Sunday, June 6, 2010

Bad Parent School Dropout ( or Honors Graduate)

I think that I read too many parenting websites. So many of them make me feel like a bad parent, especially if I was living in the States. I share Dr. Phil's view of parenting, which is that kids should grow up to be independent, productive citizens and not spend their whole lives as extensions of their parents. It seems like Stateside parenting is all about being a "helicopter mom" and not letting kids do anything on their own. I've even seen TV shows with college age kids whose parents call them to remind them to go to class, do their assignments, and even clean their kids' dorm rooms and do their laundry. My mom did my laundry once when I was in college. Then she told me to buy a box of Cheer and read the directions for which clothing went into hot, warm, and cold water.

Here in Germany just about all of the moms would be Bad Parent School Dropouts or Honors Graduates, depending on how you look at it. In the States, many kids aren't allowed to walk or ride their bikes to school on their own. My son rides his bike to school on his own, though I'll drive him in inclement weather. He also bikes or walks to friends' houses on his own. He and his friends ride their bikes all over town. When he goes to a friend's house, I tell him to be home by 6 for dinner. All of my son's friends do the same, just like when I was a child. Kids here are raised to be more independent at an early age. The German moms that I talk to think that US "helicopter moms" are crazy. Many of the kids in my son's class take either the train or bus to school without any parental supervision. They also walk or bike alone. And yet they somehow survive. 

Last summer my son rode the train by himself for the first time from a town about 30 km north of where I live. He had slept over at a friend's house and I was supposed to have picked him up. But I was sick with the flu and knew that I couldn't drive that far to get him. I told him that he'd have to take the train home. The local train station is very close to my house--I was able to manage the two-minute drive even with my illness. When my son got off the train, the first thing he said was, "That was fun. I want to ride the train again by myself." He has since ridden the train and bus by himself to friends' houses. By letting him go short distances on the train or bus, he's getting both independence and self-confidence. I can see being turned in to Child Protective Services if I let my son ride a train or bus unsupervised in the States. 

One parenting website that I used to read was crazy. Just about all of the people practiced attachment parenting, co-sleeping, gave their kids either homemade or organic baby food, and never ever gave their little darlings anything with sugar. What alternate universe are these people living in? These moms all make me feel like a Bad Parent because my son eats candy, cookies, and ice cream for treats. He even drinks an occasional soda without any ill effects. My diet at home is very healthy with lots of fruits and vegetables. A couple of cookies after dinner won't give my child a mouth full of cavities, cause hyperactivity or make him autistic or obese. I think that kids who never have sugary treats are more apt to crave them or binge on them since they're not allowed to have them at home. 

There is one place where I don't like my son going alone--the Burger King at the train station, which is close to his school. A lot of the kids, including my son, like to go to BK during their lunch break (there I go again being a Bad Parent because my son eats at BK once in a while). But because it's in a train station, where some questionable types hang out, he can only go there if he's with a group. It's a safety in numbers issue. He's fine with that rule and understands why he has to follow it. 

I would rather be a Bad Parent who gives her child independence and the self-confidence that goes along with it than someone who is constantly hovering over him. Keeping a child in a protective bubble will only stifle his growth. It will not teach him anything except how to be dependent on his parents for everything. The only way that he will learn to deal with the world is to go out in it and experience it for himself. Three cheers for all of the Bad Parents out there who feel the same way I do. 

For more information on how to let your child be an independent person, check out It's written by a woman named Lenore Skenazy who was dubbed "The Worst Mom in America" because she let her son ride the New York City subway by himself at age 9. He wanted to ride the subway home from the store by himself, so his mom gave him a map, a $20 bill, a Metro Card, and quarters to make a phone call home. Forty-five minutes later he arrived home safe, sound, and feeling great about getting home on his own. It sounds a lot like my son's first solo train trip. 

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