herald

Monday 20 November 2017

I may be a bad mum - but I want my children to walk home alone

I THOUGHT my friend's kid was doing soccer that night. But he wasn't. So there was no lift home for my 10-year-old son.

Soccer had been over 10 minutes by the time I got the message.

I leapt in my van and started to drive to the soccer pitch like a maniac. I was only a few feet down the street when I saw him sauntering home under the street lights, singing.

Funny that. There he was walking alone in the dark, and nobody thought to abduct him. Was it the abductors' night off?

Or is it usually completely safe for young people to walk through well-lit Dublin streets in the dark?

It is, of course.

Think back to your own childhood. You weren't kept in from four o'clock all winter. All right, you're not going to send your kid out where you know there is trouble. But most places, there isn't.

The fear involved in parenting at the moment could best be described as "competitive paranoia."

"Do you care enough?" you're asked all the time by other parents.

"Do you care enough to have absolutely no life except for carting your kids from A to B ?

Prayers

To care enough you have to have all the time in the world. You have to be privileged, in other words. And showing you're privileged is what all this competitive paranoia is about.

Me, I have four kids, so they have to do things on their own. This knocked sense into me early. My eldest walked home from school on his own at seven.

When he was nine and his school moved, he took the bus home. The first day I gave him the exact fare and told him to sit beside the driver... and waited at home, saying my prayers. Until he arrived, flushed with pride.

But the next day at two, parents approached me and said they'd seen my son at the bus-stop. This was inappropriate. They would give him a lift home in future.

They meant well. But when I heard about Leonore Skenazy, the mother in the US who was branded "America's worst mom" because she let her nine-year-old take the subway home alone, I reckoned she was a soul sister.

Scandal

Am I Ireland's worst Mammy? Must be. But if being a good parent means putting your child on house arrest, I can't say I mind.

My son's 13 now and he walks and cycles miles every week. But he's never once come home later than he said he would without ringing first.

He doesn't want to let me down, because I trust him.

His 10-year-old brother is getting the same treatment. And I'm adding going out at night, which kind of matters in Ireland at this time of year when it gets dark at five.

But this is proving even more controversial than the Great Bus Scandal.

I was stuck in traffic this week when I realised I wouldn't be able to pick my son up from a friend's house in time and they were going out. Yes, it was dark. But it's round the corner. The streets are well-lit.

I took the risk that the abductors might be taking another night off.

I texted the mother and said she was to send my son home on his own.

Traffic

"No", came the text back. "I can't."

There was sweat rolling off me. The traffic was at a stand-still. They needed to go out. I couldn't get there.

"Send him home!"

"It's dark!"

"I'll meet him half-way."

After many sighs and tut-tuts, she gave in. I started driving like a maniac once I got out of the traffic, but I don't think I was worried about the child.

No, I was worried about what the mother thought of me.

But there was my son, not far from the house, walking along with purpose and confidence. Exactly how I'd like him to walk through life.

I didn't stop to give him a lift. I let him walk the whole way home.

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