Freedom for my Children

Art by Robert Lewis - www.robertlewisart.com

Art by Robert Lewis 

When I was a kid, my older brother Justin and I had so much freedom and we took it for granted. I don’t think I ever spared one moment to think about this freedom, because to me it was just a fact of childhood.

Justin and I spent countless hours playing outside, mostly in the neighborhood, but often further away. This was Maryland, beautiful Maryland, in the ’80s. We didn’t feel limited, and to be honest I don’t even know if we had limits to where we were allowed to go. If we did, I was conveniently deaf to those limits.

I have memories I carry with me like treasure:

  • Building ramshackle forts in the nearby woods
  • Donning mismatched Army gear from the surplus store and wading through the creek on a mission
  • Riding our rusty bicycles all over town, on pathways through the woods and beyond
  • Trudging through knee-deep snow to the store to get candy bars, donuts, Subway subs, comic books, comic books, and more comic books
  • Lying on the green grass in the middle of a meadow, any meadow, and staring up at the bluest sky with a smile on my face
  • Roaming the neighborhood with other kids playing ninja commando samurai astronaut games, hide-and-seek, and anything that involved a ball of any kind
  • Going house to house in the gloomy Halloween nights lit up by lamp-posts and fireflies, trick-or-treating without a thought of fear in our minds

I could go on listing these all day; these treasures and more I carry with me.

Now as a parent, I recognize that my own children don’t have the same freedom I did, and I don’t know how I can change that. It’s a common refrain that the world is more dangerous now, but in recent years we’ve started to learn that it’s actually safer these days. It’s just that the bad stuff gets shared so much online, including through the ever-pervasive social media, that life seems more dangerous.

It seems that our thoughts, driven by our fears, are far more dangerous than the society we live in — at least in countries like America, where we’re fortunate to not have to deal with what so many others do in war-torn countries.

Even knowing that, however, I feel protective of my children. Probably overprotective.

Excuse me, where can I buy bubble-wrap clothes that are equipped with pepper spray for kidnappers and GPS if they get lost? Aisle 9? Thanks.

Perhaps this is why my wife and I commit to doing so many activities for our kids like Boy Scouts, roller hockey, theater, and more — to compensate for the loss of freedom by giving them other ways to enjoy their childhood. We drag ourselves around, driving all over town to one activity or another, and spend hours sitting around waiting while we try to find ways to pass the time. I daydream about how much easier it’d be to just let them explore the city. But we don’t do that. We just stick with these activities, knowing how much the kids enjoy them.

I don’t know if this is enough. What will the impact be of raising kids without the freedom we had?

Anytime I think that I’d find some way of giving them more freedom, I’m reminded by the stories of parents who have gotten into trouble just because they’ve let their kids walk home from a park alone. Although I am overprotective, I don’t think there is anything wrong with parents giving their kids such freedom. I admire it for the most part, because it suggests they don’t let their fear of what might happen get in the way. I wish I was the same way.

I don’t know what changes await us in the future. Perhaps we’ll come up with some kind of balance. Perhaps there’s a solution lurking in the back of our minds, waiting for its moment.

I do hope, at the very least, that our kids can look back on their shared childhood with us and feel that they had a good one, even if their freedom wasn’t what I had myself.

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