I spent the other day on a playground. This is a shocking thing to say, I know. But, really it is. Spending any part of a day at a playground in Houston, TX during August is worthy of a first sentence introduction. In fact, I ought to just stop my blog post right there and take a curtsy.
I won’t though. Nope. Because rambling is my middle name. Courtney Rambling Wyckoff.
What I did on that playground was more shocking. I listened. I know. Another curtsy is warranted. CRAZY. But, I did. I listened to all the moms and caregivers around me. And I heard a whole lot of “Don’ts” and “stops” and “Why did you do thats?” and “What are you thinkings?” I get it, I do it it too, don’t worry.
But, I started thinking about how funny it is that we are constantly barking down the impulses of our kids, edging out their possible self-regulation and their need to experience the boundaries of their world. I guess for some parents, we do this because we want to be socially accepted. I mean, when Thomas throws sand across the playground and Jane decides to pick a monster booger and rub it on the tire swing, we certainly don’t want to look like we don’t give a shit. For other parents, it’s total fear. Our imaginations run wild with thoughts of Piper falling to her broken elbow destiny from the monkey bars and of Paco’s wrecked noggin after he decides to try out his new single leg Batman move off the top of the slide.
There’s a fine line of common sense parenting and what we all know is helicopter parenting. But, I’m so annoyed with that term because it’s gotten as overused and empty as “empowerment.” It should mean a lot more to us than it does. Deep down, helicopter parenting is a refusal of impulse and pleasure that has been etched into the fiber of my generation. We’re not insecure parents wanting to control our children - what a silly oversimplification of the helicopter behavior. We’re a scared generation who was raised and showered with values by an older generation that experienced some pretty harrowing realities in civil liberties and war in their formative years. And we’re a generation that is still recovering from the PTSD of entering our own formative years with huge realities of terrorism - terrorism that literally destroyed all the values and securities that older generation forced us to believe in. That’s the truth. That’s what’s under the veil of helicoptering.
Let’s walk away from those traumas for a second and get back to the basics, so that we can start to do better. The basics are as follows: Children are seeking pleasure when they are impulsive - it’s an irrefutable human fact. It isn’t until the world has had its constrictive, shaming way with these ye lads that they will start to seek pain or self-destruction possibly. But, I can guarantee that Piper and Paco are seeking pure pleasure from their escapades. And we say, “Don’t” and “Be Careful” and when we shame them with the “Why did you do that” or the “what were you thinking” or my favorite, “We don’t do that in our family” sort of lingo, we paralyze and interrupt a beautiful human skill: Seeking pleasure through wild impulse that eventually develops into wise, loving, freeing self-care.
I can honestly say that if I were to pinpoint one main -ism of my life, it could all boil down to this. Having not been given the space for the experiment of pleasure. And, so, for me, I’ve spent my life feeling
- I shouldn’t have pleasure, pleasure is bad
- If I do have pleasure, I have better received it through very PC and pleasing-to-others ways
- Impulse is bad and means I am in trouble
Dudes and dudettes. Let’s try another way! This certainly isn’t working. We don’t seem to be raising a bunch of humans who know how to care for themselves and others with wisdom and love, right? I mean, look at ourselves! Brene Brown and Oprah would be penniless if we had all been raised to believe that our birthright to impulse that yields self-knowledge and healthy pleasure. And while you start to respond defensively with some notion of needing to keep your kid safe in this rather unpredictable world, I beg you to reconsider. I spent a few weeks living with an indigenous tribe in Ecuador - which I’m aware makes me sound like a douchey douche - but, what it taught me was one thing: I didn’t see a single tantrum from a single kid when I was there. And the family I lived with had 10 children, at least. And they didn’t tsk tsk tsk their kids. And they didn’t tell them to watch out when walking on the edge of the scary water well. And maybe it’s because they’ve been exposed to the harsh, uncontrollable reality of losing kids to anacondas, but in terms of human behavior, it seemed to equal pretty happy, cooperative kids. And I personally love the idea that it greets and embraces the possibility that even your children are self-regulating in positive ways. Aka, that humanity isn’t doomed.
Think of what it would feel like for ONE day if you just released your grip and allowed for impulse to reign? What if you agreed to simply provide your kids with a safe environment, with a code of family values, and that’s it? Obviously, you’re not gonna let this experiment happen on a giant freeway with rodents of unusual size looking for blood. I mean, you can do your part to be a good parent and then let your wee ones do their part of being a good kid. Imagine how freeing your day would be if it didn’t involve so much fencing in and corraling and tsk tsk tsking? Beyond that, what if you got to learn that your kids are far more safe than you thought and that their behavior is almost always in pursuit of the one glorious things humans truly deserve: Pleasure in the simple things. Pleasure outside of electronics and scheduled activities and people-pleasing and the cult of busydom. Pleasure in climbing trees and feeling sand disappear in the bottoms of shoes and knees collapsing into mud. Pleasure in laughing at fart noises and silly faces. Pleasure in feeling your parent being relaxed and conscious and accepting of your humanness.
Screw it. It’s just one day. Maybe you’ll write me and say, Way to Go Rambling Wyckoff, my kid fell off the tire swing on that day of my Free-Impulse experiment. But, I dunno, I have a feeling that the more we let our kids do this, the more we’ll be proven wrong. And then our kids have a chance to be a wise, loving, connected generation, which we need oh so desperately right now.