Am I Overprotective?

We’re on an outing, at the beach.  We’ve come with friends to the dolphin training center, which is on the sea, accessible by a floating ramp and platform.  It’s windy, and raining, and the platform undulates as we stumble across it. 

“Don’t run,” I shout to my son.   “It’s dangerous!”  There are no railings.  The sea is cold and deep. 

In the past, I’ve seen my son fall into a pond, fall off an eight-foot high rock wall, and tip over my daughter’s wheelchair as he was running down the corridor, pushing, in a luxury hotel.  He came home from camp with a huge gash on his knee – an injury incurred when he tipped over in a canoe.  He’ll have a scar.  My son is accident-prone.

But I’m the only one shouting out, “Don’t go too close to the edge!  It’s dangerous!”

My friends say nothing to their kids.

Later, on the beach, the children are drawn to a large dinosaur sculpture.  It’s slippery and offers no clear purchase.  Of course, my daughter wants to climb around as well.  Not a good idea, I think.  It’s dangerous.

My friend’s daughter stands on top of the dinosaur’s back holding a big stick.  What if she fell?  I think.  But I don’t say anything.  My friend says nothing.  “Be careful,” I say to my son.

“Hand her up to me,” my friend says about my daughter.  So I hoist her up, and my friend holds her.  I pray that she doesn’t get overexcited and go spastic.  It’s slippery, and she is heavy and hard to control.

Then my son starts goofing around.  He is suddenly hanging from the dinosaur’s neck, afraid to fall.  He grabs onto my friend’s leg and brings everyone down with him.  I try to catch them all, but I can’t. They fall.

I gather up my sobbing daughter, who seems more scared and betrayed than hurt.  My friend will have bruises.  My son goes down to the shore to brood; he feels responsible.  But I know that it was my fault.  I knew it was dangerous. And yet I also know that I must allow them to take risks once in awhile.   It’s very hard, though.  I couldn’t keep my children safe inside my body, so now I do everything I can – maybe too much – to keep them safe in the world. 

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5 thoughts on “Am I Overprotective?

  1. Suzanne, this is so hard, isn’t it. Not sure you’re being overprotective, though. Seeems to me you should try to follow your maternal instinct more, on the contrary, because obviously, it’s right and it can feel things that your reason can’t. I believe that mothers naturally adapt to their kids’ behavior and level of comfort with their own bodies and their environment. My older daughter was always incredibly agile. She walked at 8 and half months, and the first time I was able to take her to a playgound, on a trip to NY (there were no playgrounds where we lived in Nigria) she was 19 months and only wanted to climb the high slides and equipments meant for much older kids. I was terrified, parents came to me saying, “is she yours? Are you not afraid?” but I strangely felt that she’d be OK. I watched, followed as much as I could, but also let her be, and she never fell. She’s just that way: comfortable with her body. Not so with my second one, who is not accident prone, but much slower, a bit heavier. But of course, it’s hard, when you’re with others. Thing is, they don’t know your children the way you know them. It’s all a balancing act, isn’t it?

  2. Oh how I understand all that you’ve written here! I too find myself being overprotective of my kids, for all the same reasons, plus one more: I think when you’ve had the rug pulled out from under you, when you’ve been on the wrong side of the statistical equation, when your life didn’t go smoothly and as-planned, well then you’re just more likely to prepare yourself for the worst. When people tell me, What are the odds? I say, Don’t give me odds. Odds don’t work for me!

  3. Nicely written… how the artists uses the material of their life in their art, as reporting events becomes intrepreting them… always a personal journey.

  4. I don’t know if you’re overprotective but I certainly think it’s your right to be so because you are the Mom and you set the rules. It would be hard not to see yourself as overprotective in Japan too, where no one seems to bother about child seats, seatbelts, bicycle helmets, the fact that the streets have no sidewalks, etc. Boys and girls are often so different too, aren’t they (and it shows up in accident statistics). I wouldn’t realy need to tell my daughter to be careful in many situations (like your friend) but my son is a different story!

  5. Sometimes the hardest lessons to learn are those that force us to back away. I think that what you did was correct in that you gave them a warning and then let them discover the consequences. It is a delicate balance to strike.

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