A statement a while back regarding “direct supervision of children” got me to thinking a bit. I freely admit to being a Free Range parent. Even if I had not been so inclined, having the triplets I think would have pushed me in that direction. With triplets, you don’t even have enough arms to hold everybody’s hand crossing the street! As they became mobile and started moving around the house and the world, we learned how to set up boundaries and then monitor the boundaries, instead of monitoring every action. That has gone on to become our general principle in parenting all our children.
Sometimes this runs up against society’s expectations. As our culture has moved toward having fewer and fewer children per family, we are expected to govern their lives more and more directly. Things that are impossible for large families, such as following your child around the playground or never letting your children play outside alone, are now becoming expected in parenting. It doesn’t seem like a big deal when you only have one or two children. You can follow one child around the playground, help them get in and out of obstacles. You can keep one child with you while you do the gardening in the yard, you can let one child follow you around the house while you do chores, etc. You can go sit in on one child’s every music lesson and sports activity. You can’t do that with three children, let alone six. As the numbers go up, micromanaging the children’s lives just becomes less and less possible.
What happens, though, when the realities of having many children runs up against the expectations of a society that largely only expects you to have one or two? We can end up being excluded from things. I was never able to take my children to baby swimming classes (something that was really popular when the triplets were born) because the babies outnumbered the adults. We can end up running ourselves ragged trying to live up to that expectation of always being there for everyone. Parents spend their entire lives running from activity to activity, never speaking to other adults as they chase their children around the playground. Or we can feel judged, feel like somebody is just itching to call the cops on us when we notice that our children seem to be the only ones doing things on their own.
A lot of those negative feelings can probably be chalked up to the “mommy wars.” I feel the exclusion and judgement a lot myself, and I have to remind myself that I am probably imagining things and creating negativity where none has been intended. The only time I can think of that somebody told me I was doing something wrong was when the triplets were about three and a half, and I was in a McDonald’s with them and Liam, who was still in arms. It was a place we’d been coming frequently to blow off steam since moving to Michigan and feeling the cabin fever of snow winter, so they were familiar with the place. While I was nursing Liam in the play area, all three of the triplets decided they needed to go potty at the same time. Since I could see the bathrooms from where I was sitting, and since they had been there before multiple times, I sent them on ahead and watched from my seat. After they came back, a cop came up and lectured me for letting my children go to the bathroom alone, nevermind that in order to accompany them I would have had to carry a screaming hungry baby while leaking milk down my front, and in the time it would take to get to the bathroom with them and said screaming baby one or more of the triplets would have had an accident anyway. From ten years’ distance, I can roll my eyes and go on with my life, but I do remember at the time that I actually felt afraid to come back to that McDonald’s for a while. I was simply operating on my own general principles. I knew what my children were capable of, I could monitor the boundaries of the situation, and so I let them go.
Sometimes one of my kids will get in trouble, and I’ll have to reign in the boundaries for a while, but mostly this system works well for us. Not direct supervision, but responsibility and limits.