Advice Column, Parenting

Those Darned Apron Strings

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I was recently invited to join two fellow parents at my three sons’ private school for breakfast. The conversation was very interesting indeed.  The husband’s theory was that most wives’ mother-in-law problems can in fact be attributed to mothers who find it difficult to let go of their sons.   The wife was sceptical.

A couple of weeks later I found myself on a foray into a strip mall after picking up my son from a party.  On the way back to the car, I picked up a whole box of juicy naartjies. I kept the box of fruit on my 9 year old’s lap, peeled the first one and asked him to pass me segments during the drive.  When we ran out, I asked him to peel another one.  It took him not less than ten minutes to peel a naartjie!

Watching his knitted brows in the rear view mirror while he concentrated on the seemingly very tricky task at hand, it occurred to me that the naartjie is just the tip of the iceberg.  I wondered whether my good friend at breakfast had a point regarding mums not letting go.

Although it is all too easy to revert to the “when I was your age….” mentality, nobody can deny that, to a certain extent, us modern parents have been scared (or should I say bullied by the media, schools, society?) into over-pampering and overprotecting our children perhaps even to the point where they are actually disadvantaged by our well-meaning mollycoddling.  All this happens even before any partners appear on the scene when we as mothers, are unceremoniously asked to ‘let go’.

Are we doing our children a disservice?

Although it could be argued that the seventies was a rather risqué period as far as parenting is concerned, when I think of what I could do even before I turned ten, I worry for my boys.  How will they learn to be street smart if they cannot even be trusted to cross a car park without thoughtlessly stumbling right behind a reversing 4×4?

I remember playing hide and seek on the neighbourhood streets until late into the night on Summer evenings, I distinctly remember arriving home from school and making myself an omelette at lunchtime before the age of ten, I remember taking short bus journeys to after school classes, and at least once a week, my mother would press some money and thrust a blue net shopping basket into my hand and send me to the local grocer three blocks away armed with a short shopping list.   Every Saturday, being the only girl in the family, I was entrusted with helping with the weekly “Big House Clean”.

Undeniably, some street corners or situations did make me feel uncomfortable – such as the mechanic’s garage one block up on the way to the grocer, where adolescent boys in training would whistle and shout harmless comments – an activity I found so discomfiting that I often either changed my route – or crossed to the other side of the street and sprinted past the cavernous mouth of the open garage.  Then, there were the occasional refuse collection men or the workers on renovation projects – often with nothing better to brighten their day until it was time for the next cup of tea than to taunt a pre-teen girl running errands.

To be fair to my parents, they were working people in their mid- to late thirties trying to raise two children into good middle class citizens – as were most parents in Southern Europe at the time.  We had no domestic help whatsoever although there were plenty of uncles, aunts and cousins around. Generally, too, people did not move house for generations – meaning that our neighbours were well known to us and ours.

So, since I know the value of being a capable and independent child, how is it that I am shocked out of my wits when I hear of an eleven year old being put in an Über as a way for the parents to cope with all the lifting?  Why do my hackles rise every time I catch a glimpse of the lady selling ice cream outside the gates of my sons’ school?  Why can’t I even fathom the thought of handing over a R50 note and allowing my eleven year old to pick up a bottle of milk from the grocery store while I am in the same strip mall making my way to the same shop a few minutes later?  Are my children right in being indignant at my lack of ability to loosen their leash a little?  Is the nanny state we have created in fact a hidden monster turning our children into a generation of dependents who cannot and will not cope independently?   How can we ‘safely’ and gradually let go?  How is it that increasingly, parents happily gift or donate mobile phones with internet capabilities to tweenies, help them set up their Facebook/Instagram pages, allow them almost totally unsupervised Youtube access but feel utterly powerless to do any of the traditional ‘letting go’ we’ve all been subjected to while growing up?

As all these questions tumble through my mind, distorting my thoughts and presenting the danger of distracting me from the road, I realise with great sadness that there is in fact no straight-cut answer.  At the end of the day, how much you let go and when really depends on how mature your child is, where you live and how you live and how much family you have around you.  The rest is for them to figure out.  One thing’s for sure – this generation might just not be as quick to look at us, their parent generation, as “golden oldies” anytime soon.  We, together with the economy, are making sure they will continue to depend on us for a very long time yet.

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