I HAVE THREE children under the age of 12. I’m not big on playdates. It’s not that I don’t like playdates or want my children to have fun, I just need to know the parents. I need to know that they have the same values as our family. I need to know that other parents will monitor the children and make sure they don’t end up watching porn in the basement. I need to know they won’t feed them McDonald’s or let them play in the front yard, unattended. I need to know what kind of friends the parents have, who they hang out with, who might be at their house, where they might go, what they might do.
I wasn’t always this way. I used to let my older son have playdates until he came home with stories that shocked me. Like riding in a car without wearing a seat belt, or walking on a busy street to a liquor store to buy Cheetos, or playing Call of Duty when he was 8-years-old for most of the day, or checking out a kid’s cool switchblade.
This might sound crazy to you, but these all happened on playdates and each time my child came home with stories, I was baffled. How could I have predicted these situations prior to a playdate? How could I have known to have this conversation with a parent before my child went to their house? How could I have known that parents would be so clueless? I made a lot of assumptions with my first child. I made mistakes. I guess you could say I was more casual than I am now, but looking at it from a grander perspective, I am far from casual, and after a few playdates I made up my mind.
Today, we live in our own protective bubble. My children play with our good friend’s children usually when we are all together. We take trips together. We have dinners together, and we hang out together. Sometimes I let them go outside of our bubble, but I try to avoid it. I realize that as my children get older my circle of control will shrink. But, for as long as I have some semblance of control, I will keep my children away from the “casual mom” environment.
You know the type. You’ve seen it. The mom who kicks back and lets the other moms deal with her kid. No rules, no boundaries, no guidance. They come in all shapes and sizes but they all have the same laissez-faire attitude. They let their kids play Call of Duty at 8-years-old. They let their kids eat HoHos and Ding Dongs (I can’t even believe these are still legal). They forgo the car seat laws after their kids SEEM big enough not to have a booster or they just don’t want to hear them whine and moan. They buy their kids Airsoft guns and crossbows at 9-years-old. But, best of all, they just let their kids be, because they’re kids and they should be allowed to be kids, or because they are simply too busy. While they sit on the computer or read a book or talk on the phone, or sleep, their kid has free reign to do, say or act however he wants. Amazing, but most of the time they don’t seem to notice what their kids are up to, or they laugh casually and say, “kids …” with an eye roll and a smile.
Funny enough, my kid seems to pick the kids with this mom-type. Something about kids with no boundaries, they are cool. They’ve seen all the current Rated PG-13 flicks (at 8-years-old), and many of the Rated R flicks. They have all the cool video games. They have all the cool guns. They just emit cool.
Should I lighten up? Maybe. Should I have the attitude that it will all work out in the end? Hmm. It’s really tiring fighting with my kids about how other moms let their kids do this or that. Parenting is a full-time job, and I already have a full-time job. I was 32 when my first child was born. I wasn’t a young mom in my 20s. Maybe there is something to be said about being a young mom. (They aren’t all young but many casual moms are.) Maybe if I’d had my kids at 19, I would be casual too. Maybe I’d want my kids to be my friends. Maybe I’d want my kids to like me. Maybe I’d want my kids to hang with me.
I was raised by a very over-protective mom, who was also not a young mom. She had me when she was almost 43 years old—back in 1968 that was old! She’d had two children as a young mom. I was the “baby.” I don’t know if it was because she was the age of a grandparent or because I was the baby, but she was always worried that I would get injured or worse, die. She never let me out of her sight. She told me terrible stories about child abductions to scare me. She taught me street smarts. She explained how and when bad things can happen, daily. Thinking back, I would say her parenting style worked for me. I was a strong-minded child. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. In my tween and teen years, I did a lot of things my mom would not have approved of. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t paid attention? If she didn’t wait up? If she didn’t check on me? If she didn’t have those endless talks with me about education, grades, values, and morals?
Parenting, as I said, is a full-time job. It requires dedication. My parents had full-time jobs. I was a latch-key kid from the time I was ten, but my mom was there, not physically, but she was there. She called the minute I got home – she always timed it, so the phone was ringing as I unlocked the door.
Parenting, it’s a long term commitment. It’s harder than I ever imagined. I always thought if you give kids love and trust them that they will automatically step up. They don’t.
Parenting requires fortitude, tenacity, creativity, joy and endless patience. Even when life is stressful, you have to be there, day after day. You have to bring it all to the table. You have to be consistent; this is my biggest challenge.
In my opinion, it’s a hell of a lot harder today to raise children than when I grew up. I’m sure every generation says this, but in our connected world it’s really hard to know what your children are doing. I only know how to parent one way. I can’t leave things to chance. I don’t believe it will all work out in the end. I do try to give my children more freedom and privacy than I was given as a child, but I give a lot of credit to my mom because I wouldn’t be where I am today without her active parenting. She was always this little voice in my ear every time I backed out of the driveway. I did all the things a typical teenager did, albeit behind her back, but her words, her talks, her hawk eyes, kept me from going too far. So, casual parenting leaves a little too much to chance for me. I think I’ll keep us in our bubble for now.