The Long, Slow, Awesome Evolution of a Free-Range Father

BabbleAlthough I didn’t realize it at the time, the low point came when we hired a baby proofer.

A man came bobbling down the road with a vanful of foam and rubber and plastic. A few hours later, our house was bubble wrapped — our perilous steps sealed off by gates, our furniture corners coated in rubber. Had I tripped while juggling chainsaws, I would have had a difficult time coming to any real injury.

Our baby, who was not yet even walking, let alone juggling, was probably going to be OK as well.

That place was locked down.

Coming on seven years later now, I laugh at the ridiculous attempts to make everything “safe” for our daughter and wonder now if in protecting her so much we haven’t done her real harm.

When she was little, I admit I kept an eagle-like eye on her at parks, just in case she slipped or fell or, gasp, ate sand. Bent over, arms outstretched, I probably offered the dictionary definition of helicopter parent, following the poor kid around in case she happened to meet the real world.

Then something amazing started to happen.

She started to go on the big slides, the big swings. She marched up steep cliffs and, after falling, managed to somehow pick herself up and keep going.

She could, I realized, quite capability do what she had been telling me all along: do it all by herself.

She grew older and took on more danger and I was perfectly fine with the risks.

When she came home from construction camp last summer, at age 6, her eyes were as big as dinner plates.

“And then we got to use the chop saw!” she gushed.

All I could think was … cool.

Last fall, she helped me write a book on family crafting. The idea was to create fun projects that kids and parents could do together, as opposed to the usual way those things go: The kids sit around while mom or dad wield the saws and screwdrivers, cursing every now and then. My daughter did much of the measuring, cutting, sewing, drilling, you name it. I know in years hence I will look back on our time together and see those weeks as some of my favorites. I love giving her the tools and know-how to make her own fun.

Now that she’s approaching 7, I feel like I’m in the exact opposite position as when she was a baby and the safety van came bobbling down the street.

When we go grocery shopping, I hand her a list and watch her disappear around the aisle corners. She comes back five or 10 minutes later with our goods and we go home much earlier. I don’t bat an eye when, at horse riding lessons, she canters off with no hands or flies over jumps. If I take her and our new dog to the park, I have every confidence she’ll be fine at the playground, far out of sight, while I remain at the dog park with the puppy.

She still falls and slips and accidents happen. But most of the time, I watch out of the corner of my eye and only help if needed or asked. The same goes for crafts, chores, homework, play dates, you name it. As the kid says: She can do it herself.

Much of the newfound free-ranginess comes from learning to let go but also from a keen interest in childhood studies. Some of my favorite books — Wendy Mogel’s “Blessings of a Skinned Knee” and Paul Tough’s new tome on teaching kids tenacity and grit — are much more in line with my way of thinking as the kid grows older. You can’t make everything safe and easy, because, if they fall, they’ll never learn to get up themselves.

Isn’t that the whole point of parenting? To teach these little monkeys to do it, one day, all on their own?

Have your thoughts on child proofing changed as your kids aged?


Dad's Book of Awesome Projects -- cover artMike Adamick writes at Cry It Out! His book, Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects, is out in May. He can be found on Facebook on his personal site and his NSFW craft site.

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