I don’t want the kids afraid to play … a life lesson in permissive parenting

As parents and children engage each other in new and potentially rewarding ways, one hears so many stories from newly formed “schools” in every home that one could run a regular column on the anecdotes from parents who have now assumed the role of parent, principal and professor all in one.

One “school principal” reported having two students; one is in time-out and the principal is actively seeking an emergency transfer for the other.

Another posted her “school” is interviewing for a new lunch lady.

Reportedly, half-day-Fridays are spontaneously popping up in school homes across the state and cleaning your room is now a part of the curriculum.

The principal and superintendent of my grandchildren’s school reports lots of time spent reading with a heavy emphasis on playtime.

Kid breaks window. Kid pays for window. Lesson is learned.

Play.

There’s so much to be learned in play. Unstructured, ever-so-lightly supervised, non-electronically enhanced, outdoor (preferred) play. It’s where creativity emerges and thrives; where children learn social interactions and rules of a society.

Play was a big deal in my children’s lives. 90th street at Slide Road is a cul-de-sac ideal for all kinds of base and tag games with plenty of kids to make two teams.

There were lots of good dads on that block and while it would be a disservice to all to rank any, perhaps the gentlest was Sami. He was a bit older than the rest of the dads and more inclined to the kind of permissive parenting you’d expect from a grandparent. I don’t recall him ever raising his voice with his child, or any of the others.

The kids were playing soccer in Sami’s yard one afternoon when one of mine launched a kick right through the kitchen window and came home and reported it that evening.

“I don’t want the kids afraid to play,” Sami said quietly.

Now the philosophy at our house was if money can fix it then it’s really not broken and this was no different. No one was in trouble, but you owned your responsibilities and paid for the repair.

Kid breaks window. Kid pays for window. Lesson is learned and the order of the universe is restored. This is how we do things at the Mann house.

How else would any responsible parent act, right?

However when I talked to Sami, that’s not how he saw it. He refused to tell me the cost of the window.

“But,” I argued, “my homeowners insurance will pay for it and it won’t cost me a dime if you’ll just tell me how much.”

“No,” Sami said.

“Why?” What possibly could motivate a man to spend money he didn’t have to?

“I don’t want the kids afraid to play,” Sami said quietly.

Even in the moment, I was struck with the simple profundity of what amounted to Sami’s parenting mission statement.

More important to Sami than teaching children life lessons at every turn was allowing the kids to play without fear. And, perhaps he thought I needed a life lesson myself; Sami is smart like that. He gave me something to think about that I’ve grown to value more than longer I reflect on it.

Do we think children are ignorant to their parents turning their games into adult status competitions?

Play.

It’s what kids do better than us, if we get out of the way.

For me, playing without fear was an old elm tree and knowing anything in the woodpile behind the shop was mine. That tree and woodpile became the source of endless building projects and adventures for years. I wasn’t particularly interested in adult assistance even for the most challenging building tasks.

In fact, kids really don’t need our help to play. They can play soccer, baseball and even football without us. Treehouses, ball games and boy-carried-bottle-rocket launchers all spring from the imaginations of kids left to play by themselves.

Indeed, if we’ve learned anything at the intersection of parents with children’s sports, it’s that once parents inject themselves into child’s play, the potential for negative life lessons is just as great as it is for positive ones.

It seems once adults get involved it becomes more about the games the parents are playing than the one the children signed up for. Or do we naively think children are ignorant to their parents turning children’s games into adult status competitions? They are neither ignorant of it nor immune to it.

How did a child reared with that kind of permissive parenting turn out?

So, you may ask, how did a child reared with that kind of permissive parenting turn out?

You can judge for yourself. He’s independent and hard working. Loves and respects his dad. The kid who was encouraged to play without fear is now a nearly 40-year-old man who is buying his father’s restaurant.

I caught Sami unloading supplies. George’s Restaurant on 82nd street is open for carry-out business.
I caught Sami unloading supplies. George’s Restaurant on 82nd street is open for curbside service.

Did I mention Michael is outspoken? Growing up without fear will do that to you. He never hesitates to respectfully criticize my articles, in fact, it was Michael’s Facebook comment, “you should have listened to my dad more,” that made me think of Sami and what I learned from him.

And, as you might have guessed, the “kid” ain’t afraid.

 

Editor’s note: George’s Restaurant is open for curbside service at 6914 82nd Street in Lubbock.