A couple of summers ago I had a theory. It went something like this: “My kids are actually capable of entertaining themselves.” Now, don’t judge me. I’m not an unintelligent person. I knew that my children were physically capable of playing alone, but my Mommy guilt persuaded me that I needed to be there at all times. Wasn’t that why I was a stay-at-home mom — to be there at all times? But my kids were growing and learning and exploring independently, developing their own interests and picking their own books. Among other things, they seemed ready to ride their bikes around the neighborhood alone or walk to a friend’s house several blocks away without me. Were they ready for me to back off, just a little? Was I ready to back off, even just a little? The answer to both questions was yes, but I had no idea how to go about such a change.
Enter our 1970s summer. I used this name for my experiment because I thought it would be easier for everyone to identify with what I was trying to do if they could attach it to a bygone era. I was wrong. Most people looked at me kind of sideways with that “Ooookaaaayyyy” sort of response. I would explain that I wasn’t dressing my family in bell bottoms and feeding them Jello (yet); I was just taking a more laid-back approach to parenting. Less helicopter, more free range. More chill. I made a conscious effort to answer with fewer No’s even though No was the easier answer for me. If I was busy and the kids wanted to go on a bike ride, I would tell them they could, they’d just have to go without me. “Can we go to the park?” was sometimes met with “Yes, but stay together.” When they complained of being bored, they were given two choices: Go outside and stay there, or come in and do chores. When I needed milk or butter, I sent them to the store to get it.
These small things may not seem revolutionary to you. If you grew up or raised a family in an era where going home when the street lights came on was common, this might, in fact, seem silly. Forgive me for using this phrase, but things are different now. Parents across the nation are being arrested for allowing their children to play in the neighborhood park unsupervised. Fear governs many decisions today’s parents make, and not just fear of the what-ifs; fear of reproach. Refusing to give in to the fear of the what-ifs and the fear of reproach (and writing about it) was quite revolutionary for this Mama.
Bloomington is a supportive community and my kids have responded to their freedom with more maturity and responsibility than I ever expected. Now that our second ’70s summer has come to a close, we have decided to adopt this more chill approach to our lives in general. And we do eat more Jello than ever before.