I Survived a Childhood of Neglect

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I rarely saw my parents. My father had left for work by the time I got up to get ready for school. My mother pushed me out the door at 8:45 with a quick peck on the forehead, admonishing me to hurry up and not be late for the 9 a.m. school bell.

At the end of the school day, I was free. If it was rainy or cold, I watched my favourite TV program Razzle Dazzle (a Canadian program in the 1960s starring Howard the Turtle who told jokes called groaners) and played with my dolls or got lost in my library book. But of course, I preferred the nice days or summer vacation when I could ride my bike with wild abandon at breakneck speed, even if it meant the occasional scraped knee.

Those were the good old days.

The outdoors offered freedom, and no parents watched over us. The kids were drawn together like metal bits collected by a magnet — nobody made plans to meet — we just did.

We roamed the streets on our bicycles like a pack of Hell’s Angels, occasionally descending on the corner store in hoards to buy our penny candy. We played cards by the creek in the woods behind the school. We oogled a Playboy magazine some kid had stolen from his father’s closet; ten kids jostling each other to get a look.

But I must have had an inner clock because I was always home for dinner at 6.

At 6:20, the cacophony of screen doors banging shut indicated a mass exodus of kids back out on to the streets where we stayed until the streetlights turned on.

My benignly neglectful mother did not schedule activities, play dates, music lessons, summer camps — and tutoring was unheard of. She had no idea of my feral life and how I spent my days. And who knew if she wondered about the dirty bathwater that swirled down the drain.

I was allowed to walk to school on my own and cross a busy intersection, take care of my school projects without guidance or supervision, climb trees, and put my own bandaids on. Spit was great for cleaning up a cut.

My parents certainly never read a parenting book— in fact, beyond Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1957) , the genre didn’t even exist. Yet they brought me up to be independent and resourceful. By the age of 12, I was babysitting other kids in the neighbourhood, and from that point on I earned my own money. At 17, I left home to go to university a 1000 miles away.

So how did a free and wild child survive (and do reasonably well thank you very much) despite such benign neglect? And even more importantly why did I become a helicopter parent? What was it that changed in one generation?

Helicopter parenting

The term helicopter parent paints a picture of an anxious parent who is always hovering over their children, ready to rescue them at the first sign of trouble. The term was first coined in 1990 in a book entitled Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay.

We want to protect our children from dangers and to give our children every advantage possible in an increasingly competitive world. But I know intuitively that the best thing to do as a parent is to step back and let my children figure things out independently and do things for themselves. This is how they develop confidence, self-worth, competence, resilience and emotional well-being.

Yet there I was walking them to school, speaking to the teacher, helping with homework, planning play dates, filling their schedules up with activities and generally wringing my hands with constant worry that some horrible fate would befall them.

How did we become a generation of anxious parents?

Brené Brown, the speaker and author of popular self-help books, wrote in her bestseller Daring Greatly about her own experience being overwhelmed with the fear of losing someone close to her. During her research, she asked participants about experiences that left them feeling vulnerable, and she was shocked to find herself reflected in the participant’s responses. She wrote:

I had considered my constant disaster planning as my little secret. I was convinced that I was the only one who stood over my children while they slept and, in the split second that I became engulfed with love and adoration, pictured something really terrible happening to them. I was sure that no one but me pictured car wrecks and rehearsed the horrific phone conversations with the police that all of us dread.

What would I do differently?

My kids are in their 20s and more or less launched into the world. If I had the benefit of hindsight, I would have been less present and less hovering.

It’s easy to say I wish I had done things differently. But it’s a world where terrorists fly planes into buildings and school shootings are commonplace — and even if those events are not happening in my country they did affect my parenting style.

Yes, easy to say.

And I think about it often. As should every parent who is inclined to protect and coddle their children.

This post was previously published on Change Becomes You.


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The post I Survived a Childhood of Neglect appeared first on The Good Men Project.