When I was about 12 I would play in the huge council park which backed on to my nan’s back garden. On my own. No adult supervision.
The sort of park they hold official fireworks displays in, it was that big.
And when it was time to go in for dinner, my nan would hang a towel out of the bedroom window and my brother and I would see the signal make the five-minute walk home together.
Do you give your kids the same kind of freedom you enjoyed as a child?
I don’t. There is no way my 10 year old is as free as I was at his age.
I was a child of the 70s and zipping off for lone bike rides and playing outside until it turned dark where what you did.
There was no supervised clubs or swimming lessons or playdates for us. Playdates were playing knock door run with the others kids on the block and riding to the fields with the wind in your hair.
So when do you let your kids out from behind your skirts, so to speak?
When do you let them grow up; find some independence; stop being so dependant on you?
My 10 year old has just started asking if he can walk to school a bit more. His school is a car drive away, so we’ve been dropping him off a bit closer and letting him navigate the rest of the way.
He’s not at school in a community where everyone recognises his face and so looks out for him. And his school is also in a town centre so it means navigating roads, shops, people on their way to work – it is very busy.
Every time I watch him walk away my heart is in my mouth. But I know I have to do it. It’s an important part of him growing up.
We leave him home alone sometimes – never more than half an hour. He says “I’ll put the washing away” or “I’ll just get my homework sorted” like a grown up.
But as a result his self-confidence has soared.
One of our very favourite things to do as a family is to go walking in the woods by us. The kids race off, climb trees, walk through streams, have battles with specially chosen sticks.
The rule is you can go and do what you like, as long as you can see us.
They fall, they stumble, they get a little lost, they accidentally bash each other with that specially chosen stick. They invent games; entertain themselves.
And all the while they have to pick themselves up, brush themselves down, solve the problem and move on.
It means they have to be creative. There isn’t a device showing them how to play, or a grown up directing them. They are thinking for themselves.
On a recent visit with friends, the children all came upon a fallen tree and were hypnotised by the root ball that was standing 6 feet tall.
Once again, they found suitable sticks and worked at bashed the soil off. No, I have no idea why either but they loved it. As in worked as a team, planned what they wanted to do then spent 20 minutes entertaining themselves with what seemed to me to be THE most boring of pastimes.
But they loved it. And they loved that we left them to it.
So here’s the thing. There are risks in everyday life. And I believe that in order to develop a healthy understanding of that, children must be allowed to face risks.
I also think it’s important for our children to think for themselves and not rely on a parent to constantly tell them what to do and when.
I try really hard to subscribe to that ethos, but it’s not easy. So I’m taking small but significant baby steps!
And if you’re still not convinced, read this interesting piece in The Guardian from a while back called Fred’s Modern Rite of Passage and see if that is more your style!