My children grew up before my husband and I got this parenting thing down pat, but we did get a few things right. One of them was forming strong relationships with other adults whom we were happy to have in our children’s lives.
I don’t remember how old I was when I observed that childhood ritual of running away from home. Old enough to cross (rather quiet and one-way) streets myself and young enough that I have a feeling I was influenced to leave home by an episode the Andy Griffith Show. The details remain hazy, but off I went from the place where I was obviously unappreciated and misunderstood.
The challenge when running away from home is where to go. I had the perfect solution—my aunt and uncle who lived only a few blocks away. I had no doubt they would take me in, feed me, and make me comfortable. As you can imagine, my parents were fine with this. They knew I’d be safe with my mother’s oldest brother and his wife, who was one of my mother’s closest friends as well as her sister-in-law. In other words, everyone was happy.
Neither my husband nor I had siblings living near us for most of our children’s younger years, but we did have friends. Some of those friends became life-rafts for the times when our children needed an adult confidant who wasn’t their mother or father. Tami, in particular, served that role for a number of our kids. She was kind and loving, fashionable and ‘with it’, and despite a busy professional and social calendar, she seemed to have endless time to listen to the not-yet-grown-up set. Her husband Marty, a good friend who wisely married Tami, also adored and welcomed our kids.
Tami and Marty never betrayed our children’s confidences or called to share amusing stories they may have heard. At the same time, my husband and I knew that if anything truly serious or alarming happened, she and her husband would deal with it correctly and involve us if necessary. They weren’t usurping our role but rather supporting it.
I recently read an article that quoted a few mothers explaining that they never let their kids go on sleepovers. In some cases, they based this decision on bad experiences when they themselves were young. In others it was fear after hearing too many horrible stories of adults or older siblings and cousins who seemed honorable and good and turned out to be predators.
I get the fear. I don’t know how to make the right judgment call. But I do know that there is a cost to restricting our children’s trusting and being comfortable with other adults. Those are the very people we need our children to turn to when they are troubled and down and for whatever the reason, look to seek guidance from someone other than Mommy and Daddy.