Planting Seeds

Don’t you love reading something that sets you thinking? After mulling it over you might agree or disagree with what you read, but either way it stimulated your brain. I experienced just this while reading Mary Harrington’s book, Feminism Against Progress.

When Ms. Harrington, who calls herself a “reactionary feminist” had a baby, it turned her world around. Like so many women of her generation who had been taught to devalue motherhood, she was shocked to find out how much she craved being with her baby and how the theories she learned and espoused about self-fulfillment and personal independence did not match her reality once she was responsible for, and enamored with, her new little one. This set her on a path of analyzing both historical and modern ideas about women and family. There is a great deal to think about in her book.

However, I would like to focus on one theory she discusses that struck both my husband and myself. We have been discussing how much credence to give it, but it is certainly interesting.

Wondering why so many of today’s college students and young adults are incredibly fragile and unable to deal with the slightest adversity, Ms. Harrington points out that many of them spent their earliest years being cared for by a variety of people, notably in daycare. Among other things, she zeroes in on the idea that while mothers let their young ones take risks as they climb and play, institutions and paid caregivers are less likely to do so. A mother can kiss and make better, apply a band-aid, and move on when a knee is scraped. An employee of a business may need to fill out forms in triplicate detailing the injury and also deal with an irate (and guilty feeling?) mother at the end of the day. It is easier to constrain activities so that toddlers don’t get hurt. Yet falling, tumbling, and banging into things is one of the ways that kids learn to handle their bodies as well as learning to persevere and move beyond difficulties.

In fact, Germany famously discovered that after they made playgrounds safer for young children, down the road when these young ones grew into adolescents and young adults, they were injuring themselves more seriously. A fall taken by a four-year-old has him rolling over and running back to play. The same fall taken by a fourteen-year-old might result in a broken bone. By restricting children from experimenting with and learning about their bodies’ capabilities when they were young, the safety-conscious bureaucrats ended up creating more severe injuries later on. In response, Germany started re-introducing peril to the playground.

I am now going to indulge in a shameless plug. One of the joys of my life is watching our children parent their own children. Sometimes that means biting my lips as I see them make what I think are mistakes, but more often I am in awe of how loving, deliberate, and insightful they are. Many of you enjoyed reading our eldest daughter’s articles that frequently ran in my Practical Parenting column. If you, or someone you love has young children, I’m delighted to share info about the webinar Rebecca is hosting giving ideas and guidance for mothers on how to enjoy the summer months with children, ages 3-13. As summer approaches, it is worth considering how best to use this less structured childhood time. As Ms. Harrington learned, a goal of setting the seeds for successful adulthood is one of the joys of motherhood.

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