Monday, November 15, 2010

My older son was home visiting this weekend and, among many other things, the conversation included my parenting style. We both agreed that yes, I was a strict mama but definitely took my foot off the brake a bit with his younger brother. I was reminded of a column I wrote about the young girl whose parents allowed her to sail around the world alone some months ago.  I hope you enjoy it.

Mother May I?

Child:  Mom, can I sail around the world alone in my own little sailboat even though I’m only sixteen?
Mother:  Are you insane?
Child: But you might stifle my initiative if you don’t allow it?
Mother:  Consider yourself stifled.
Child:  I might have to act out in some self-destructive if way if I’m stifled.
Mother:  Just try it.  No.
Child: But my sense of self might be compromised. 
Mother:  Your sense of self? Hahahahahahahahaha.  No.
Child:  My ego is still in its inceptive phase.  If I don’t  sail around the world alone, I might be forever damaged.  
Mother:  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  Still no.
Child: How can you deny my dream?
Mother:  Easy.  No.
Child:  How can you negate my psycho-social need to need to separate from you, my uterine hostess, and be my own person? 
Mother: Your uterine hostess says no.
Child:  Mom, if you don’t let me I will run away.
Mother:  Okay.  But don’t forget to leave your clothes, wallet, car keys, collection of super shiny lip glosses, I-Pod and phone behind. Dad and I own them.  We just let you use all that stuff.
Child:  Fine!  But I am very mad at you. 
Mother:  Congratulations.  I’m mad at you for being crazy.

This is how the conversation should have gone in the Sunderland home when sixteen year old Abby suggested she sail around the world by herself—at any age. If there are other kids at home in that family, they should immediately be removed from the household lest any nine year olds request to parachute from the tip of the sphinx’ crumbling nose after backpacking across the universe, alone. 

I have seen interviews with Mrs. Sunderland before her daughter was found in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  She was as calm as a bowl of fruit soup, saying she had faith that her daughter was fine. Clearly, this woman does not like this girl. Perhaps childbirth was especially painful or her stretchmarks  particularly awful or she just wants one less kid on her car insurance.  But she doesn’t like poor Abby one bit.    

Now it comes to light that Mr. Sunderland had a reality series plus a host of other money making schemes up his sleeve. This makes it far worse. We now understand that they were willing to put this child in harm’s way for a potential pay-off. Maybe I should try to market my daily life as a reality show. Cameras  would capture me talking to cats, feeding  cats, administering hairball medication to cats, making veggie burgers for lunch and neglecting the ironing and laundry. No wonder they had to send that poor kid out to sea by herself, real life is very boring.

I fully admit that I was the mother who didn’t allow her boys to do stuff and, to some degree, regret the limits I put on them, especially Tom who was older and lived the difficult role of being the test case. I was afraid that the minute I looked away they’d be abducted, so I kept a tight rein. I was often told “BUT EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT!!!” I may have been too rigid, but I would have been confident in my decision had the request  been to sail around the world alone.  Unless, like the Sunderlands, my plan was to market a line of tee shirts.

Incomprehensibly vast understatement : Being a parent is hard. Knowing where to draw the line, if you are even somewhat  sane, is very difficult. We are constantly tested by our children who want nothing more than autonomy. I remember challenging my own mother who wrote the book on being overprotective (“But, Maaaaaaaa! Be reasonable, I’m 35 years old!!!!) and my sons’ kids will challenge them.  If they ask to sail around the world, boys, say no.