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Am I Too Overprotective?

By amberdoty |

It poured rain last night, like sheets of water poured. We always join my oldest sister and her three boys for trick or treating in the neighborhood, but as we sat staring out the window at the water running down the street like a river I felt more than a little reluctant to take them out into it. Only, when I turned to face the room behind me, I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint the three ninjas, Batman, and Cowgirl Jessie bounding around excitedly.

My sister and I decided to throw them all in the mini-van and drive from house to house instead of going it on foot. When we arrived at the first house my sister pressed a button from the driver’s seat and the door slid open. The children burst from the car, screaming, and running up the long driveway to ring the first bell of the evening and collect their reward.

“Are we just going to let them go alone? You aren’t going to get out?” I asked.

“Sure. They’re fine!” My sister wasn’t the least bit concerned.

I, on the other hand, was unconvinced.

When I looked at that driveway I saw the potential for skinned knees from slippery concrete walkways, head injuries from misplaced footing on brick steps, and what if they stepped in front of a car on their way back to the van? I couldn’t relax even when they all collected their candy and made it safely back. At the next stop and each one after, I braved the rain and the cold to walk behind them, offer a hand when climbing stairs, and provide reminders to slow down. Those driveways were too slick to sprint up and down.

There were plenty of children not much older than my son, armed with umbrellas, trick or treating with only their friends as companions. I wondered if I would ever be okay with my children leaving our home in the dark to walk the streets ringing doorbells. I simply couldn’t fathom it. As the mother of a four year old, I can’t imagine ever being comfortable with this level of independence though I know it will someday be a reality.

I can’t keep him fastened to my side forever. I want him to develop a sense of autonomy, but at what age is it okay to let my guard down a little? Am I impeding my child’s ability to become an independent adult?

Photo credit: Flickr

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About amberdoty



Amber Doty is a writer, scientist, wife, and mother to two boys. On Babble, Amber wrote for both Strollerderby and KidScoop about parenting news, pop culture, raising school-age children and general parenting tips. More of her work can be found on her website, The Daily Doty.

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33 thoughts on “Am I Too Overprotective?

  1. says:

    Yes, you’re too overprotective, in my opinion. You should be encouraging your kids to have fun outside in any situation. Driving house-to-house on Halloween is wimpy…

  2. amberdoty says:

    Normally we would not drive. We would walk. It was pouring rain.

  3. elaine bauer brooks says:

    As a mom of 2 young kids (5 and 7), I struggle with this all the time! I still remember my easy/breazy, carefree persona of past days, but “not so much” today. In fact, I have dubbed myself a helicopter hippie! I know it’s not as sexy as the old attitude but have some empathy. As parents, we’re required to think things all the way through for fear of getting a mommy citation! If we’re out late, will they need pajamas for the ride home? If I’m coming to school pick-up from a meeting or errands, will I need a snack cooler with ice packs? ….and on and on. So, of course, we do the same with our kids’ safety. Running happily down the sidewalk isn’t just a joyful expression of freedom anymore. Are their shoes untied? Will a car pull out of a driveway? Will they flat-out bail? It’s just crazy and endless! I literally have to shake those “day-mares” out of my head. So, I try to give them room to breathe….and I try not to let them see me wince as they run. I try not to overreact when they do get hurt….I try not to hold them back from taking chances and living their own, “hippie days”. I don’t always succeed…but I try. So, do I like the old version of me a little better? Yeah…sure. But those kids are my heart…and even though, “….oh, mommmmm…” is occasionally groaned, they know I love them more than anything and that when that knee does get skinned, I’ll be there…and of course, I will. :)

  4. Meghan Gesswein says:

    The rain definitely makes a difference in the walking/driving debate. And your kids are younger, so I’ll totally give you a pass on that.

    BUT…I firmly believe that kids need to be allowed to be kids. Running, playing, jumping and taking chances is a part of that. They learn from it all and will grow up with a good idea about what chances they are willing to take and what they’re not. You can’t always protect them and they need to learn how to take care of themselves. If you’re always holding their hand to cross the street, and looking for cars for them, are they really going to learn to look out for themselves?

    Does that make sense?

    I totally get where you’re coming from. But I think you need to start taking a step back, so that as they get older and more capable, you’re better about letting them do things on their own. Within reason, obviously.

  5. says:

    Jeez, Elaine. You need to read about Playborhoods (see throughout the US. I’ve written about many, and I’m publishing a book this spring to pull these stories together along with a concrete list of steps.

    Yes, you can make it happen. Believe it…

  6. Heather says:

    I have a good idea! I’m going to insult the author and commenters while I also advertise my blog and book! It’s fool-proof!

  7. says:

    So, Heather, if I offer what I strongly believe good ideas to solve a problem supported by years of research and hundreds of pages of writing, I’m being selfish? Get a grip…

  8. Heather says:

    Playborhood, you are SO GOOD at this self-promotion thing!

    Name-calling: check
    Jumping to conclusions: check
    Putting words in the mouths of others: check

    I really hope your next book is about this.

  9. Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] says:

    It takes time to have the confidence in your kids to let them learn from their own mistakes. As a mother of a 4yo, it’s hard to imagine letting your kids go anywhere on their own, because at 4, they are still so little. As a few years go by, you’ll notice that you’re letting them do more and more on their own, learning their own experiences.

    Also, you can read all about how my children are being raised to be hippie liberals in the suburban ghetto on my blog, I’ve done years of research and written hundreds of pages of writing on how to raise a proper hippie liberal.

  10. Lisa S. says:

    To elaborate, part of our group of trick-or-treaters was a few of the neighborhood boys, ages 13-14. Their parents won’t let them go unsupervised because as we walked along, they darted in the street, not being careful at all. Well…. why should they be careful when they know they have adults looking out for them? To me it was enabling the very behavior that their parents give as the reason why they can’t go out unsupervised.

  11. amberdoty says:

    Angie, I would love to read your instructions for how to raise a hippie liberal in the suburban ghetto. It sounds fascinating.

    Lisa, it’s hard for me to look that far into the future for my kids. I can’t imagine what it’s like to parent a teenager just yet. My children are four and two, but how can their parents be sure they won’t dart into the road if they are given the independence to trick or treat on their own? I think kids have to demonstrate responsibility before being given more freedom.

  12. Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing] says:

    It was nice of Mike Lanza of Playborhood to go out of his way to find my email address on my blog and email me directly. I’ll paste it below for everyone to enjoy so you’re all in on the conversation.
    I did a bit of reading on Mike’s website, and from the looks of the comments on the posts, he’s doing more alienating of his readers than helping families make a kid-friendly neighborhood.

    Mike’s email… (and I don’t think we know each other at all.)

    SUBJECT: nice…


    You pile on disparaging remarks about my mention of my blog on that Babble comment thread, then you mention your blog.

    That’s a mean group over there at Babble, and you’re one of them.

    It’s been great getting to know you.

    - Mike

    Mike Lanza
    twitter: @playborhood

  13. Karen (SubMommy) says:

    I say this as gently as possible: yes.

    I was the same way with my first. I couldn’t imagine letting her go anywhere or do anything for those same reasons. All I saw when she would venture away was everything that could go wrong.

    I realized somewhere along the line (I don’t remember when) that instead of seeing every possible disaster scenario, I saw what she was actually capable of.

    If you work overtime to keep out all the bad, the good can’t get in, either.

  14. Stephanie says:

    Wow, I should never read comments before I comment.
    All I know is, I know how you feel!! I think maybe it just all depends on the kid/mom/family, you just got to do your best to be there and give space at the same time???

  15. Kathleen K. says:

    Some of you need to grow up and quit bashing others on here. Geez. I think at 4 years old, children should not be sent out alone on Halloween. I can see standing back and watching from a distance as they go along, but in the pouring rain, and being so young, there are a lot of bad people out there, and they may not be ready to handle a rough situation. You do what your gut tells you to do. Always listen to your gut.

  16. brandi says:

    I am very overprotective of my 4 month old…I lost my first daughter in may 2010..she was stillborn..I know that I tend to overprotect my little girl now and I know its because of that..I want to be less protective but am not sure how..I always think of my little girl I lost and fear somehting will happen to my little girl I am with you on being to overprotective…but not sure what to do to change it

  17. Bethany Herwegh says:

    Four is young, you should look out for your kid, but also know it is time to start slowly backing off. You could check out for some great articles on how to let your kid be a kid and not get too overprotective.

  18. Dani says:

    Hi. If your children are 2 and 4 years old, I don’t think you are being overprotective at all. When you loosen the reigns depends on the kid. But a 4 year old is still shedding his toddler title. Its a bit early, in my opinion to rush them into ‘big kid’ land.You can’t and shouldn’t protect things that will happen to them, but you do have the responsibility to be there to help them fine-tune their decision making process. For example: What to do if a stranger invites you in their home during trick-or-treating? What do you do if kids are harassing you during your trick-or-treating? You aren’t there to keep things from happening to them, but you are there to teach them what to do when scenarios arise. That’s my opinion.

  19. Christy says:

    I felt the urge to comment. My step sisters have always told me I’m too overprotective with my son who is now 12 years old. Because of their nagging at me I let my guard down. When he was 6 years old, he had a best friend that lived diagnally across from my mother’s house. My mother lives on the corner of a main street and a small street that has 4 houses on it with a creek, woods, a bar, and old abandoned buildings on it. I let my son go over to his best friends and instructed him to be back to Grandma’s by 8pm. Well at 5 minutes passed 8pm he hadn’t come back so I called over to remind him to come back. The other boys mother had told me he was already sent back. I go to the window to see where he is and a man had my son by the arm and was taking him back toward the woods. I flipped! Ran out of the house and grabbed my son from the man and carried him back to the house. This man then followed us to my mother’s house and proceeded to pound on the door and was yelling in the house. I called 911. Turned out the man was drunk and was “helping my son find his way home”. You can never let your guard down, especially with the way people are these days. Things aren’t like they were when we were growing up back in the day. Perverts aren’t afraid to just walk up to a child playing outside and snatch them up. I don’t know what that man would have done to my son if I wouldn’t have let my overprotectiveness kick in and I’m glad I never had to find out. Your the mother. Don’t let anybody tell you how to raise your child. You do what feels right to you.

  20. ann says:

    iam myself a mother of three ages 7,9 3 months i go everywere with my children its not like it was back than when we or i were children its not safe anymore i alway worry bout letting my children join groups and other things because i want them to be safe you hear so many bad stories about parents that let ther children have to much freedom to early . i just started to step back alittle and i let my son join a music group he really wanted to join with his friends but i still worry because i have to drop him off and pick him up later even thoug i know he with a group i still worry … cant help it . its called being a good mother … i did the same thing myself on halloween when it rained i drove my children around in our car went to each house they made the choice they didnt want to walk in the ran and get wet i see alot of parents doing thre same thing .. i know that my children will grow and i will have to learn to let go but until than iam going to protect them from the things i can . they will love me better for it .

  21. Kaci says:

    I mostly like to relinquish the “control” I have over my three year old in safe environments. Like, the tiny pizza place that has one exit, and video games. She can go to the video game area, I can keep my eye on the exit and all is good.

    The playground across the street in my military base neighborhood, at the end of a cul de sac. I’ll allow her to go out to the playground, while I get my shoes on and a snack together. I watch as she looks both ways to cross the very non-busy street, then I go put my shoes on.

    Allowing her this kind of freedom, and this kind of independence is incredibly uncomfortable for me, but isn’t that what being a parent is? It’s like watching your heart walk around outside your body.

    She loves being a “big girl” and I love the smile on her face when I meet her at the playground. She’s going to be four soon, and soon after that five, six and then 10,11 and 12. If she doesn’t learn to do the right thing while I’m not watching now, how will I ever be able to trust her when she’s older? She needs to know that I expect her to make intelligent decisions, like not going where I’ve told her she can’t, and while that sort of thing doesn’t come for many years, she needs to start off her independence with some choices she can’t get wrong.

    So, let your kids run ahead and stop at the corner. Let them meet you at the playground, if it isn’t far away. Give them freedom in an environment you can control. If they listen to you when they are in the house, you should expect that they listen to you outside as well.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    I can’t see anything wrong with accompanying a 4-year-old toward the door of the houses they’re visiting. Since they’re with older kids, I do think another option would be to hang out at the end of the driveway, near the van, to prevent them from being able to run into the road, if that’s a fear.

    I do agree with all the post-ers who say that you have to allow kids to jump and skin their knees, etc. But I would never send a four-year-old out to go door-to-door without me hanging around somewhere (nearby or end of driveway), even if older kids were with her.

  23. alison says:

    I think that at ages 2 and 4 it’s perfectly normal to do a bit of hovering. I would probably have done the same thing. Yes they need to learn to do it on their own but I think at that age it’s also important that they know momma is there and will be there to support/help/encourage them. As they get older I’m sure the hovering will lessen up and they will get to encounter things on their own.

  24. Michelle says:

    I do think that watching from afar would have been a nice balance. When I encourage my daughter to do things that are a stretch for her, I say, “If you don’t fall, you’ll never learn how to get back up”.

  25. Melanie says:

    I was thinking a resounding YES!, but then I saw that your child is 4. It is probably time to start stepping back and biting your nails from afar, but really, they’re only 4 and pretty soon they’ll be in school full time and you’ll have to step back most of the time cause you can’t sit in the class with them. Trust your child and know that they do have a little voice in their head that lets them know when they can’t do something on their own (although they might need time to develop it after years of hovering). My children are 6 and 3. We walked to each door with them cause the 3 year old wanted us to (she was a little tired and cranky) but I would have been fine with waiting at the curb and watching them scurry back and forth. I’m also the mom at the park who is standing several feet away or gasp even sitting on a bench(dodging daggers from other moms who think I should be assisting my children ) while my children climb ladders and run around.

  26. Clara says:

    My mother was very overprotected of me.. but since i am adult now i am glad she was because if she wasn’t i could of got kidnapped and all kinds of things. she let me go out alone but she call me on my cell phone every now and then to check up on me.. But kids, teens, get into alot when they are out alone! So you have a right to be overprotected because of other kids influence them!

  27. Christina says:

    Yes, it’s a bit overprotective. But at least you’re questioning it and trying to keep yourself in check. You’re doing a good job just by that standard alone! Keeping your child safe is a big parental task but it’s not the only parental task. Like you mentioned, instilling a sense of autonomy is another wonderful goal. For children to take pride in themselves and their independence is a very important part of their growth. I suggest a blog that I read often: Great facts presented here to calm parents nerves and lots of good examples of how being overprotective can hinder a child. It kind of helps you get into that frame of thought when the worry creeps in. And from there, you can decide for yourself what to do because you’ll have MORE information, which will only be better for your family.

  28. Jennifer says:

    Four years old. You are absolutely not being too over protective!. My husband and I and about 12 of our friends walked with our kids on Halloween. Mine are 5,8 and 9. The age range went from 4 – 13. All the kids ran ahead and went to the houses, while we stayed in the street and called them when they got too far ahead. In the grand scheme of things, they are still just babies in a way – they need to be reminded to look both ways. And you had a 2 year old as well? I personally would look for a parent if a 2 year old came trick or treating to my door! They are your children – you have every right to hover over them – now if they older, I would say back off a little, but they arent – so stay on them like white on rice. God forbid your child goes missing – the first thing you hear is “where were the parents?”.

    And to Kaci, who lets her 3 year old meet her at the playground that is “across the street” – Are you kidding me? She is 3 years old!! It takes 5 seconds for a child to go missing – especially if its a routine and people are aware that it is a regular thing. Please, please do not allow her to go there by herself. She can have pride and independence in other ways.

  29. Amanda Stump says:

    You are SO not being too overprotective. You’re not being helicopter mom by trying to prevent your children from injury. We practice peaceful and free-range parenting and I still walked my kids from house to house while hopping in and out of the van (exactly like you did). So did 5 of my neighbors.

  30. Dwija {House Unseen} says:

    Your babies are baaaaaaaaaaaaaabies still!. 4? 2??!?!? No way am I letting kids that young go to strangers’ houses in the dark totally alone. And you KNOW how hands-off I am about parenting in general. They’re not going to know how to act or what to do if you’ve never spent any time teaching them. These are the teaching years. The learning years. Once they’ve learned it, they can put it into practice, but how do they know what to do if you expect them to do it before you’ve had a chance to teach them? No, no. You are totally good.

  31. Michelle says:

    Are you too overprotective? Probably. Is that okay? Probably, as long as you aren’t still holding your child’s hand going up the walk when they are 10. The best way for a child to learn not to run on a slippery driveway is a skinned knee. But in a world gone crazy, you would also be foolish to allow your child out in the dark on their own at 4. My kids are 8, 10, and 13 and I still walk with them while they are trick or treating. Not up to the door, but close enough that anyone who would try to take advantage of a vulnerable child knows that THIS ONE is well-protected. I try to give my kids every possible opportunity to assert their independence and make their own choices-sometimes good, sometimes bad-and often I will allow them to learn from those bad ones by letting them experience the unpleasant results of bad choices. That teaches them far better than any lecture I can give them, and lets them learn how to make better choices in the future. The key is knowing something about childhood development and knowing what a child can reasonably be responsible about at a particular age-and then letting them be responsible-or irresponsible and learning from it. Protective is keeping your child out of situations that they are not developmentally ready to handle. Overprotective is refusing to let your child learn how to handle situations that they SHOULD be handling.

  32. Chelsea says:

    I have several friends that cannot see consequences beyond the end of their noses. They call me overprotective, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t let my kids walk up to a strange house in the middle of the day without being within arm’s reach of them. Let alone in the dark, in the rain.

    You have an instinct, follow it.

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