Reckless parenting

Parenting in the 21st century (in the US) is full of caution, supervision and anxiety. No one could have imagined the term “helicopter parents” 50 years ago.

My parents were both incredibly bright and gifted graduate students when they met, married, and started a family. My mother was very anxious and cautious in her parenting – “Don’t climb so high”, “Don’t fall”, “Don’t jump”…don’t, dot, don’t. She would have made an excellent helicopter parent, at least up until we went off to kindergarten. Once we started school, she seemed to trust us to society and our own devices.

My father, to the contrary, was all about Do! “Get up and dance!” “Show off your talents!” The Nike slogan “Just Do It!” encapsulated my father’s attitude.

But, as an adult, and a parent, I cringe at the risks he took. Of course, in those days, most cars didn’t have seatbelts in the backseat. My little sister and I would sit in the back, and Dad would drive down the street, hitting the brakes hard enough to bump us off the seat, or driving over speed bumps fast enough to send us airborne! We would, like all young kids, cheer and giggle and yell “Do it again, Daddy, bounce us again! Faster! Higher!”

To add to the cringe factor – my father almost always drove with a can of beer or a pint of whiskey jammed between his legs in a paper bag, which he would take swigs from. Alcohol, cars with out seatbelts, and two kids under the age of 8 – what a combination!

The drives often ended up at a bar, where I and my little sister would drink Shirley Temples, and munch on chips or peanuts, and maraschino cherries (we especially loved the ones dyed green!). I still associate Joni Mitchell’s song “Help Me” with sitting on a stool in a bar with legs dangling, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, during the quiet hours of the mid-afternoon.

Later, I would engage in my own risk-taking behavior – a fascination with fire led to small open fires in a much too small backyard (it’s a miracle I didn’t burn down our little house); driving too fast, when I later got a license and a car. But, I suppose enough of my mother’s caution, whether innate of learned, kept me out of any real trouble.

And, now, I crave order and regularity (although I’m not necessarily that expert at either). But I do like rules, and I follow them. My kids have rules, and boundaries. Although, I strive to allow them enough freedom to explore and test their limits – I don’t want their memory of my voice to be a chorus of “don’t”s but rather plenty of “do”s. To live life, you have to throw yourself in 100%. Certainly, to do anything well requires commitment, and a willingness to take risk. Allowing oneself to make a mistake, to not be perfect, and letting go enough control to actually let the perfection of whatever one is doing be expressed. I’ve learned that that is very true in singing – and I realize that that fear of losing control was what prevented me from doing better athletically – I was always too physically afraid to allow myself to go for it.


A completely different memory triggered by reading Raising Cubby:

My daughter was born 13 weeks early, and weighed only 2 pounds. She had a shock of orange hair, and was fairly unmistakable for the first month or two of life. She was in the most high-level section of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and so she was always in the same incubator when I could come for my twice a day visit.

As she started to pick up weight, and look more like a “normal” baby (and less frog-like), she lost her hair, and she moved up to the less intensive sections of the NICU. And, I began to fear that I wouldn’t recognize her, and that I would then be judged by the NICU staff as a bad mother, who didn’t even know her own baby. It raised my anxiety level with every visit to the NICU, worrying that I would go up to the wrong bassinet. But, I also didn’t want to be too obvious about peering at the name tags at the foot of each baby’s bed (again, fearing judgement).

It never would have occurred to me to mark her with indelible ink!

A few years ago, we traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to pick up our newly adopted boys. On the morning after our arrival, we walked across the courtyard from the guest house to the infant’s room, where J was obliviously unaware of the new parents who were coming to meet him. We had only two prior photos take of him 9 months before, and, yet, I recognized him immediately, and with confidence, walked over to his crib and picked him up. My husband was following behind me, and before I had picked up J, he pointed to the baby in the next crib, and asked “Is that him?”

The nanny and I laughed, and I picked up J and said, “Here he is!”

Babies do look a lot alike.

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These memories were triggered as I read Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Elder Robison. Parenting is a challenging job, but what challenges does a parent with Asperger’s face? Join From Left to Write on March 12 as we discuss Raising Cubby. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

9 thoughts on “Reckless parenting

  1. Kelly says:

    What an intense, anxious time that must have been for you with your tiny, tiny daughter in the NICU. I can understand why you would have that fear of not being able to recognize her. I had great anxiety over my fear of not being able to recognize K when we went to meet her at HH. We had not received any updated photos of her from the agency, and it had been over three months since we saw her referral photos (at age six weeks). Thankfully exactly one week before we left for our trip, we received new photos from another family that had visited. That gave me such relief (and joy, of course, to see her!) to know, "Okay, I will know who she is." What an interesting fear for a new mother of any kind to have.

    1. Janaki says:

      It is an interesting fear; an so interesting that it applies to different ways of becoming a parent. I'm always impressed by how the adoption experience is so similar to, rather than distinct from, biologic parenting.

  2. I can only imagine that going into the NICU and having the stress of trying to find your baby. Especially if your baby is in an incubator, covered in wires and tubes! A Sharpie would've been much easier.

  3. lisahannemaniac says:

    It's so crazy to think about what used to be totally acceptable parenting choices, right? My favorite? Waiting in the car at the grocery store.

    Sometimes I wish I could just run in, I must admit!

    1. Janaki says:

      that's a good one!! i completely forgot that that was once an option. we didn't worry so much about kidnappers, or carjackings then…

  4. Thien-Kim says:

    I think society (and parenting books) have made us parents more cautious than our parents. It's hard to find that balance between helicopter parenting and reckless parenting. We all try our best, right?

    1. Janaki says:

      it is always about balance! and, yes, we all try our best.

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