I hate that term, but I’m going to use it here anyway. I’m going to use it because it’s become the supposed antitheses of everything we want to be as parents. The idea of sheltering our kids is frowned on, as if this shelter – which is our very job as parents to provide for this short time – is automatically synonymous with suffocating them. I call bullshit. Our parenting styles – just like our children’s development – is a spectrum of possibilities. A good parent worries less about the labels and more about reading their child and their needs at that time.
This isn’t about not hovering, or even hovering at all, it’s about responding to your child and the situation.
First of all let’s deal with the negative associations with being protective. You’re meant to be. That’s kind of the point of this parenting gig. Your child is, and should be, innocent and vulnerable (to a degree) when they’re young. It’s the age of rose coloured glasses and seeing the adventure in everything. It isn’t, and shouldn’t be, about seeing the danger in every situation, the monster in every stranger.
A lot of growing up is about becoming responsible, and as children grow it makes sense to make them aware of their own safety. From spatial awareness to observing their surroundings, to following their feelings about new people they meet (or those they’ve known for years), but we need to be careful not to put that full responsibility on shoulders too young to carry it.
Your three year old, six year old, nine year old or twelve year old is not an adult, and nor should they be taking on the world of adult dangers alone. Watch them, listen to them, be there – even if you’re watching from a distance. The time when you’re needed like this will be so brief, but the more you support their freedom by protecting their innocent adventures will give them wings as they grow rather than baggage that might take a lifetime trying to unpack.
One of the most important things we can do for our child’s safety is to encourage them to listen to their feelings – and to do the same. You don’t want to give Mummy a kiss before bed? That’s ok. You don’t want to go out and play with the neighbour’s kids? That’s alright. The man chatting to us in the park makes you feel uneasy? We’ll move away. You don’t want daddy to tickle you today? He won’t. Encourage your kids to stay in touch with their gut and teach them how to listen to it by listening to them. Even if it’s not logical to you, even if it’s inconvenient, even if it doesn’t make sense a thousand times over. The more you trust them, the more they’ll trust themselves.
More often than not the monsters we’re protecting our kids from aren’t the men asking them to get into cars by the side of the road or lurking in shadows. They’re the ones at BBQ’s that we never would have suspected. They’re the friends of the family that push the boundaries but are oh so likeable.
What bothers me most about cases of child abuse is that often the child said something early on. They talked about having a feeling about the person, they told someone that they’d been touched or hurt and their protectors didn’t listen.
The more we respect “I don’t want to be tickled” etc the more our children will feel strong to tell us what makes them worried or scared, and the more familiar we’ll be with listening and responding.
That’s the responsibility we should be giving our kids – far more than the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ speech. Strangers, more often than not, are friends we haven’t met yet, and they piece together the social world for our kids.
I’m a protective mother, but I also respond to my kids. I stand back if they’re climbing the ladder safely – but I step in if it’s not safe for them. I love the chats my kids have with the neighbours or people at the shops – but I’m never far away either.
Maybe you’re fiercely independent. Maybe your child is too. That’s great. But still keep an eye on them Mumma. Listen to your gut as you listen to your kids, and make sure you’re responding to them rather than the people around or the media you who tell you what you should be doing.
You might be accused of sheltering them – don’t worry, there’s plenty of storms to deal with in life, this will just help keep the rain outside them. You might get accused of being over protective – don’t worry, you can find your balance in this and your kids will naturally reach for space when they don’t need your safety quite so much.
I’m going to give my kids a childhood rich with experience, adventure, and inadvertently a little scattering of life’s stresses too. But in doing so I will respect that they are children, and let them keep their impulsiveness and innocence as long as they can. I am determined that they will go into adolescence and adulthood with no more angst than necessary. And if that means I’m the crazy Mumma who’s keeping an eye on her kids while everyone else is enjoying a latte so be it. They deserve that, and their strength will come from not having to carry any burdens that shouldn’t be theirs.