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No Longer Standing Guard

My children's independence on the playground teaches me a lesson as well.

My children are now old enough that I can leave them in the bathtub while I go downstairs to check my email, without fear of them drowning. I no longer need to cut their food in bite-size pieces for fear of them choking.

We’ve moved into a new stage of their development that I am calling “playground independence.”

We bought our house in this neighborhood because of the playgrounds and because there are so many families with children. From my front door, we can see one of those playgrounds, and within seconds of hearing laughter from that direction my sons will put on their shoes in lightening-fast speed, calling as they run out the door, “I’m going to the playground to play with …”

On the first day of their request, I followed them to the playground as I have for many years before. I assumed my position on the sidelines, where I usually chat with the other mothers and fathers. But this time it was different — There were no other parents there, so I sat on the bench and read a book.

I’m familiar with many of the boys who play there from volunteering in my sons’ classrooms, but I noticed how they looked at me in a way that said, “What are you doing here?” Clearly I was no longer welcomed into their imaginary world and they preferred that I do what the other parents do … Go home!

Honestly, I was so excited that my oldest son, who is on the Autism Spectrum, was invited to participate in their play world. I didn’t want to ruin his chances of being included by having a mom who sits on the sidelines. So I did what the other parents do — I went home.

I will admit that on that first day of “playground independence,” I stood at the front door the entire time they played. I could tell you a million reasons why, but I won’t. I’m a mom, and I love my children, and I worry about their safety. I stood out of their eyesight, and I watched them play with other kids their age for 20 minutes without any apparent adult supervision.

And guess what? Nothing bad happened. No one broke an arm, no one got in a fight. They played and appeared to have a good time.

The next time the kids went running out of the house, I felt more at ease about their “playground independence,” and — like the bathwater — I don’t need to stand guard, but we talk more than we ever have about Stranger Danger. I go through the rules of looking both ways before crossing the street, and what to do if someone were to fall and break an arm.

I feel comfortable allowing them to have this “playground independence,” out of eyesight but not completely. I still am not at the point where I can sit and watch a television show while they are on the playground, but I do other things while periodically looking out the window. I’ve moved into a new stage of my parenting development, and I’m no longer standing guard.

About this column: You can read more from Mom Columnist Gretchen Schock at her blog, Cocktail Mom.

Jackie November 08, 2011 at 08:17 PM
That is a start Gretchen. I am glad you are still close enough to have an eye on them just in case. This is also showing them responsibility. If they don't do what you tell them to do then you will be sitting on the bench. Then they will have to explain that to their friends.
Dawn Mooney November 09, 2011 at 12:35 AM
This is such a big milestone for them and for you! I happen to love this new independent stage with my oldest, and I completely understand how you feel about heading into it gradually.
Gretchen Schock November 09, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Dawn, I was thinking of you and the Free Range Parenting book that you lent me while I was walking away from the playground. It's an exciting development. I'm really enjoying seeing them play with neighborhood kids and creating those friendships. When I was a kid the boys who my sister and I played with were rough and tumble...that didn't make us rough and tumble. And I am keeping that in the forefront of my mind. I've laid the foundation in my children and I know they will make the right choices on the playground as well.

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