I'm apprehensive writing this post.
I made a parenting decision the other day. It's something that has been brewing for a while. It all started with a sick day and a trip to the post office.
Finn was at school (a friend was dropping him off later) and Greta was home resting, recovering from yet another bout of strep throat.
I had to go to the post office to mail jewelry orders, and I needed to go right then, because my afternoon was booked with customers coming by the shop. It was a blustery, cold, day; Greta was snuggled on the couch in her jammies watching TV.
She looked up at me from her warm cocoon of blankets and said, "I don't want to go, Momma. Can I stay here?"
My heart skipped a beat.
Interestingly my first fear wasn't for her safety; I know she's capable of being by herself for the ten minutes it would take me to get to the post office and back. But my first thought was: what would people think?
I have no idea if other Moms I know would let their eight and a half year old stay home unattended for ten minutes. I have a sneaking suspicion if I asked them they wouldn't cop to it, even if they did. It's not something I would feel comfortable even asking other Moms.
I blame it on the parenting wars. When did parenting decisions stop being about trusting your intuition and knowing your own kid's abilities, and become more about fear of being judged?
It happens over lots of issues, large and small: breastfeeding, cloth diapers, home schooling and television watching have become issues that are intensely - even viciously - debated, instead of falling squarely in the camp of personal choice, which is where they belong. If someone makes a parenting decision that differs from our own, somehow it becomes personal.
"I don't think so, sweetie," I told Greta. "I think you'd be nervous here all by yourself."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm not nervous, Mom," she said. "I'll be fine." She went back to watching TV, and I stood there, frozen with indecision. I realized she was totally ready for this. It was me who wasn't.
I don't want my kid to grow up fearful. I want her to learn to trust herself, feel curious about trying new things - even things that are a little scary - and feel pride that she has taken a leap forward. Isn't that what growing up is all about?
I lay down some ground rules. "Don't answer the door to ANYONE. Or the phone. And DON'T EAT."
She rolled her eyes again. I dialed my cell phone number with our home phone, and showed her how to hit redial to reach me. Then I locked all the doors. And the windows. I pointed out the list of emergency phone numbers on the fridge.
"I'll be back in ten minutes," I said, my heart in my throat.
She waved me off. "Okay. Bye."
The post office is exactly 1.64 miles away (I clocked it). I drove the whole way with a stone in my stomach, wondering if I made the right call or not. What if she panicked? What if something happened to me, and she was there by herself? What if someone stopped by? What if, what if, what if. I was near tears.
I got back in eight minutes. "You okay?" I asked, as I rushed in the door.
"MOM. I'm FINE."
And she was fine. I, on the other hand, was a wreck. I questioned my decision over and over all day, playing horrible scenarios through my head. I couldn't let it go. Then it occurred to me that she might actually tell a friend or a teacher that she stayed home alone, and I was gripped with fear.
A few days later, my fear became a reality. She had a good friend over for a play date and the two of them were playing a board game, chatting away about Webkinz and Littlest Pet Shops. Suddenly Greta said, "I stayed home by myself for eight minutes! My Mom went to the post office, and I stayed home and watched TV. I wasn't scared ONE BIT."
Her friend didn't miss a beat and replied, "Oh, my Mom lets me do that all the time when she has to run up the street real quick."
I know this kid's Mom really well, and this topic would never, ever come up between us in conversation. If she had asked me last week whether I would ever leave Greta home alone I'm not sure I would have been honest, because I'd have been afraid my answer would differ from hers.
I decided to do a little experiment. I told my husband I was thinking of doing a post about Greta's milestone of staying home alone. He thought for a moment, and said, "I don't know if that's a good idea."
When I asked him why, he thought some more and then said, "Don't you think some people will disapprove? People you know? Aren't you worried about what they will think?"
"That's my whole point!" I said. "Do you think Greta was ready to do that?"
"Absolutely," he said, without hesitation.
"So why are you concerned about what other people will think? Why does it matter?"
"I don't know," he replied. "I just know that people will have strong opinions about it, one way or the other. Why open up that can of worms?"
I want to open this can of worms because it's sad to me how isolating parenting is when we live in fear of being judged. I know my kid. I know what she can and can't do, but when I view decisions like this through the lens of Other People's Opinions, I lose faith in myself.
One of the ways to feel good about our own decisions is to feel judgy about others' choices. That's the wrong way to go about it, though. We could all learn so much from each other, if only we could share freely without getting a faceful of unsolicited advice, or preachy sermons about the right way to do things.
I guess I'm going to find out what other people think, because I'm about to hit 'publish'.
I'm curious to see if the comments prove my point. Or not.