29 3 / 2014
"I used to puzzle over a particular statistic that routinely comes up in articles about time use: even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to. This seemed impossible to me until recently, when I began to think about my own life. My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years."
This article about the relatively recent transition to constant adult supervision in parenting was really interesting to me. I was homeschooled until I went to high school, and I think a lot of people assume that all homeschoolers have overprotective or overbearing parents. Most of my childhood was spent outside, playing unsupervised. I spent time with my other homeschooled friends exploring outside and playing games. Ten or fifteen kids with ages spanning six years, and I don’t remember seeing a single adult until we had to leave or someone got seriously injured. When I was at home, my brother and I spent most of our time in the mountains, woods, and rivers around our house. We would get lost together. We planted gardens. We walked to the mercantile store for candy. We followed deer tracks through the hills.
I think my parents raised me this way because *their* fondest memories of their childhood (like the parents in this article) were the moments of freedom they got. My mother biking to the store; my dad getting his first job (school janitor!). The same day I read the article I went on a tour of a local Black community with an older man who is active in the environmental justice movement there. He grew up in this neighborhood, and pointed out all of the places he used to play: the ponds he and his friends would swim in, the forest they built forts in, and the well they would get a drink from after a long day outside. His childhood was similar to mine in so many ways. He said that now children can’t play in the ponds or drink the well water because it is polluted, and they can’t play in the forest because people have illegally dumped hazardous wastes there.
It is upsetting to me to think that kids might be getting pushed indoors no matter what kind of family they’re from: upper-class kids by their enrichment activities, and lower-class kids by the polluted environment.