When I was a high school student, there was a day that I was walking home. I was at an intersection waiting for the light to change. To successfully cross the street I had a couple of things going against me. First, I was a teenager, and therefore I was tired. Second, I was a teenager, and was listening to music way too loud, so I was down by one of my senses. Third, (you guessed it) I was a teenager, and too cool to do things like wait until the walk signal appeared and verify that there was no traffic. I anticipated the walk signal and started to take a step out and a guy I didn’t know grabbed my arm and pulled me back. My initial thought was that I was angry that someone was grabbing and pulling me very aggressively. A split second later a bus went whizzing past my face. I was breathless. I turned to say thanks and realized that Darwin wasn’t going to give me too many chances like that.
I Rolled the Dice and Won
I learned a valuable lesson that day. It wasn’t calculus or a foreign language, but it was something that would help to keep me alive long enough to learn a little calculus. The funny thing is that I’d been crossing streets for years successfully all on my own by that point, but there was a new lesson that day. I had grown complacent and was using my ho hum attitude to be “cool”. If I was going to survive my youth, I was going to have to ditch my “cool” attitude and replace it with something a little more pragmatic.
Obviously not everyone needs to learn the same lessons in the same way. There are risks in life and you can’t, and shouldn’t, insulate your child from all of them. Taking chances is an important part of what makes life worth living, to a point. Risk management is an important skill that you develop over time. For example, sometimes I still listen to music when crossing the street, but I am aware that this deprives me of an important sense, and I use a lot more caution than I did when I was in high school.
Coping With the Shoulder Season
So, the world presents risks, and with time we learn to manage them with varying degrees of success. This leaves us with some chunk of time when we don’t have the best risk management skills. This period is what my wife and I have dubbed the “crapshoot of life”. Ironically, this period of a person’s life never really ends. To carry on the metaphor, generally your odds of succeeding in this game increase with time and experience.
As a parent, I have found that there is a new skill I have to learn. I have to gauge what “dangers” to expose my kids to so that they can figure out how to make some of these judgements for themselves. The tricky bit to this is that the media bombards us with reasons to fear for our children’s safety. This media induced fear causes a lot of parents to restrict the freedom of their children to the point where they are actually just inhibiting the ability of their kids to develop their own risk assessment skills. Even if you manage to somehow avoid the media induced paranoia surrounding children’s safety, there are social pressures to parent your children in a particular way. Simply “being yourself” as a parent can be quite difficult.
The Uncomfortable Truth
My kids are going to get hurt, both physically and emotionally. There is a chance that throughout their journey they may be permanently injured. There is also a chance that they may die. In order for myself to be a good parent, I feel like I have to fully accept these statements, but not obsess over them. Throughout their lives, I have to make reasonable decisions on their behalf as to how much risk they can accept. I have to accept that, over time, my decisions will have less authority over their actions, and will be replaced with their decisions. Finally, I must be okay with the fact that my kids will make some bad decisions. This is the craps game that I signed up for.
I decided to write this post today because I was reading news on the sentencing of Ariel Castro. It is one of those cases which is very rare, but that the media focuses on to the point that most people think that everyone is out to get their children. It is the sort of story that I think hits an emotional chord with parents and has the effect of working parents up to a point where they lose track of the reality that most people in the world are pretty good people.