As I’ve been thinking about and praying for Abby Sunderland over the last 24 hours, I’ve been thinking about the parental “risk spectrum.”
On one end are parents who don’t let their 16-year old daughter drive around the block alone. On the other end are parents who let their 16-year-old daughter sail around the world alone.
Note that the purpose of this post is not to bash the parents who let their daughter sail around the world alone. While I don’t understand it, I don’t know them, their daughter, or any of the circumstances, so it’s not my place to comment on it.
Making decisions about what’s an acceptable level of risk is hard. It’s sometimes agonizing for me.
I will never forget the day I put Emma on a plane by herself for the first time and then cried the whole way home. (She was 10.) Or the day I let her go on the el by herself for the first time (which was actually scarier than the plane, because there was no el employee to hand her off to, and no one waiting for her on the other end.)
I probably have a higher level of risk tolerance than many parents. In general, I don’t think the world is a more dangerous place than it used to be, as I’ve written about here. I did let Emma go on a plane by herself, and I did let her ride the el by herself. I didn’t put those plastic bumpers on the edges of the coffee table, and my kids had the bruises to show for it. I hate to admit it, but I don’t make my kids wear bike helmets when they’re riding up and down the sidewalk (when they ride in the street, yes). And we now have a trampoline in the back yard.
But regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, I think making daily decisions about how much risk you can tolerate is one of the hardest tasks of parenting.
I wish I could just have my set of rules to refer to. That would make it neat and tidy. This is ok. This is not ok. But the fact is that the decisions are situational and based on the individual kid. What I’m ok with for Emma, I may not be ok with for Margaret when the time comes. (No, let me restate that. What I’m ok with for Emma, I can say with absolute certainty I will not be ok with for Margaret.)
I guess we all just do the best we can. And then close our eyes and pray.