In my dream last night, a blonde little girl stands at her window as I walk down the sidewalk. She is waving to me. My grandmotherly instinct kicks in and I stop to observe. We chat with hand signals and voiceless words for several minutes. No adults appear to be overseeing her activities and I can tell I am being used for a diversion from the make-believe world of her pram. She is easily entertained and is carefree, and not privy to the troubles moving up and down the world beyond her playroom. I wave knowing I must be about my business and feel some guilt for crossing the line conversing with a stranger’s child, taboo in our “stranger danger” society. Parents and children alike must assume everyone is a potential threat.
Perhaps my dream is a reaction to a news story the evening prior. An elementary girl a few hours from us went missing from her backyard while playing after school. She was old enough to be in a fenced yard with her mother or father glancing in on her from kitchen window, yet a perp neighbor saw his opportunity and snatched her for his own sick pleasure. A sad state of affairs for how far our culture has fallen down the hole of sexual depravity at the expense of innocent children. And our children are paying the price for this in more ways than personal safety. Parents live in constant fear and concern over the safety of their little ones. Public restrooms, the market, walking the street, and in this case their own backyard posed potential danger. We are bombarded with the understanding one must remain vigilant to keep your children safe. And it is hurting us developmentally and emotionally.
At the age of this missing girl, my life was building forts, creating make-believe worlds, forging paths throughout an expanse of woods behind our house. We learned to negotiate treaties, settle arguments and form our own pecking order on those hot afternoons under the cover of trees far away from the oversight of adults. I can hear my mother’s voice ringing from the kitchen, “Settle things yourselves, stay outside and play,” after appealing for her help when things weren’t working out in our favor. I am sure she sent us packing for her own personal sanity and to get her housework done. She put a pitcher of water and a cup on the back step. I look back and relish those times with my younger brother and sister.
Young parents are facing pressing obstacles I did not face as a child. The sad truth is we are teaching these young ones, “the world is not safe, you cannot trust others, and you need me by your side to keep you safe.” This overprotection has its own damning message and imposes long term effects, the most obvious being a child’s lack of autonomy. Autonomy drives our decisions and affects our daily functioning. After all, the goal of any parenting is to send a child out into this world empowered whether on his first day of school or his first paying job. The sad reality is as parents we are working ourselves out of a sacred calling. Find a way in the midst of this world to give your child some freedom to move and live. Be creative and intentional. I am pulling for you because all children have their forts to build and their alliances to create. See to it you let them.