Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My 11-year-old wants to bike home from school today. He has his bike there because he’s been in a two-week bike safety class. It’s generally through quiet suburban streets, though he does have to cross one 35 mph road. He has a phone. He always wears his helmet.
Last night, not anticipating this request, I mentioned to my husband that Son seems to be getting ready to be able to do this and is excited about it. Husband freaked out and feels 11 is too young, but can’t give me an age at which crossing the street would be OK.
Husband has a pattern of over-control (e.g., wanting to wipe kids’ butts when kids were 6 years old). I share the concern that something COULD happen, but also worry about not letting Son try what seems like a basic childhood experience. So … do I let son ride home today? Bigger picture, Husband is adamantly opposed to reading any books about child development or going to classes or therapy.
Trying to Ground the Helicopter
I wish I were comfortable saying, yes, of course, let your son ride home – because that’s what you obviously think is appropriate, given your son’s maturity level (and two weeks of bike safety class!).
However, you have to live with the disaster contingency, and I don’t. Namely, if something bad happens, on top of feeling terrible you will receive the full force of your husband’s blame – right? – since he apparently doesn’t agree that (1) Kids can’t be bubble-wrapped; (2) Even full supervision can’t prevent all harm; (3) Something bad is unlikely to happen during a routine suburban-street bike ride, whereas some form of psychological-growth-stunting is pretty much assured when parents refuse to teach their kids to be independent through granting them age-appropriate freedom.
So you need to weigh that risk in addition to the others. You also need to decide whether your husband is wrong enough to justify acting unilaterally when you know you’re child-rearing as part of a team.
If your husband’s pattern is to freak out initially but eventually get used to an idea (he’s not still wiping butts, ya?), then you can say no to the ride home today but also use this to start acclimating your husband – for a reasonable amount of time – to this idea.
A partner who freaks out at the prospect of change or risk, and refuses to accept outside counsel, even in print, makes cooperative problem-solving almost impossible. With your child’s health as your priority, don’t back down. Instead: Nudge forward, pause for adjustment time; nudge forward, pause; nudge forward, pause. If you’re denied even that, then I recommend counseling just for you.
Re: Helicopter: When my son was 3, he asked to walk across a log over a small creek. I knew if I said “yes” and he fell, he’d get scraped up and need some bandages. BUT I knew that if I said “no” I’d be teaching him to be fearful and cautious and not trust his abilities. Either answer represented a risk. I said yes, I stood close by, and he made it across just fine. It was a light-bulb moment for me. There’s a risk to saying no, too.
Standing O, thank you.
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