I let my kids run up the slides at the playground. No, not when another kid is coming down. But, if the slides are empty and they want to run up them, so be it.
And nope, I can't muster an apology to the mom who watched my boys incredulously and offered several looks my direction as if to say, "Aren't you going to stop their misbehavior?" I think God wired kids to run and and explore and I'm gonna encourage it.
I let my kids play in the dirt. Not always, like on Sundays, because I'm guessing their Sunday school teacher wouldn't appreciate the dirt their hands and shoes would track in. But I can almost guarantee that on any given Sunday they have a fist full of parking lot stones clinking in their nicely ironed khaki pants. It seems to me that kids learn best when they touch and feel.
So, to the bewildered mom at the nature preserve (of all places!), no, I can't ask my kids to stop playing in the mulch or the dirt even if you've asked your sweet Jonny to stay off his knees and keep his hands clean. Besides, chances are I'm sitting on the ground next to my kids helping to dig a hole or create an amazing race track for their cars. I lean toward thinking that the dirtier kids are the more fun they've had.
I let my kids cry when they get hurt - for maybe 10 minutes and then it's time to stop. You know, the kind of hurt from falling off a bike and scraping a knee. Or the kind of hurt from running with friends and somehow getting bumped or bonked. They can cry, but they can't wail. They'll get a hug and a kiss, a band aid if I've got one handy, and a tissue to wipe their tears. Then, it's time to shake it off and get back to it.
No, I'm not hardhearted, and yes, I care deeply about the physical hurts of my kids. But I know that life is full of ups and downs and that coddling them excessively actually hurts them instead of helping them. So, to the mom that I watched carry her four year old from place to place all afternoon long because of a scraped knee, I can't empathize with your tired arms. Or your tried patience. Or your frustration with trying to manage your other kids because your arms were full. Your little one has told you who is boss and you've agreed to it.
Have I lost some of you? Are you yelling Bible verses about compassion and love and grace at the screen? Relax. I love my kids and, for that matter, yours too.
I'm simply making the point, dramatic though it may be, that kids need room to play and explore and even get hurt. They need to know that it's okay to discover new ways of doing old things, that dirt under their fingernails will wash off (eventually), and that owies go away.
I'm sad for kids that can do little more than swing and play hopscotch at school because school rules say no games where someone might potentially in some way or another get hurt. I'm sad for kids that don't have boasting rights about climbing a tree or catching a toad, but instead only brag of reaching level 9,999 playing Super Mario.
I read an article recently about Steve Jobs that discussed his approach to learning and playing. For Jobs, they were really one and the same and he demonstrated how the freedom to play and explore and discover is what enabled his mind to think beyond the confines of textbooks and business-as-usual.
You can find the article here if you're interested in reading it. Otherwise, here are two paragraphs that I might copy and distribute to every mom I encounter that holds her kids back by demanding they stay clean and stop touching.