, we were gushing over the beautiful weather and all the wonderful time we’ve been able to spend outside. It’s really been so great! Well, not so great for everyone she tells me. As it turns out, a friend of hers was currently enduring home visits to check up on the wellbeing of her children because someone called her in for letting her kids play outside.
You read that right.
She has three young children, the youngest being 4, and while they were outside in their backyard playing like kids should do, someone reported her because she wasn’t back there hovering over them.
Now, she’s going through the typical follow-up process. Please don’t get me wrong—I’m glad that whenever someone is concerned about the wellbeing of a child, it is actually followed up on. But the point here is earlier and much simpler.
Back away from the phone.
Parents are being reported for the smallest and most ridiculous things. Kids playing safely in their backyard? A mom zipping in to grab their dinner take-out on a cool day while still in full view of the car her child is sleeping in? Hearing a particularly bad tantrum through the open window?
We’ve become so judgemental of others that we seem to have lost to ability to step back and actually consider the situation. Parents are feeling more lost and alone than ever, resorting to parenting out of fear of what others might think or do instead of parenting in ways that are right for their family.
We are creating a society of parents who hover because they feel they have to, and our kids will suffer for it.
My kids? They’re going to play outside. All summer long. When we go to the park or for a walk in the forest, yes. I will be right there with them. But in our backyard? Not so much.
I personally can’t keep my kids inside. They know how to open the patio door and they are just out there. They want to be, and I am not going to stand in the way of that. We’ve gone to great lengths to make our yard fun and safe. We’ve put out age appropriate toys, ensured the fence is solid and the gate latched shut, we’ve removed any debris that could cause them harm and even gated off the slide on our deck because we realized it was too steep for our young children.
We learned all this by being outside with our kids last summer when they were very young. We kept a close eye on them and learned where they were drawn to go, what they wanted to do and we put down ground rules for things they could and couldn’t do.
Now that they’re both a little older and seeking independence, I let them put on their shoes and head out on their own.
Outside time is so important for children, and I honestly don’t always have time to just go sit. I really do have dishes to do, laundry to fold and four lives to manage. They don’t need to watch TV while I do those things. They need to be physically active, get different sensory experiences, learn about their world and be creative and imaginative and just plain silly.
They also need to be independent. We all want for our children to be able to grow in to strong, intelligent, confident and capable adults. And that end goal starts with what we do today.
I want my kids to learn their own limits by pushing themselves to climb higher, run faster or interacting with others. I can tell them what I think their limits are all I want, but the reality is that only they know what they are. And the only way they can find them is by pushing them, even if it does mean a scraped knee or broken arm at some point. By allowing them the freedom to play without a parent hovering, they start to learn about making decisions, doing things for themselves, problem-solving, taking care of each other and simply being happy on their own.
The other important piece of this puzzle is that you know that most parents, and this includes every parent I know, don’t just turn their kids loose and go take a nap. If my kids are in my backyard without me, I’m usually working at the kitchen table and keeping a fairly close eye on them. I’m listening in case I need to break up a fight or kiss a boo-boo better. I’m watching in case one of them pushes a limit a bit too far and needs help out of a tree or something. I’m there. You just can’t see me.
When you get the urge to report a parent for something you don’t agree with, please have the strength to step back and consider the full situation and realize the gravity your report may have on the family. By all means, if we’re talking about a child who is wandering the streets barefoot day after day from dawn until dusk with no parent in sight, it might be time to chat with the child and reach out.
But kids playing in the yard without a parent waiting to catch them beside the trampoline? Is that really so dangerous?
I say, it’s just an important part of childhood.
Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.