Anyone else out there approaching 40 and terrified they're turning into their parents? My moment comes any time I finish a story with, "but it was so different when we were kids."
It still shocks me when I utter this familiar phrase; I heard it often as a child from people who seemed ancient to me (but clearly weren't) and I know that generation after generation will use it again and again. When I'm with other parents of youngsters, I find we often reference our own childhoods wistfully. It may seem like we're looking back with rose-tinted glasses, but I do believe things were simpler in the Seventies and Eighties. It was a time when kids were allowed to play out on the road all day, without fear and without anyone worrying about us.
I was a suburban kid, living in a nice estate, so we never really strayed far. Once I got into double digits we'd venture to the shops, and as teens we'd cast our net wider, heading off to nearby estates to hang out with new kids.
We were always a bike ride from home, and generally respected our curfews.
Friends who grew up in the countryside talk about long summer days when they disappeared up the fields after breakfast, dragging themselves home whenever hunger pangs set in. Some kept an eye on the time and knew to arrive in the door just as lunch was being put on the table.
For the most part, parents didn't know where they were for hours at a time and no one worried for their safety. It was a pre-mobile phone world, and, miraculously we all survived unscathed. Learning to let go is one aspect of parenting I'm learning to embrace. My six-year-old is allowed out to play by himself, but he's not allowed to leave our cul-de-sac on his own. He has a new friend who lives at the top of our street, but on the other side of the busy road. Cars whizz along this stretch daily and can't be relied on to look out for racing kids.
My son accepts the 'big road' is off limits, but keeps asking how old he needs to be before we'll let him around the corner on his own to play in the next cul-de-sac. I've tried to explain that it's not an age thing; it's a personality thing. While I may find him very responsible and sensible about traffic, I do know of a nine-year-old who ran straight underneath a car in his own neighbourhood. Thankfully, he survived, but his parents claim it was completely out of character.
This child's accident reinforces my fear of the road, and makes me wonder if I'll ever get to the point where I'll relax enough to let my kids head off on their own. We've all seen children dash across roads carelessly; we've all hit our brakes as youngsters run on to the road to retrieve an errant football.
But it's not just road accidents that cause us to worry. As the kids grow older we know there'll be a whole list of unquantifiables we'll need to grapple with. Our parents may have had to call time on undesirable companions, or hanging out in unsupervised homes, but they never had to deal with unsuitable internet access, or figuring out how to install a content filter on their PC. I've said it before: "It was so different when we were kids."