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Do you give your kids too much freedom? (something tells me I do...see the photos for evidence)

Erin Zammett Ruddy

Let me preface this post by saying that I have two very active, very curious, very physical, very “handful” kinda kids. Neither sits still. Ever. And when they are on the go, they are often putting themselves—or my china, or my plants, or my eardrums—in harm’s way. They are also both (knock on wood) pretty agile. And, thus, I do not jump up every time they fall down. Because they simply dust themselves off and get right back into the lion’s den. Nora tumbled down about five stairs the other day (she thinks it’s funny to walk down forward instead of crawling down backwards, which is really testing my nerves) and I actually did run over to her to make sure she was OK, but before I could scoop her up, she rolled over, stood up and pushed me away. Then headed for the plug on my treadmill. Of course my under-reacting gets looks sometimes (as does my kids’ wild-ass behavior). Like at the playground when Alex trips over some apparatus or another and mothers gasp and whip their heads to look at me and there I am, walking slowly, silently to check on him. He’s so used to roughing himself up that as he’s hitting the ground, he simultaneously says, “I’m OK mom!”


But all of this hard-core-ness makes me wonder if I’m giving my kids too much freedom to begin with. Nora has figured out how to climb on the toilet bowl, then the vanity, then turn on the sink and brush her “teef.” She usually does this with Alex’s toothbrush so as soon as he notices, he pulls her off the counter and they topple onto the floor.  I am in there with them but the whole scene takes place so fast I am helpless to prevent it. Or am I? I could jump on her the second I see her climbing on the toilet. Or scream. Or never let her down. It’s just that I know them well and I know what they’re capable of. When Nora was about 9 months old (and already walking), I tried having her play in a corral so I could at least pee alone for once. But while I was gone she had pushed her piano to the edge and climbed onto it. I caught her hanging halfway out about to fall on her head. This is the kind of determination I’m dealing with. And it's nonstop, every day. Alex has a little table in his room by the window. If Nora and I are home together and she’s playing and I walk out for a split second, when I return she is invariably standing on the table with her hands and nose pressed to the window, shouting, “Car! Car!” I tell her to get down, and she does. But as soon as I turn my back she’s up there again. Could I remove the table? I suppose. Yell at her? Maybe. Never turn my back? Sure (with Nora we really can’t—ever). Teach her that we don’t stand on tables and chairs and bathroom vanities? Believe me, I’m trying that last one but this is currently her one passion in life and I don’t really want to take it away from her completely.  


When I am at someone else’s house or there are other kids around (who could potentially get injured by my kids’ daredevil moves), I am on them. But, for the most part, we let them roam a little free in our house. I just can’t be one of those moms who shadows my kid every move he makes. Or worse, gasps every time they touch something they shouldn’t (our house is childproofed so I don’t stress too much about them breaking heirlooms or banging heads on glass tables). My mother and sister are huge gaspers and I just don't have it in me. Sure, we pull Nora down from the chandelier when she’s grabbing it and we don’t let Alex sit on the back of the couch or slide down the banister like he’d want to, but we take it all in stride (and put them to bed as early as possible so we can finally sit down). In other words, we’re not too crazy about all this stuff. Do I panic sometimes? Oh, yes. Alex and Nora were playing in my bedroom the other morning while I was getting dressed. At one point, Nora went missing (this happens more often than I’d like to admit—the kid is quick, independent and small). I shouted her name, looked in the closets, looked in the shower, grilled Alex about where she could be. It had been about 5 seconds since I last saw her so I knew she wasn’t out the front door (Alex's old trick), but still. Just as I was getting a tad nervous, she crawled out from under my king size bed (covered in dust bunnies) and flashed a mischievous grin. D’oh!


Am I raising wild animals? Do I need to curtail the climbing and curiosity and freedom a bit? While I was making eggs this morning Nora kept climbing on the handle of the oven trying to see what I was doing. This I obviously took seriously and made her understand that it was not OK. You know what she did? Grabbed her teddy bear and a lemon, climbed on the kitchen table and started licking the plant. Only she wouldn’t do it until I looked at her. Once I’d say, “Nora,” in a please-don't-do-that-kind-of voice, she’d lock eyes with me, stick out her tongue and move in for a lick. She did this repeatedly until I removed the plant. Am I in trouble or what?


Bottom line: I love that my kids are so physical and curious and tough as nails and, I’ll admit, a whole lot of fun, but I do worry that part of their insanity stems from Nick and me giving them too much freedom. How do you balance letting your kids explore and be themselves with not letting them break the rules/break their bones?


Here are a few pix of them in action:

Yes, we let Alex drive Nora around in his jeep, but it goes super slow, our yard is flat, she chases him around and climbs in even when we say no and, well, as evidenced by the post above, we’re pretty laid back about this stuff--for now.


Alex is a tad too rough with his sister, which often lands him in time out...

...and her on the ground. Fortunately, she doesn't seem to mind. 

This is today when I literally turned my back for 5 seconds to flip my eggs.

This is the look I get when Nora knows she's doing something she shouldn't be. Which, these days, is all the time. C'est la vie! (Or c'est I'm a bad mom?!)