By Catherine Robinson
I know I’m totally putting myself at risk by writing this column, and openly admitting to something the authorities consider irrefutable evidence of irresponsible parenting. There have been many articles recently published about parents doing something similar to what I’ve done, and those parents were subsequently questioned by police officers.
A few have been arrested.
But this is an issue of such importance that I am willing to take a risk, with my life if necessary, so that other parents might learn from my experience.
Here it is: Today, I let my kids walk home alone.
Until today, my twin sons have never walked home alone. From anywhere.
They’ve walked around theme parks and the mall by themselves, but I’ve been told in various online chat rooms that those places don’t really “count.”
Jacob and Zachary attend school a mile away from our home. We belong to the Y, which is about eight blocks away. There’s a park at the end of our street.
And yet, we’ve gone to all these places together because I had no idea that the act of togetherness would somehow ruin them for life.
I finally saw the error of my ways at a recent potluck dinner, standing there with my tofu stroganoff, feeling the ire and disgust from a few friends who’d recently formed a local chapter of Cage-Free Parenting.
This group was now easily outranking Paleo Parents for Peace at our neighborhood’s social events and quickly gaining on the Breast is Best folks.
Cage-Free moms cornered me near the gluten-sugar-and-peanut-free pastries and I, for one, couldn’t take the pressure.
After they spent 20 minutes questioning my rationale and ability to parent properly, I broke.
They convinced me, using personal anecdotes, informal Facebook surveys and the haze of patchouli oil, that the only way to teach independence to children is to allow them to walk at least five blocks (not four or three or, even worse, two… but five) all by themselves.
There was no other way around it.
I know what you’re thinking. Plenty of children can be independent and free thinkers, self-reliant even, without walking alone on our streets.
Well, you’d be wrong. Children making their own age-appropriate decisions and then living with the consequences of their actions only gives them the illusion of independence.
Allowing them to choose what they wear, encouraging them to cook meals for the family, or refusing to intervene when they have squabbles with siblings or friends just won’t do. Your children are navigating playground politics while you pretend to be interested in your friend’s scrapbook?
It isn’t enough.
They need to be near traffic, and strangers, without your help or guidance. And this should happen before they graduate from kindergarten.
The fact that my kids are in high school almost got me kicked out of several social circles.
I felt so ashamed.
I was embarrassed that my kids, who are now young men, had never reached this important milestone. Before that potluck dinner, no one told me that unsupervised pedestrian activity was the new indicator of independent children.
Jacob and Zachary had gotten through the first semester of high school, successfully managing their time, and choosing their own service clubs. Jake even had to decide whether or not to date a girl wearing an “I Like Sex” bracelet.
Sure, afterward we talked about lessons learned and what could be done differently, but they were making those calls.
I thought this meant they were growing up, trusting themselves and learning to fly.
But apparently I was wrong.
So my husband and I let our boys walk home this afternoon from our local Y without us. We were ready for anything, including police intervention, but wanted our sons to feel the power of independence once and for all.
It lasted 25 minutes. They even operated crosswalks without texting us for help or using a smartphone app.
These are kids from a generation that Cage-Free moms say are ruined and needy. But my kids successfully completed The Walk. Eight whole blocks on their own.
I’ve never been so proud. I hugged them and cried a little. I asked them to tell me every detail and wondered aloud how they felt afterward.
Both boys shrugged. They said it was no big deal. Then they went back to doing their own thing.
But not before I took their picture and posted it on Facebook.
I’ll never be able to take back all the walks and time we’ve spent together, I can see that now. But hopefully other parents can learn from my mistakes. I wouldn’t call me a hero…but you can, if you like.
Catherine Durkin Robinson’s award-winning columns have appeared in The Tampa Times, The Tampa Tribune, and Creative Loafing as well as several national magazines and newspapers. She is a mom, writer, advocate, political organizer, and runner. Reach her by email here.