Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are parents too protective today?

I love listening to James Valentine. Every day he seems to hit on some relatively insignificant aspect of our lives and extend it, develop it and tease it out. It’s my intention, as often as possible to try and continue his discussions, musings and wonderings on my blog. Please feel free to criticise, discuss, pull apart or even AGREE (remarkably) with my contribution.

Today he was talking generally - I came in a little late - about the protectiveness we have of our kids, comparing ‘the way it was when we grew up’ with ‘today’, relatively speaking. Immediately I thought of all the little barriers I am putting up around my home for my grandchildren.
There’s one for the top of the stairs, one for the bottom. Soon I intend to replace the sticky tape holding the doors of my lower cupboards shut, with the more professional looking plastic loops and button gadgets, the ones that my grandchildren have surprisingly still not managed to penetrate in their own homes.

In their own homes my children have installed barriers between the kitchen and living areas, keeping my grandchildren in the safer living rooms with their toys and entertainment. They have sensibly locked off various areas of the house. I remember the last time I tried that was when I had the budgies to fly around in the safety of the spare room. I had carefully shut the door, keeping them away from my arrogantly voracious hunter of a cat, until my daughter (in her late teens) walked in to retrieve some washing. We found a small pile of feathers under the bed.

We never had such protection in the 70’s and 80’s when my kids were little. We were living on a shoestring most of the time so could not afford such luxuries. Perhaps they were not that commonly used then (were they even available???) and besides, with four little kids running around, it would have been impossible to keep up with all of the opening and shutting that would be required.

An image of the three boys - all born within 5 years, taking turns in flying down the steep driveway on their little tricycles, with their feet (and sometimes their hands) in the air hovers in front of me. Like the dropped object about to hit the floor, I would wait ready to cringe as their flight was halted by the back wall or door of the garage. Surprisingly, only the garage wall ended up with a hole in it.

They also ate snails (occasionally spitting out the shell), dropped bricks on their toes, ran into fences and one had a particular knack for walking with the family and suddenly chewing on retrieved chewing gum. They were boys and I never really knew where they would be next, where they would be hiding and what latest challenge they had engineered - but they had a fabulous time. They would appear most often when ointment and bandages were required, or I needed to adjudicate in a dispute that was more complicated or long running. I learnt to tell the different kinds of yells - that one was anger, this one was frustration, that was just mucking around - “oh,oh, got a go - someone’s hurt.” My daughters also joined in, but were generally shielded and more discreet from the excesses of the boys’ ingenuity.

Looking at my grandchildren now I am wondering - was I little too reckless, a little too trusting in the relative safety of our huge backyard and my ability to retrieve them before major harm occurred? Or are children and their parents today so caught up with safety and protection that children don’t have quite so much opportunity to discover and enjoy life and the great outdoors - the dirt and snail shells, the endless opportunities for invention, and discovery of the creatures great and small that live under the sunshine and rain?

To be frank, the most serious crises were not the bloody toenail, the odd bruise, or even the bee sting, but a niggling awareness that something was seriously wrong. Recognising such signals and those cries is crucial when taking full responsibility as a mother, and questioning - even rejecting - a doctor’s diagnosis. With one of my sons, he had fallen  - but it was not from a serious height. Then he had vomited - not a lot, but it was unexplained. He was too little to tell me what was wrong. Then he would not put weight on his leg and limped when he walked. He ran a temperature for a few hours. Each of these symptoms alone would be par for the course. But together, they were unexplained. As a mother, I don’t like the unexplained - it’s suspicious. And then there was the cry - it was a whinge, but much more than that. And consistent. My alarm bells went off and I did not care how many doctors sent me home and told me not to worry. Eventually, a clever young doctor in the Children’s hospital detected heat in his leg and ordered more tests. Three weeks of heavy doses of intravenous antibiotics saved his leg from the bone infection that had somehow appeared there, the pimple in his bone that triggered unexplained pain, fever, and abnormal behaviour. Now, no plastic gate or lock on the door would have prevented that one!


scottiejf said...

Salaams Silma,

That was a lovely read and an interesting insight into how "parenthood" has evolved.

I don't feel at all qualified to comment on this having no children of my own but I can comment on memories of my childhood, as an accident prone live wire. Here's a small list of things I did 9nowhere near complete, but all of this before the age of 12):

- exploded a pressure spray-can with a tomahawk in an effort to get to the paint (5 years old)
- Jumped off a 2 story high shed onto a "cushion" of hedge (not realising there was a fence underneath) (6 years old)
- Regularly set up booby traps near my cubby house out the front only to forget that they were there and end up trapping myself. Once I ran into a trip wire at neck height ; it almost reached my main arteries below.
- Oh and as all boys do I loved experimenting with fire. But how do you evade capture?? Start it under the house of course!!!! (10 years old)

I often see the growing plethora of inventions that are designed to keep our kids safe and wonder who it's really keeping safe - them or our conscience? For me that's the big white elephant in the room.

Boys will be boys, and kids will always be intrigued by what's under the sink, so putting our faith in a set of plastic bars, in my opinion, only makes it more likely that the one time we leave the gate open and they do get under the sink, that we won't be as awake too it and then something bad could happen.

However, you could easily argue in the other direction. And many of these inventions do provide peace of mind.

I promise to re-post in 5 - 10 years when I have a bunch of rug rats terrorizing my house. Oh wait - I just realised we have an "under the house area" too - better cement it up lest a fire be lit!!!

TheHumbleWayfarer said...

Hi sis. Silma, interesting post. if being protective means to make them passive, then it is not right I guess =)
anyway, keep up the awesome blogging. though I always read your blog, this would be my 1st time to leave a trace here. So sorry also that I put link to your blog without informing you.may Allah bless you and your family. Ameen. =)

p/s:when you will come to Malaysia sister.? last time when you came for a program here, I knew it a bit late. I missed it anyway.^_^

-International Islamic University Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.

Silma said...

Oops, didn't realise that I'd finally got some comments! Scottiejf - wow, you really got up to some mischief! Definitely a risk taking live wire : )! Hopefully your 'rug rats' will be on the scene before you cement up the underneath of your house - and destroy some of the greatest experiences of your son's young life!
As for the Humble Wayfarer, would love to return to Malaysia. When I travelled last, I was in an awful financial position, and still intend to go back and return the favours shown to me there. Bi ithni llah!