When I was a kid my parents often sent me and my brother to the store to buy cigarettes. Nobody thought they were bad parents. Now, all of them who haven’t died, have quit smoking and they’d poop their pants if anyone sent their grandkids to the store for milk and cookies.
My great-grandfather would sometimes want to stop at a bar* when he was out with his children. Women didn’t often go to bars in those days and certainly little girls didn’t, so he’d leave them on the front step and bring bags of potato chips out to them or give them a couple of nickels for ice cream.
This was not a scary thing for my grandmother any more than going to the store was for me. We knew the neighborhood, we knew the neighbors. More importantly, the neighbors knew us. The man at the Superette knew me and my parents and he knew they smoked Benson & Hedges and Virginia Slims. If I had tried to buy Camel or Lucky Strike, I would have had a problem.
Some people say that kids don’t have enough freedom these days and that parents hover like helicopters. Maybe that’s true. But I’ve noticed that a lot of what might have been called “freedom” was borne out of parental laziness, or sometimes parental need, rather than a philosophical belief in a child’s need for independence.
I’ve heard that, statistically, crimes against children are fewer now than they were when I was a child. But maybe that’s because we don’t send them out alone to buy cigarettes. What do I know – I haven’t read the studies.
So, do I say “our parents did it and we turned out of OK” as if turning out OK is any thing to brag about? Do I say that kids aren’t missing out on some wonderful things that can only come from navigating their little worlds without adult interference? The truth is I straddle this line and pick my way through one step at a time just like generations of parents before me. And I hope I’m doing right.
Luckily I don’t smoke.
*Apparently, Neir’s is having something of a renaissance these days.