I'm Afraid to Let My Kids Roam

04/27/2015 08:18 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015
Rachel Toalson

I keep reading these crazy articles about parents getting warnings from Child Protective Services or other government entities for letting their kids walk home from the park by themselves, even though their oldest is 10.

And parents taking hits because they let their kids play outside without constant supervision.

And cops stepping in because, God forbid, a mom let her kid ride his bike down a road another "concerned" parent thought was too busy.

Sometimes I envy my mother for the parenting age of yesterday, for the freedom parents had back when I was a kid.

My mom let her kids roam. Actually, that might be an understatement for today's roaming standards.

Not too long ago, my boys and my husband and I visited some of my childhood places, because I thought it would be fun for them (they complained the whole time).

My family lived in this one house on a pretty major road, across the street from some train tracks where we used to play for fun when I was a third-grader.

A little more than half a mile down this road was an old gas station that sold bubble gum for 10 cents.

My mom used to let my brother (10), my sister (6) and me (9) walk to that store, because we would pester her so effectively she would just yell, "Go!" at our backsides already racing out the door.

Do you know what we had to cross to get to the store? A HIGHWAY.

By ourselves.

All alone.

At 10, 9 and 6, in case you didn't catch that.

There was no crosswalk, no blinking lights, no stop sign. There was no adult standing in the middle of the street waving a fluorescent orange flag and blowing a whistle to stop traffic. There was only an open road, a 50 mph speed limit and three kids racing across when they judged it was safe.

Now. I know what we all say -- that the world is a much different place than it used to be, and I hate that old, "I did it and I'm just fine" argument just as much as the next person, but really. Has the danger of crossing a highway changed all that much?

It was, after all, the same highway where I remember watching my dog Chance spin in 15 circles when a car slammed into him as we were all crossing to check the mail.

My mom taught us the dangers, and then she trusted us to navigate them.

We're not so great at trusting our kids anymore.

I know. When I think of my oldest boy, who will be a third grader next year, walking his brothers (a first grader and a kindergartener) the three blocks home from school, I shake a little inside. What if he forgets to pick them up? What if he gets mad at them and leaves them behind? What if they forget to look both ways when they're crossing streets? They have to cross three of them, for God's sake, and what if the drivers are going too fast or staring at their phones instead of the street?

I can talk myself out of that freedom so easily. Because I love my children so much.

But I also love them enough to let them try.

If we never let our children try, how will they ever know the excitement of having this self-management responsibility? How will they ever experience those rites of passage that come with turning another year older? How will they learn to navigate the dangers in the world on their own?

Maybe I'm naïve about it, but I don't think the world at large has changed so much as the world of parenting has. My mother used to let us walk on a busy road without a shoulder or a sidewalk and cross a semi-busy highway because she knew all the other mothers who lived on the street. She knew they would watch out for her kids in the same way she would watch out for theirs when they rode their bikes down the same road on their way to the elementary school playground. To play -- by themselves -- on merry-go-rounds and unpadded seesaws and metal slides that scorched the backs of your legs when the sun was out and ripped off your skin when you were wearing shorts.

If we are so concerned for the safety of other people's children, maybe instead of calling the cops on a child's parents, because we don't agree with the way the child gets to roam in this dangerous world (There are predators! There are bullies! There are drivers! Predators, bullies and drivers, oh my!), we could just step in as extra eyes.

What this might look like is standing outside our home when the school bell rings, watching that wave of children walk past so we'd see anything suspicious, getting to know those children, asking them if they feel okay about walking alone. If they're feeling scared today. Whether they would like some company for part of the way.

The other day, I was driving my two schoolboys home because it was raining, and I saw a boy on the ground and another one punching him in the belly.

"Hang on," I told my boys, and I slammed on the brakes and jumped out of the car into the pouring down rain to investigate what looked like a pretty serious fight.

Turns out they were just two boys horsing around, and they carried on their walking way, probably laughing about another mom freaking out about nothing.

Do you know what didn't even cross my mind to do?

Call the cops on the parents who let them walk home by themselves.

That would have been ridiculous. Parents know their own kids, right? Maybe we should just LET THEM PARENT.

I don't want to be afraid to let my kids explore the world around them because some "concerned" person might make a call and Child Protective Services suddenly shows up at my door. I want to give them freedom to play and wonder and discover and, through it all, learn that they are capable of making their way in this scary, but mostly safe, world.

We need to reject this culture of fear that is so pervasively damaging (and unnecessary). We need to find our courage. We need to trust each other again.

Most of all, we need to mind our own damn business.

Now that I got that off my chest, it's time to send my boys out the back door and lock it.

A mama needs her break, after all.

This article originally appeared on Crash Test Parents. Find Rachel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.