You’re not going to stay?
As the parent who carries the bulk of the kid-scheduling duties at my house, it’s a question I get asked several times a month by other parents or my children’s teachers and activity leaders.
It might happen in the schoolyard before an assembly, or at the door of a birthday party, or during drop-off for one of their activities.
Truth be told, I often do stick around. I love watching them perform, play with other kids, learn something new, or just have fun – and sometimes I simply don’t know enough about the situation or the people involved to be certain they are in safe hands, so leaving is a non-starter.
But I don’t need to stay every single time there’s an opportunity to do so – and, increasingly, I simply don’t.
My departure is often met with a mix of surprise and concern and at times a not-so-subtle judgment about my parenting. When I say “no,” I can see that there’s an assumption that I just want to cut-and-run, or that I simply am not interested in what my children are doing.
So, let me be clear: I’m not leaving so that I can have a “break” or get some errands done with the “free babysitting” (although those are, at times, a handy side benefit) – or worse, that I’m hitting the road because I don’t care, or that I don’t think they need me there.
As a parent who works from home, I’m already “there” most of the time. I drop my children off at school, pick them up again in the afternoon. I sit in the waiting room during piano lessons. I deliver them to Scouts and Girl Guide meetings. Most of my grocery shopping is done with one or both of them in tow.
My work is part-time and flexible; my partner’s hours are long, unpredictable, and can vary widely from one day to the next. By default, I’m the go-to when it comes to making sure that everyone gets where they need to get, on time, and in one piece.
We work hard to make sure the kids aren’t over-scheduled and that we have lots of downtime – but in an average month, there are a dozen or more occasions that I could reasonably find myself in a chair, watching, while they have fun at some school event or activity.
And people assume that I’ll automatically do so, for one of any number of reasons, ranging from safety to simply being “present” in their lives, or just because my schedule means I can – and therefore I should.
The question, particularly as we consider the implications of helicopter parenting and over-involvement, is: Should I, really?
Have you ever watched a small child playing on a jungle gym? If they stumble or trip, fall off a slide or have some other minor mishap, they’ll jump back up, brush themselves off, and get back at it – as long as they don’t think anyone is watching. But if a parent or caregiver is ringside, the moment can just as easily divert to a flood of tears.
We all behave a little differently when we’re being watched or monitored. That’s not inherently a bad thing; for kids, it can help reinforce rules around manners and behaviour, when they know someone is keeping tabs.
But I don’t believe that my children benefit from being under my eagle eye at every possible moment.
In fact, I think they need to be “unwatched” at times. I think it’s valuable that they have spaces where I don’t exist, where they can be autonomous and distinct from me, where they can interact with other kids and adults in ways that help them become their own people.
When I’m available, they’ll seek out help – to tie a shoe, settle a fight, even to ask the host of a birthday party for another slice of pizza. But I know from experience that when they are on their own, they’ll sort it out themselves – it is the small, first steps that help feed their sense of self-reliance and independence.
So, sure, I’ll help out at the next field trip, and I’ll come to the year-end recital (and I’ll be beaming and clapping the whole time) but I don’t need to stay at their best friend’s birthday party or attend the school assembly in which they are tangentially involved.
My kids need me, but they also need to know that they’re capable, without mom waiting in the wings.