You might find it controversial, but my wife and I let my 8-year-old daughter swing an axe.
The modern, over-protective, every-child-has-a-tablet-and-a-cell-phone society that we presently live in ends up, in many ways, impeding some of the most important parts of parenting. My wife and I have been talked-to at daycare pickup, at playgrounds, etc by concerned helicopter parents whose hearts are aflutter at the amount of leash we give our kids, and how we need to beware of the threats of dismemberment and abduction that are all around us. It’s admittedly not as bad in our current state of Oregon than in more-conservative Maryland where the kids were previously, but still – as a society there has been a pendulum swing into an over-protective paranoia about childhood safety that has been depriving our kids of some of the essence of what “growing up” is all about. Yes, reasonable precaution should always be taken to keep kids safe, but I think it’s likewise essential to proactively work to guide and nurture kids into confronting and handling the world around them, as well as handling their own bodies.
It’s been no secret that the helicopter parenting world we live in has resulted in an ever-contracting amount of “acceptable” freedom that we give our children. The stresses of the two-income family commonly lead to TV, and now electronic devices, as the means of “keeping kids busy” while the parents sweat out their daily routine. I understand the stresses there, my wife and I have at times both had demanding jobs, but I don’t think it ever really excuses one from one’s primary objectives as parents.
It’d be great if one could just charge one’s kids rent, or starting from birth just make them responsible for themselves. But yeah, that’s impractical. As such, the basic philosophy we’ve always followed is that there’s two main things that we’re working on as parents, with respect to kids:
Getting the kids to build and understand how to really use their bodies, and
Getting kids to understand how the world around them works, and how they need to interact with it.
Yes, this means a lot of physical play and sports and activities to really get them to push their bodies and see how much they can do. And at the right age, that also includes making them a part of the family operation, and getting them to understand what needs to go down in the house to keep us all alive. As much as possible, and as much as is real to them, we’ve tried to include them in our day-to-day so that they feel like they’re a part of it all. There’s a quote I think of a lot on this, from an article L. Ron Hubbard wrote on the subject of allowing children to work:
“Children, in the main, are quite willing to work. A two-, three-, four-year-old child is usually found haunting his father or her mother trying to help out either with tools or dust rags; and the kind parent who is really fond of the children responds in the reasonable and long-ago-normal manner of being patient enough to let the child actually assist. A child so permitted then develops the idea that his presence and activity is desired and he quite calmly sets about a career of accomplishment.”
– L. Ron Hubbard
We heat our house with a woodstove. So a part of that, for us, involves that potentially-controversial act of instructing kids how to handle dangerous tools like axes, saws, hammers & drills. Yep, my beautiful daughter could lose a finger. But that’s where it’s up to my wife and I to make sure she respects the axe she’s holding, to make sure she understands where to put her body and how to swing it, but to also make sure we work her body enough with sports and outdoor activity so that she’s strong enough to get some meat into that swing.
I realize that every family has a different environment and a different set of circumstances they live in. Some kids grow up in a downtown high-rise, while others get to live on the farm. We’re somewhere in the middle. No matter what, though, I think it’s extremely important to set as an early parenting goal, the involvement of the kids in the family operation, and the enlistment of their contribution in whatever they can do that helps. They’re going to grow up and need to drive cars and cross busy streets and cut down stuff with chainsaws, so better to get them deeply in touch with their world sooner rather than later.