As Kim and I travel around the country, I see a lot of busy families. Busy parents. Busy kids. Busy pets.
I believe part of the job of parents is to help their children to appreciate childhood. It goes by so fast — especially these days — and kids just don’t have the perspective to realize what a special time of life it can be. It’s hard to avoid the gripping — and sometimes grim — responsibilities of adulthood, but having a pleasant childhood to look back on can have the same effect as some hot chocolate and warm cookies after a long day of playing in the snow. Every child deserves a great childhood, and those who go without are robbed of something precious.
Kids take cues from their parents, and if children see their parents handling life in an uptight, overly serious manner, chances are they’ll handle life in much the same way. But if they see their parents with an optimistc outlook and a propensity for a little spontaneous fun from time to time, those children will approach life with a similar attitude. (Which one do you think is healthier?)
So as I encounter these busy families in my travels, championing the need to become more childlike, I can’t help but wonder if the children in my audience even have any clue as to what I’m talking about. Many of them are little machines, on a never-ending conveyor belt that cycles them from school to day care to soccer games to music practice to (insert additional extra-curricular activity here). A heavy emphasis is placed on winning and over-achieving, and very little time is allowed to just be a kid. Sometimes, the only difference between the kids and the adults in my audience is their height.
Of course, it’s the grown-ups who’ve made a mess of things, for a variety of reasons too numerous to mention here. My simple plea is this: can we just let kids be kids?
Today, I was happy to read about somebody who gets it. My friend Marilyn sent me a link to a story that ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (thanks, Marilyn!). New Berlin alderman John Hopkins helped push through a local law saying it’s OK to ride your bicycle no-handed. The old language in the city’s bike law said: “No rider shall take both hands off the handles or ride recklessly in any other manner.”
Here’s an excerpt from the story, written by Jim Stingl:
The kid inside Hopkins re-emerged when he got into Harley-Davidson motorcycle riding at age 55 along with his wife. He’s retired from Northwestern Mutual, an august company he admits would probably just as soon that people keep their hands firmly on the handlebars.
Hopkins has tapped into this suspicion that just maybe we overprotect our kids these days.
The pendulum has swung a long way since kids were born to smoking and drinking moms, and wearing flammable pajamas and gnawing the lead paint off their cribs, riding around in cars without seat belts let alone safety seats, biking with no helmets until they were old enough to hitchhike, helping themselves to toxic cleaning products from unlocked cabinets, and running outside with scissors but with no sunscreen on.
And surviving it all.
A father and grandfather, Hopkins isn’t saying we should go back to those days. We just need to know when we’re being ridiculous in our level of protection.
About a year and a half ago I wrote a post about how adults are ruining everything. Sadly, things don’t seem much better today. I pray that parents will come to see how strongly their own approach to life affects the development of their children. I hope that grown-ups can get a little perspective and focus on the things that really matter.
And I couldn’t agree more with Alderman Hopkins, who said, “It’s time to let kids be kids.”