The kids had a noon dismissal from school today, so I took my two youngest boys (ages 7 and 9) and friend to Funflatables. It's a local place full of inflatables, so it's a nice place to take boys - they can jump and bounce and wear themselves out.
I got there with them and took a seat with my Redbook magazine and watched them as they went back and forth from the slide to another bouncer to playing with some balls to climbing in and out of a little castle. I sat there and looked around at all the other parents who were pacing and chasing and hovering. I was the only one sitting. Part of it is because I was there with bigger kids. By ages 7 and 9, you don't have to follow behind them with every step they make. Because it was the middle of a school day, the place was full of moms with young kids. The other part, I thought to myself, is that it's the difference between new parents and experienced parents. Once you've had a few kids, you relax a little. But, 10 years ago, I was in their shoes. A couple of toddlers running around and one on the way. If I was there, I wouldn't have been seated. I would have been following and hovering. I'd have been watching every move closely to make sure that one didn't fall and that he was taking turns.
Now when I go to a place like that, I sit back and don't feel the need to watch so closely. I read a paragraph. I glance up to see what they're doing. My biggest concern is that they'll knock over a small child or that they'll get into a fight with each other. Again, years ago I wouldn't have understood. I didn't see how someone could go to a place like that and sit down and cut their kids loose. I couldn't see how a parent could drop their kids off at a birthday party and come back for them later. Now I get it. You can't be there every minute watching everything they do. You have to teach them well and set them free at some point. I could feel the daggers coming my direction from a couple young moms chasing their wobbly walkers and wondering why I was sitting there thumbing through a magazine instead of on my kids' heels supervising from inches away. I can't blame them. I was there once.
Now that I have been at it long enough and have gotten to the point where I feel comfortable enough letting the kids explore and play without me right behind them, I feel relief. It's exhausting to be a helicopter parent and it feels so freeing when they get to an age where you can (mostly) trust them to ease up a little. It feels good to move on from smothering them. To move on to having a little more freedom. To move on to letting there be a little more time for yourself.
As I sat there reading, a mom sat down a couple seats away. She had two kids with her who appeared to be maybe 4 and 5 or so. They'd bring her a ball, she'd throw it to them. I was thinking that since she had younger kids with her, perhaps she had older ones, too, and was an experienced mom like me - one who finally felt comfortable to let the kids play a little on their own while she sat down. After a couple minutes she started a conversation after both our kids reached for a ball at the same time. I encouraged my son to give it to her little girl. She encouraged her son to hand one over since his sister already had one. "I have five kids," she said casually. BINGO! I smiled a little...I was right. This wasn't a first time mom there with her two kids. This was a mom who had also been in the trenches a long time, just like me, and didn't feel guilty about sitting down on the job while her kids ran around. "So do I," I answered. So, we sat. We chatted a little as other parents looked our way and rolled their eyes. One day they'll get it.