I am a worrier. I don’t allow my children to do things that other parents might think are okay, just because of the risks involved. I try my best to keep my children out of harm’s way. I pray that bad things will not happen to them. But despite my efforts, bad things do happen.
When news that eight year old Leiby Kletzky was missing first came out, I heard many rush to question the judgment of his parents. On first glance, I must admit that I sort of agreed. I couldn’t imagine sending an eight year old child walking alone on the streets of New York City. It sounded too dangerous. Way too risky for this worrier mom.
But it didn’t take me long to reconsider. The more I read, the more I learned that his walk was considered to be in a good neighborhood, virtually a “no-crime area.” He had practiced the familiar route with his parents just the day before. He had been wanting to walk all the way home from camp, but his parents compromised and agreed to meet him at a neighborhood grocery store halfway between his camp and his home.
As parents, our children frequently ask to do things that are outside of our comfort zone. Things we might want to say no to, but then agree to because we want them to learn to be independent and not live their lives in fear. Set up a lemonade stand. Go to a new friend’s house. Ride their bikes around the neighborhood. Play by the creek. Nothing too extreme, just children wanting to be children. In their innocence, they don’t understand the risks. But as parents, we know the risks all too well.
Leiby’s parents couldn’t have possibly imagined his fate in their worst nightmare. He didn’t die because his parents let him walk halfway home alone from camp for the first time. He died because the man who confessed, Levi Aron, murdered him. He is to blame, not Leiby’s parents. They were just being parents, a lot like you and a lot like me. Had they known that this was going to happen, of course they would never have agreed to let him go alone. But who could have ever predicted this horror?
In a split second any one of us could find ourselves in their exact situation. Someone could kidnap your child while they’re setting up their lemonade stand. The new friend that your child visits could have a step-father who is a child molester. Your child could get run over riding their bike around the neighborhood. While playing by the creek, your child could fall in and drown. Unbelievable tragedy. Nothing we could ever predict. Certainly if we could predict it we would never allow it. Just like Leiby’s parents would not have allowed him to walk home alone had they known the outcome.
Does this mean we need to parent in fear? Keep our children in a protective bubble until they are all grown up? No, it doesn’t. Because no matter what we do as parents, sometimes bad things are just going to happen. That’s life. But along with the bad, a lot of good happens too. As parents we can’t let go of that. For every tragedy that we hear about, there are thousands of stories with happy endings. So hug your children tight. Tell them you love them. Worry about them if you need to. Keep them safe as best you can. But in the end, we’ve got to let our kids be kids. Even when it is outside of our comfort zone.