The List Her Daughter Scribbled on the Wall

Hey Readers — This came in as a comment to the post below this one, about a mom named Tara who wants to be Free-Range, but can’t help dark, scary thoughts taking over brain. It’s a reminder that even though we cannot protect our kids from everything bad, we can still move beyond the Rapunzel Option. – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: My only advice to Tara would be to prepare her children to be survivors instead of victims.  No one has a crystal ball or any guarantees that nothing will happen to our children.  The proverbial lightning strike is always possible.

One of my most moving parenting moments was finding a “list” written inside my daughter’s closet ON THE WALL.  At first I was upset. She wrote on the wall!  But looking at the list made me cry. She wrote all the things she could do herself (she was 5 at the time): ride her bike to school, make waffles in the toaster oven, feed the dogs and cats, pack her lunch for school.  She was proud of herself and her independence and was keeping a list of all of things she could do.

Self- confidence can’t be given to children.  They need to develop it on their own.

I don’t raise my kids to think the world around them doesn’t have danger.  I think a healthy dose of fear and awareness of your surroundings is a good thing.  On of my son’s favorite book series this year is the “I Survived…” 9/11 attacks, Titanic, San Fran Earthquake (from Scholastic Books).  At first, I was concerned of his interest in disasters but after reading a few of the pages, I understood why he enjoyed them.  He wanted to find out what kids did to survive and not be  victims. – Lollipoplover

14 Responses to The List Her Daughter Scribbled on the Wall

  1. opsomath December 10, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    I had a friend in high school – call her Katherine. She worked as a server and often returned to her family’s home late at night and was the only one there, as her parents both traveled for work. She admitted to me one night that she had a horror of returning to their big Atlanta home this way, that she couldn’t help imagining that an intruder could be in the home and she might surprise him. She occasionally asked if she could call me and be on the phone with me as she came home and walked around the house to make sure all was well.

    One evening, I had an idea. I told her to go to the kitchen and get the biggest, stabbiest knife she could find. She was surprised, but went along. She then said over the phone “You know, I feel much better now.” The feeling of helplessness was broken, knowing that she had a last-ditch option to defend herself. I think we both learned a lesson that evening – fear, being a victim, is in your own mind. It can torment you, and even make you more likely to be actually victimized if you’re in a street or other public place.

  2. ValerieH December 10, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    i love this.
    Years ago I read Survivor Personality by Al Siebert. It talks about the various ways people survived circumstances beyond their control and gives psychological insights about resilience. This is not a parenting book. It talks about personality traits that allow people to survive.

  3. Havva December 10, 2012 at 10:07 am #

    I had a short on line exchange last night with an old friend. She was the only person I knew growing up who was helicoptered. The only one who’s parents followed the modern parenting zeitgeist.

    Anyhow, she was sore all over and had a headache. But she was surprisingly happy about it all. You see, she spent a great deal of time with a fear of slipping and falling on ice. At …28(?) years old, it had finally happened to her. And even thought it sounds like she took a pretty good fall, it wasn’t as bad as she/her parents had built up in her mind. She was so please in fact that she was encouraging another friend to come with her and go ice skating! Just a few months ago she went sky diving, and pondered why she was more afraid of ice skating than sky diving… now she is trying to get others to go ice skating. I wish she could have gone into the world with that confidence. But I am glad she is facing her fears and overcoming them. Even when she gets a few bruises along the way.

  4. mollie December 10, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    Havva, I bet she was less afraid of sky diving because her parents didn’t think to warn her of the dangers of jumping out of the airplane like they did about every minor, mundane detail of life on Earth.

  5. Bess December 10, 2012 at 11:20 am #

    I hope some day my daughter writes a list like this, too – no matter it ends up! :-)

  6. Steve December 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    ValerieH, mentioned the book:

    1.) The Survivor Personality by Al Siebert

    Here it is on Amazon:

    Another good one – again, not a parenting book, but one every fearmonger should read:

    2. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why

  7. Lollipoplover December 10, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    These book recommendations (and links) are great!

    I think we underestimate what our kids are capable of a lot of the time. Kids enjoy being responsible for themselves. Anyone who’s dealt with a jerking toddler yelling “I DO MYSELF” knows what I mean.

    When I think of my top parenting fear, I would have to say inaction. Of course no one wants anything bad to happen to their kids, but I would be most disappointed if I raised a child who failed to act, especially out of fear.
    You know that show “What Would You Do?” with John Quinnones? He tapes ordinary people and how they react to (fake) crazy situations. To watch the people who do nothing is cringeworthy. THAT is my biggest fear.

  8. Havva December 10, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    @mollie, one of her other friends suggested it was because with skydiving, much of the activity was beyond her control. Once out of the airplane, it is done. You don’t get to wimp out anymore. Not so much with ice skating, you are constantly making the decision to stay out there. To not grab a hold of the wall, and not scoot back to the nearest entrance/exit. To not wimp out.

    I wonder if the fear of the constant conscious decision makes free range so hard for so many parents. I think that is the case especially for the ones who, when pressed on when their kid will gain a skill or freedom, say their kids will do xyz, when they defy their parents as teens and go off and do it on their own.

    I desperately don’t want to be that kind of parent. I don’t want my daughter to be forced to ignore me in order to learn. Isn’t my job to teach her about the world, to help her become an adult? So any time I am tempted to get scared and wimp out on letting my daughter take ordinary risks, I think of this friend. She has such a hard road learning to be brave, to take action, to consider the actual consequences, to cope with recovering from failures. And she has to do it all on her own, without parental support. When she gets hurt, she doesn’t get to go to them and hear, “Don’t worry, dear. You will be fine. Here is what we need to do, my brave girl…” Instead she gets to be surrounded by people staring at her going… “Seriously?! What is wrong with you! So go take care of it, how is this my problem?” All because her parents were too frightened to let her live. Too frightened to let her crawl on the carpet, or cruise along the edge of a couch, until the doctor intervened. Too frightened to send her out to play, and clean up a few scraped knees along the way (and show her how to as well). Too afraid to teach her how to use a knife safely and trust that should she have an accident, she would heal.

    She has so much more to conquer (skills, judgement, emotional control), things most of us got to conquer on the playground, with the loving protection, she has to overcome in her adult life, with what little understanding she can get.

  9. LTMG December 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    Being a survivor is good, but to my way of thinking, it is not enough. Sometimes circumstances beyond our control or influence compel us to be survivors. That can happen to any of us.

    May be better to be assertive, proactive, pragmatic, and aggressive. Be polite about it, though.

    As much as we can, we are able to make decisions and act to make it less necessary to be merely survivors and more in charge. This is learned behavior, and I’ll be the first to say that it runs against my nature to behave this way, but I find it very useful to do so nearly always.

  10. Jiltaroo December 10, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Survivors, not victims. I absolutely agree. The first post of my blog is about child sexual abuse. In some cases, perhaps not all, I believe that if we “groom” our children not to be victims, the threat is already abated. If a child is loaded with responses to such a situation it is far more likely that will not be a desirable target. We don’t want to scare our children but we do have to work out the balance.

  11. baby-paramedic December 11, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    I am by nature a timid person. I was terrified of everything as a child, water, fire, the dark, dogs, spiders etc. So, my parents (mostly dad), set out to teach me what to do. I had a plan. It worked well when my house flooded as an adult (burst water pipe in our apartment), when the food on the stove caught on fire (twice! As an adult, probably could do with more cooking lessons), etc. For although by nature I am timid, if I go in with a plan I have confidence. Thus why I can do my job(!) I have a plan, if plan A fails, well, there are 25 more letters of the alphabet to work through.

    I too was fascinated by disaster stuff, still am. What makes the difference? I always count the rows of seats on the plane to the nearest exit row. I am not prevented from flying, nor have any fear of it what so ever, but knowing your exit row (and being 7 or less rows away) dramatically increases your odds, and is a controllable risk. I can’t fly the plane, I cannot control the weather. I cannot ensure its maintenance is perfect. But I can know my exit row.

  12. Dulcie December 11, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    I’ve always been a scaredy-cat and as a parent, I went out of my way to help my kids NOT be like me. They got cups of water dumped over their heads as babies in the bath so they were used to it and not spend the first ten years of their lives crying hysterically whenever they needed their hair washed. I let them empty mouse traps (I’m TERRIFIED of rodents), play with animals and ride crazily down hills while sitting on a skateboard. I’ve succeeded in raising fearless children.

    But now, I’ve discovered my kids helicoptering me. My oldest finished a tour of duty as a Marine in Afghanistan. Twice now, my husband has told stories in front of me that my son has told him of scary things that have happened to him there. While he told those stories, my other son socked my husband in the arm and said, “Dad, you’re not supposed to tell those stories in front of Mom.” My son is right, I’d rather NOT hear the stores of him being fired on by snipers or looking for land mines with a freaking metal detector! Ignorance is bliss as far as I’m concerned. My kids have also (to my relief) not told me half the things they did as little kids when they were out of my sight. I have no doubt my kids will keep it together no matter what they face – then probably not even tell me about it.

  13. Jo-M December 13, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    Just wanted to say thanks for this post. My eldest son is 5 and it hadn’t occurred to me that he might be ready to make his own school lunch. I spend a good deal of time every evening after the kids are asleep packing lunches and I hate it. Also my eldest usually mopes about the place being difficult and bored while I put his younger brother to bad. You inspired me to find a solution to both problems – the first night I showed him how I made his sandwiches and where to find the snacks and fruit etc. Then the next night, by the time I had the little one asleep, my son had already made and packed his own sandwiches. He was very proud of himself and – despite the fact I was finding drops of honey around the kitchen all evening – so was I. Thank you!

  14. Tara Dalessi February 7, 2013 at 1:37 am #

    My mother raised me in a very not there kinda way, always willing to help out and always loved me but I did it all by myself all day everyday starting younger than 6. I remember it all. I feel now that I won’t let my kids have that much freedom cause we are in a bigger city then where I grew up, but I let them be. They can help themselves in the kitchen and play outside and ride their bike around the block even. I trust them that’s why. At school my son is given no freedom and I wonder if that’s why he has such a hard time there. Freedom at home with confidence and fun and then no freedom at school with boredom. I wish I could stay at home and homeschool. I am happy I found this website. I have been told that I am a bad parent for letting them play in the front yard, even if I am right there, and if a parent gets ripped for so called neglect or abandonment they come running to tell me about it to put the fear in me. Even my own mother tells me not to raise them so independent. She must be getting old to have let them get the fear into her. I am glad she raised me like this and I am glad to raise my kids the same way. I eat only free range eggs and my babes are free range babes. Rock on!