This article is a little different from many that I write. As a camp director and educator, I keep up with all information, both formal and informal, about kids, parents and families. The big concept out in the field is “Free-Range Parenting.” Please Google it, but in short — a while back, scientist Danielle Meitiv was found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect” after letting her 10- and 6-year-old kids walk home from a neighborhood park. Police were called and it has become a concern of all parents, those on the side of letting our children have responsible freedom and those who do not let their children out unless adult supervised.
Today in the daily Tablet update that comes direct to my computer, the story came from writer Marjorie Ingall titled “Letting Go of Our Kids Isn’t a Form of Neglect: the stereotype of the Jewish mother depicts a hovering, overprotective maniac. The truth is very different.” In her article, Ingall says, Judaism is pretty clear on the fact that fostering children’s independence is vital. The Babylonian Talmud tells us we have three obligations when it comes to childrearing: Teach your kid Torah. Teach your kid to earn a living. And teach your kid to swim. Wait, what? “What is the reason?” the Talmud queries rhetorically. “His life may depend on it.” If we take this as a metaphor, what this means is that you won’t always be there to rescue your kid. So, you need to teach a kid to deal with adversity. For those of you who are not parenting young children and for those of you who are grandparents, think back to your childhood — most of us played outside and many walked to school!
The free-range proponents have statistics on their side – the United States is safer now than it was when we were children. Yet the media has us running scared and our litigious society adds to that. So what are we to do? Two Jewish mothers, Danielle Meitiv and Lenore Skenazy, are leading the movement. They are arguing for all children and fighting against the Jewish mother stereotype as a Rottweiler protecting her turf. That was perhaps the mother of a certain era, however, Jewish mothers have always been strong and both loving and demanding with the goal of raising competent adults who can handle anything the world throws at them.
This is hard for parents — letting go is never easy and no one said you get to stop worrying. However, our goal, as described today, is to encourage children’s “executive function” (the ability to coordinate complex tasks and meet goals independently). Jewish families have been doing this for thousands of years and we have Torah role models to prove it.
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Service at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.