(Over)protecting our children

They could walk to Grace's house by themselves," I suggested this morning to James. "And then her mom could drop them off at school. That would make it easier for you while I'm out of town."

"They can't walk to Grace's by themselves," James answered grumpily. "There's no stop sign on Morton, and the cars coming downhill can't see them, and they all come flying down that hill. They can't cross safely there; it's much too dangerous. No way."

When do we trust our children enough to let them walk four blocks by themselves? How do we gauge what's really bothering us? Is it the safety of that one street crossing that worries James or is it that my husband and I &

like so many overprotective parents today &

aren't ready to let our children to grow up?

"I see kids walking home from school and I think 'they're so young,'" Grace's mom Maureen said on the phone the other day. "But I walked to and from school when I was their age."

Maureen walked. I walked. James walked. Every kid in my neighborhood &

a suburb of Boston &

walked to and from school. My parents even taught me to ask a grown-up for help crossing Center Street if I was worried about crossing myself.

We don't do that anymore &

teach kids to ask strangers for help, let kids walk to school by themselves, allow kids to be in challenging situations and work their own way out of it.

Yet one of the many reasons we live in Ashland is because it's a safe town, it's the kind of place where people make eye contact and say hello, where teenagers are friendly (I love that) and where you're more apt to run into someone you know than into a Lurking Bad Guy.

not allowing our kids small freedoms, we're infantilizing them, making them overly dependent on us, and unsure of their own abilities. Perhaps worst of all, by driving them instead of letting them walk (or walking with them), we're contributing to pollution, global warming, and childhood obesity.

My friend Vicky's son died in a car crash a few months ago. He was coming home from visiting his girlfriend and he swerved on a windy road &

probably to avoid hitting a deer""lost control of the car and slammed into a tree. He died instantly. "We were such Nervous Nellies," she said when I called her to tell her how sorry I was. "And now this." We want so badly to keep our children safe. That's our job as parents, isn't it, to make sure our children don't die?

But we can't.

So much of their lives are not in our control, especially the older they get.

Sweet Honey in the Rock has a song that goes: "Our children are not our children, they are the sons and daughters of life, longing for itself." The fear that something will happen to our girls and he won't be there to save them is what's really bothering James. It's the worst thing about parenting.

I have a friend who says sometimes she wishes she could euthanize her son, because the fear that he will die is too overwhelming to her. But we can't protect our children from everything all of the time, we need to stop infantilizing them and start helping them grow up and become independent, start giving them an appropriate amount of slack on the reins.

It's time for us to allow our girls to walk four blocks by themselves.

is a writer who lives in Ashland with her three children. She is the author/editor of three books and has a new book, co-written by her husband James di Properzio and photographed by Christopher Briscoe &

"The Baby Bonding Book for Dads"(Willow Creek Press) &

coming out this spring.

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