I recently failed as a mom. We were at my brother’s house for his wedding and despite the fact that there were cousins and people everywhere, it was just Caroline and me in a room. I sat Caroline on the bed like I do a million times every day and started to change clothes. I was no more than a foot away from her when she fell off the bed. Now, Caroline is a toddler and to be honest, she falls down a lot. At this point in the game, I tend to not worry about it too much when she falls, but this time something was immediately different. Her cry was different than I had ever heard before and her face was wincing in pain. When I asked her where she was hurt, instead of grabbing the one finger that she always insists has an ouchie, she grabbed her ankle and writhed in pain. No less than thirty seconds later, my husband Steven was in the room checking on us, and in less than 10 minutes from the time of the fall, we were headed to the urgent care. There, I listened and cried to Caroline crying while Steven held her for x-rays. Then the doctor came in to tell us that her leg was indeed broken.
I’ve played the scene out in my head a million times trying to figure out where I went wrong. Everything seemed so normal, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what truly happened or how I could have let her fall and break her leg. Even with my husband’s reassurance that this stuff just happens and it doesn’t make me a bad mom (he broke his arm at the age of two), it’s still hard to believe. Countless people have told me stories of how their kids broke their arm or leg when they were little, but I still wonder if anyone is secretly thinking that a good mom doesn’t let this kind of thing happen to her kids.
This past week, I read a blog about a mom that left her four year old in the car. You can read it here. The mom made a decision to leave her child in a locked car, on a cool day with the windows cracked, in a small town, for five minutes. An observer proceeded to film the whole thing and turn her into the authorities. There were a lot of things about this article that really hit home with me.
You see, when Caroline broke her leg, I was so shocked. Being out of town, we never expected anyone to baby proof their house, we always just assume that we’ll have to watch Caroline more closely than we do at home. We had been concerned about the stairs at my brother’s house, and the pool. We had watched her like a hawk around them. Even so much that Caroline had been in tears wanting to go up and down the stairs.
I’m the type of mom, like I’m sure all mom’s are, that worries about every decision I make for my child. I remember, the day before I was induced thinking “this is the last day that I’m going to know for sure that Caroline is 100% safe.” I agonized over giving her formula for the first time. I laid awake at night reading on the internet about the nitrates in carrots the first time I gave her some. I never carried her in the baby bjorn for too long for fear that her legs would get stretched weird. We don’t even own a bumbo seat. We don’t play in the front yard so she won’t run in the street. We’ve read to her for hours since she was born. I could go on and on about a list of things that I think about on a daily basis: tv time, making sure she plays independently, should I be sitting down with her and trying to formally teach her things, water with fluoride or without, organic baby food or make my own, cloth diaper or disposable diapers…it truly is exhausting.
Before I was a stay at home mom, I was a high school teacher. As a teacher, you get to see a lot of parents and the fruits of their labors. And like most people who don’t have children, I would always think “i’m never going to do (fill in the blank) when I have children”. I was a teacher in the age of helicopter parents. I’ve actually had parents come in and ask if they could come by every day and write down their high school junior’s homework assignment and get a copy of my notes… every day! To which I said no, that the student (who was 17) needed to be doing that themselves, since they would be in college in just one year.
I was determined not to be a helicopter parent. I didn’t grow up in a generation of helicopter parents (which really started the generation after mine), so I don’t want to be one.
But, I think about my childhood. I spent my days riding my bike everywhere I could go. I would leave after breakfast and not come back until lunch time. I would save up my allowance and my best friend and I would ride to the ice cream shop and buy our own ice cream. We felt so grown up! My mom would let me ride down to the edge of our neighborhood and buy a paper to bring home. We had adult supervision for sure, but we were also allowed to do things on our own. I wonder how much of that my child will miss out on just based on my own fears.
As a parent, I feel like it’s my responsibility to protect my child. But when does my protection start to infringe on her need to discover and learn things? Will I protect her so much that she can’t be self sufficient? Isn’t it our goal as parents to produce children who can take care of themselves?
There are several things that I think play into this mentality of parenting.
First, whatever happened to “it takes a village”? I keep thinking of the onlooker that filmed the child being in the car and did nothing but turn the mom in. Was she really concerned with the child’s well being? Was she really trying to help the mom out? There are so many times in this parenting journey that I feel like I am on a deserted island. It is every mom for themselves. All the worries we have, all the decisions we have to make, we have no one to talk to about them. The minute you start a conversation with “we do attachment parenting” or “we’re big on schedules in our house”, you have a fear of getting “the look” or a lecture about how whatever you’re doing is going to make your child not be able to function as an adult. We need each other. We need to be able to say “I need help” and not be judged as to why we need help… sometimes you just need help.
I think the fact that we can Google and find almost anything together with the news showing us everything that happens everywhere (I mean, is a cat throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game really news?) has given us too much information. Just last week I learned that not only do I need to worry about Caroline drowning while swimming, but now there is secondary drowning and people getting electrocuted in pools! My mom sent me an article about how Caroline’s sound machine might be making her deaf (upon reading it, it would only happen if I had it up full blast and she listened to it for 24 hours straight every day). I’ve read how rice cereal could contain arsenic (although probably not more than we already have in our system). The flu vaccine contains formaldehyde (not any more than our blood stream already filters out). Taking tylenol during pregnancy could cause autism (although it wasn’t a formal study and hasn’t really been confirmed, they still aired it on the news and gave it credibility). You see what I mean? All this information could make you just want to stay inside and do nothing ever.
I have no idea what the balance is between being a helicopter parent and a too laid-back/absent parent, as I’m just starting out down this journey of parenthood. But here’s what I’m giving you today (and take this with a grain of salt, I am, after all, the mom who allowed her child to break her leg)… You’re doing a great job! Whatever decision you’re making today. Whether you’re co-sleeping or sleep training, whether you’re making your own baby food or your baby is eating straight out of the squeeze pouch that you frantically bought at the store because you forgot any other food, whether your child is being classically trained to learn colors and numbers or they have been sitting in front of the TV all morning because you just needed time to yourself . Whatever decision you’re making, I know that most of you have thought about it for hours if not days, and most of you will go to bed tonight thinking about every decision you’ve made for the whole day.
Let’s start letting our kids be kids, let’s ban together to allow them to fall down and get scrapes. Let’s be there to pick them up after the fall and comfort them, after all, isn’t that what we do best as moms? And most of all, when we see each other, let’s give each other a genuine smile that let’s each other know that we think the other mom is a super hero!!