I don't think I've ever given as much thought to how my parents raised me more than I have been these days. It's not because I'm trying to test the waters myself anytime soon, but rather because A. and I are now regularly discussing parenting styles and the results of raising your child in a sheltered environment versus a more liberal approach. While he's a product and a complete supporter of "free-range" parenting, I grew up in a protective bubble made out of fear and the walls of our one-bedroom apartment in Uptown Manhattan.
Crazy thing is my parents were raised fairly free-range themselves. Sure they each had an incredibly strict parent, but you can't get more free-range than the campos of the Dominican Republic. They grew up on farms probably sharing a bed with the chickens they raised; they walked miles of dirt roads to get to school; hitched rides on the backs of motorcycles; muddied their clothes, played with dirt, pigs and sticks and climbed coconut trees for a snack; and they packed their mules with harvested produce to go sell on the city streets.
But us? Ha! It seems that once they came to New York City, the urban jungle scared the daylights out of them because my siblings and I were extremely overprotected by our mother. We couldn't go outside on our own because of the thugs that hung around the area. We were supposed to come right back home when school was done (though this didn't apply until I finally started commuting on my own in junior high). If the train was delayed, my friends and I would all line up at a pay phone, quarters in hand, to let our parents know we hadn't been kidnapped yet. Oh, and the rapists! It just so happened that there was always one "lurking" wherever we happened to be. For all my mother knows, there's probably one living next door to me now.
These parents have eyes everywhere, which is how they get you to be on your best behavior at all times. You just never know who could be watching you because in my culture, "it takes a village" is law. Other parents and friends, also known as pajaritos or "little birds," will check on you and snitch if you so much as think about stepping out of line. Growing up, Mom would freak me out with her "A little bird told me..." stories so much so that I thought the woman practiced black magic while I was off at school. And the news continue to come in to this day! Just last week she said, "Oh, so-and-so saw you walking around downtown with A. the other morning."
"What? Where? ...What were we doing?"
Needless to say, I grew up extremely sensitive, skittish and hesitant to rebel. Although you automatically gain street smarts just by living your whole life in the city, there's still this underlying fear that affects the things I do. I'm scared of being pushed into the train tracks. I still have nightmares about being kidnapped and raped. I'm constantly worried about pleasing others and making choices is oftentimes a nerve-wracking experience. I clearly remember Mom saying she'd never support my decision to go away for undergrad even though it was only an hour and a half drive away and feeling torn about my decision. (I did her one better when I chose a grad school four hours away - the same one I'd rejected for a much less prestigious one in undergrad because it was simply too far from home.) But even though I've gained some independence over the last several years, I'm still too dependent on my parents' presence. I find comfort in knowing that if I do need them, they're only 15 minutes away.
A. on the other hand was raised by liberal parents who gave him and his older sisters the freedom to do as they wished. Early on in our relationship, I couldn't get enough of his childhood stories. There were those about riding his bike God-knows-where and getting into all sorts of trouble; about spending hours at his friends' houses and his lax curfew. I admire his gutsy decision to leave Los Angeles for New York on a whim, without a job or an apartment secured. I would've been a wreck. Actually, that's not true; I would never put myself in that position to begin with. But I wish I had such adventures to tell and when we find ourselves dreaming about up and moving away from here, I also find myself hoping I'm brave enough to follow if and when that time comes.
But despite the short leash I was raised on and the consequences of that type of parenting, I don't know if I'm carefree enough to give my child the kind of freedom A. experienced. I'd be a bundle of nerves every single second wondering if they're hurt, if they're in trouble...if they've been kidnapped. My list of things I want to protect them from grows with each passing week: skateboards, roller blades, actually all things with wheels, pedophiles, night time, bullies, the Internet, Mom, but I know that I could never be everywhere at once and would only drive myself mad trying to do so. A. on the other hand is looking forward to the opportunity saying, "Expect injuries." How comforting.
How were you raised and how do you/ will you raise your children?