“He had a pipe!?” my son gaped incredulously as we reread one of his favorites, Huckleberry Finn. A few sentences later he exclaimed, “Wait, this kid is like 12 or something and he has a gun?! He has a pipe and a gun?!”
For the record, Huck was thirteen. But still.
My nine-year-old son’s observations made me sad for him. I remember being his age and being allowed to run around the neighborhood and into the near woods without any adults when we visited family in West Virginia. Even in the city, I was moving about with my friends and getting myself to school.
In the ‘seventies, when crime rates were higher than they are today, a measure of a child being ready for first grade was that they could walk by themselves to a location 4 to 8 blocks away.
Let’s get real about Huck. The poor kid was badly abused by his father and there were no government agencies helping him. And old Widow Douglas and her pal Mrs. Watson held as tight a rein as anyone in that time. But even under their watchful eyes, he was allowed to move about town and hang out with his “gang” on his own.
Google Dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”
He had to grab it with both hands, but Huck found freedom. It was dangerous as hell, but he was allowed to risk his own wellbeing to help Jim escape, even though it went against what everyone he’d ever known had said was right.
I wondered how much of a life I’ve allowed my son to have outside of my gaze. Even when he closes the door of his bedroom at night, he’s liable to hear me knocking to say that it’s time to turn the light out and rest.
Now, I don’t want my kid to smoke and have a gun. But I do want for him (for all of my children) the freedom those things represent.
Our path forward in today’s world has been to have him navigate for us when we go out on foot. If he navigates and can fulfill some basic safety prerequisites, like knowing his address, his parents’ phone numbers, and what to do if a stranger asks him for help, he’ll be able to start taking some local trips—to the library, or the funny little Colombian convenience store where he buys Latin-themed knickknacks made in China.
So, I’m not willing to set my son loose in the big city. But I can create some situations where it’s relatively safe to mess up. If he gets lost going to the store two blocks away, he’s much more likely to find his way home than if he’s taken a train downtown.
We made mistakes when I was young and allowed to roam free. We set things on fire. Once we met another child and went home with them without telling our parents. But I also gained an understanding that I could figure things out, that I was resourceful and trusted.
Of course, as I think of curating scenarios for my children to spread their wings, I must live with a certain level of discomfort. Things could go wrong. But they deserve to know what they are capable of, and it’s our job to facilitate situations that allow them to fly and fall.
Often, the biggest challenge I face when trying to serve as mentor and life coach to my children is that my own fears are holding me back. To believe that my children are resourceful, I must believe that I am resourceful. I can’t model a concept for them if I’m not living it.
So, my question for you today is this. What scares you about giving your children their freedom? What scares you about your own freedom.
For me, as I drop that question in, I feel that it’s about messing up. I don’t want to mess up my own life, and I certainly don’t want to mess up my kids. And as I feel that, I can let it go. I can breath into the knowledge that the fear of messing up is much more restrictive than having permission to make a big damn mess.
From all of me to all of you,
Prefer a video story? Here you go!