The Independence Problem

I handle crisis well.  I can react to the situation without freezing in panic.  I go through this weird, slow-motion mental process of weighing options to make the best choice.  Today I couldn’t come up with any good outcomes to the situation and I panicked.  Today, my oldest and youngest disobeyed at the same time in different ways, and I couldn’t keep them both safe.

That’s every parent’s worst nightmare, right?  Trying desperately to keep their kids safe and not being able to do anything about it?   Thankfully our situation worked out without anyone getting hurt, but I know what could have happened.  I know it could have been really bad.

We were leaving the office after the Engineer’s social skills session, walking up the long curving ramp towards the parking lot.  It wasn’t a very busy area, but I’m always on alert in parking lots because people just don’t watch.  And when your kids’ heads barely even come up to the license plate, it’s scary knowing that a driver simply can’t see them when they’re backing out of a parking spot.

The kids all had excess energy after this last nasty cold spurt kept us inside more than I wanted.  They were bounding around, racing each other up the ramp, and getting just a wee bit out of hand despite my nagging.  We made it to the top of the ramp and I fumbled for my keys, more awkward than usual because I’m still wearing the brace on my hand that doesn’t fit into pockets.  I opened the door, told the kids to get in, and turned around just in time to see the Destroyer’s little feet race back down the ramp and around the corner.

I swung back around: the kids were still standing there.  I said “get in the car now!” in that special panicked voice reserved for mommy-is-scared-to-death situations.  The Engineer started to argue.  My stomach tied in knots and my chest closed up, knowing that the Destroyer was getting further and further away every minute.

I knew that I couldn’t leave the Engineer and the Princess standing there at the parking lot.  My kids are smart, but they’re dumb enough to play chase in the parking lot because they just don’t understand it’s not safe.  I’m not sure why, because we’ve been harping about it since they were old enough to walk on their own.

The Engineer was still talking.  No one was in the car.  And the Destroyer was nowhere to be seen.

I swung back around and growled “GET IN THE CAR,” and the Engineer opened his mouth to argue yet again.  Then I yelled.  I’m sure the whole parking lot could hear me.  The other mom coming to pick up her kid from social group could hear me.  EVERYONE could hear me, including the people inside the buildings.  He got in the car.

Once everyone was safe and contained in the car (who am I kidding?  They’ll open it in a heartbeat) I raced after the Destroyer.  Just as I reached my stride he sidled around the corner looking very apprehensive.  I’m sure he heard me yelling too.  I hustled him to the car and buckled everyone down, and we left.

We drove home in stone-cold silence, or at least I did.  The Engineer never shut up.  He had no clue that I was beyond livid.  Halfway home I gave the kids the little “I’m disappointed in your behavior” speech, and was met with disbelief.  No one understood why I was upset.

I don’t expect instant obedience all the time.  My kids aren’t little robots, and I’m glad they have some independence.  The problem is that they have too much.   None of the parenting books prepared me for this.

What are you supposed to do when your 5-year-old thinks they know better than you?  When every order is met with arguing and negotiations?  When your 2-year-old decides to just go, and not turn back?  I tracked him across the mall one time – he didn’t stop until I sprinted after him to keep him from going out the doors.

We give our kids a lot of freedom.  Sure, we might look super strict and have weird rules like “hold hands in the parking lot,” but that’s for safety.  I don’t budge on safety.  Everything else is fair game unless someone or something gets hurt.  Maybe they have too much freedom?

I can’t win this battle.  Before we realized 2e, we were rather authoritarian parents.  Do it, because I told you to!  That backfired in a spectacular way with the Engineer, so we’ve modified things and don’t fight the little battles.

Today I realized that I can’t keep my kids safe from themselves.  If it was just one, I could contain it.  With 3?  Impossible.  And that scares me to death.

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