When the street lights come on

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(My thoughts and ramblings after reading an article posted in The Atlantic on March 19, 2014 entitled, “The Overprotected Kid” by Hanna Rosin)

Like most parents my age, I have memories of childhood so different from the way my children are growing up that sometimes I think I might be making them up, or at least exaggerating them. ~ Hanna Rosin

Kumquat Avenue.  A street that has a whole lot more meaning than a place I used to live.  You see, Kumquat Ave. represented everything to us as children.  For the four Stevens’ kids it was paradise.  There were friends for all of us.  Houses to play at.  A myriad of toys and games to be played.  Tree houses.  Swimming pools.  Bikes.  Skateboards.  Trick or Treating.  Football.  Ice Cream Man.  We had an amazing neighborhood that we will cherish for the rest of our lives.  Even the house we lived in, although nothing special about it, has left an indelible memory for each of us; birthdays, holidays, family gatherings, Easter egg hunts, pets, and the rust-infected swing set.  Growing up in this neighborhood during the 1980s has played a part in who I am today.

To my recollection, my parents let us “run wild”.  I honestly don’t remember any of the lectures about stranger-danger or safety. But here is what I do recall.  I looked both ways before I crossed the street.  I only went where I was supposed to go, and if I didn’t, there would definitely be a conversation about it after the wood paddle found its way across my bum.  Most of all, I always came home when the street lights came on.  I can even specifically remember standing under the light across the street from our house, looking up, waiting for it to come on.  Even though I was done playing and could have trotted home an hour earlier, I didn’t.  I loved being outside!  Then, there was also the time I tried to throw a baseball at the light in an effort to break it so I could stay out later.  Child logic at it’s best.

The cost of “freedom”

A friend of our family left his skateboard at our house.  I wanted to ride that board so bad!  But my dad specifically told me not to.  But guess what?  My dad was at work.  So I took the skateboard and rode it down the street.  Of course, at this time in my life, I had no concept of time and didn’t realize that my dad would be coming home soon.  As I headed back to the house, guess who pulled around the corner and was headed home at the exact same time?  There were not a whole lot of words that came from the car that day.  Only the look that a father can give to his son who just broke the rules and would meet him upstairs with paddle in hand.  That had to have been thee longest skateboard ride home, and the walk up to my bedroom was even longer.

It was late at night, and we were given special permission to play outside with our friends.  Our parents were having a bible study at the house.  So we went around the corner to a friend’s street and became engaged in ruckus game of “ghosts in the graveyard”.  I really don’t remember the rules to the game, but it involved a lot of hiding and running.  I was hiding behind a car so as not to be caught by my friend.  Thinking I was in the clear, I bolted out from behind the car.  In an instant, I found myself on the ground bleeding.  I don’t remember it, but I ran head first in to my friends head.  The only thing I remember is grasping my forehead and seeing a lot of blood in my hands.  Oh, and something to the effect of “I don’t want to ride in an ambulance.”  My parents had to come get me and take me to the hospital for stitches.

But here’s the point I’m trying to make.  The freedom we had as children to run and play outside of the vision and earshot of my parents was, and is, cherished.  Not because we were doing anything possible to get away from mom and dad, but because we were children.  My parents understood that we could be trusted in our urban jungle.  If we broke those rules, we lost that trust, had to earn it back, and would learn that there are consequences to breaking the “rules of nature” (often times, those were worth more than a lecture, grounding, or spanking).  That is what my parents instilled in me during those formative years.  Thinking back, I was blocks away, in a friend’s house, and I don’t believe my parents really knew the people.  He was another kid from the block who I liked to play baseball with.  In fact, we had some of the greatest rounds of indoor baseball ever!  I won plenty of home run derbies in his living room.  However, he had his house rules as well.  If he didn’t vacuum the carpet after we were done, his mom wouldn’t let me come over and play.  There are rules that govern every household.  Whether I agreed with them or not, they were the rules, and they were NOT to be broken.

I remember the days of running from house to house, up and down the block, riding bikes across town, and my parents simply said, “Be careful” and “Come home when the street lights come on.”  I received my bumps, bruises, and occasional stitches, but I learned from each and every occurrence.  Now that I have my own children, I think very differently.  Am I at the point of allowing my kids the same freedom my parents gave to me?  As much as I want to say “yes”, I don’t think I’m ready for that.  I longingly desire the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ days.  But I’m afraid those don’t exist anymore.  We lived our version of ‘Happy Days’ and ‘The Wonder Years’, and I’m sure my kids will live out their own television series.

Loosening the grip

Society is much different from when I grew up.  We didn’t have cell phones and Facebook.  We had the street lights and my dad’s definitive whistle.  Kids are inundated with a whole lot more information than I was.  And then again, so are parents.  My kids are currently at the age when I started to branch off and experienced “life”.  Yet, I have a tremendous amount of hesitation in letting them go off and explore.  We all need to find our limits on our child’s freedom. We must allow them to experience life free from the clutches of mom and dad. They need to be allowed to fall down, get hurt, and experience the pain, and joy, of free play.

There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. ~ Hanna Rosin

I’m learning to let the “leash” go further and further. Its something we all have to do. Our children belong to the Lord, period. We need to understand that their lives are in His hands, not our own. Our God has created a specific story, plan, and will for each of their lives, just like He did for us.  I can say this, and I can even believe it.  Yet the human instinct as “protective daddy” kicks in to high gear when my children are out of my eyesight.  My heart beats faster.  My anxiety shoots through the roof.  I will stand before you now and say that I get legitimately afraid.

I took my daughter to a high school football game one night.  She saw some of her friends and wanted to go play.  As my knuckles turned white in clenching the bleachers beneath me, I said “Go for it baby-girl.  Just be sure to check in with me every so often, okay?”  She responded, “Yes daddy.  I’ll come right back here to see you.”  And off she ran.  Now the coach in me got involved it the game and didn’t realize about 20 minutes had passed.  My girl hadn’t come back to check in.  So I walked over to where they were playing, and she was no where in sight.  My heart dropped.  I checked the restrooms, snack bar, and everywhere else I could think of.  My heart sank even deeper.  So I decided to head back to my seat, in the hope that we just passed each other.  Wouldn’t you know it, there she was.  Exactly as I instructed her.  However, she was crying.  She was scared that I had left without her.  Through her tears, she ran up and hugged me and said, “I did what you told me daddy.  I came back to where you were sitting.”  In those few moments, thinking the worst, my daughter had done exactly what her father instructed her to do.

Parenting is no easy task.  It’s nerve-racking.  We’ve been given the responsibility by the Lord to raise our children in a way that honors Him.  Proverbs 22:6 makes this clear.  Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  

This proverb clearly does not state a Scriptural promise. Rather, the revelation of Scripture elsewhere is that God allows people to make their own decisions. He does not force them to do what is right (Ezekiel 18:20). This includes children as they grow up. ~ Dr. Thomas Constable

But here’s the stinger.  We, as parents, need to allow them to walk on their own.  We need to let them experience the things that this world has to offer.  Sometimes they will succeed. Sometimes they will fail.  Like your baby learning to walk.  They will fall down, and sometimes it hurts.  But we need to let them fall.  In part, it shows them that we are close by and will be there to help them get back on their feet.

The freedom that comes with “loosening the leash” is a scary concept for parents.  It means we have to let go.  It means that we lose some of the control that we once held close to the hip.  It means that our children, our babies, are growing up and are becoming the people who God intended.  Their story has been shaped by God’s will.  Whether they follow His will all their life, that’s up to them.  We just have to make sure that we are allowing them the freedom to do so.  My children are 5, 7, and 9.  The length of the leash is very much in my grasp at this point in their lives.  Yet, there will come a time when I’ll have to completely let go and that frightens me.  Yet, the most important thing I can do for them is teach them God’s Word and pray with and for them every day.  Then one day, I can look at my children and state with all certainty, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4).

No amount of human sacrifice or toil can accomplish much unless God’s blessing is upon His people. ~ Warren Wiersbe

Rak Chazak Mighty Parents!  God bless you!

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4 thoughts on “When the street lights come on

  1. Laing Stevens says:

    Thank you for those words of encouragement. It may surprise you somewhat; but I too was terrified to let slack out of the rope. Remember the story of the “boxes of responsibility!” Your Mom and I were going through those boxes with you. The “paddle.” I’m afraid that is from a bygone era. The paddle hangs up somewhere in the house as a relic from those “Leave it To Beaver” days. There were times that I came on stronger than I might have needed to. But if I was going to make a mistake, it was going to be on the side of over-discipline rather than the opposite.

    I felt that if there was no doubt in your minds that I and your Mother loved you, it would turn out alright. Certainly mistakes were made. And we regret them as we look back now. When we first began teaching and training you kids to be do your Christian ‘duties’ eventually they would turn into good habits. Our go-to guy was Dr. Spock at first. We thank the Lord almost everyday that His Holy Spirit got us and you through those days. Then, Dr. Dobson came on the scene and gave us insight as to raising children through his many books and tapes. That’s the most reading I had done since college; and maybe more. We thoroughly enjoyed the Kumquat days and watching you kids develop into adolescence. Each of you took the challenge to “step up” from children to adolescence in your own time. Praise the Lord!
    I am so proud of you and how you turned out and are turning out. I love you and your family, as I do all our children. And I can tell you quite honestly, we also, like the Apostle John, have no greater joy to hear (and be able to see) our children teach their children to walk in truth. Thank you for turning out the way you did despite our many mistakes.

    The Pilgram’s Way neighborhood was quite interesting because that’s when you all were the adolescent stage. Be prepared – it is a kick!

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    • Cameron Stevens says:

      You coming on stronger than maybe you should have is absolutely nothing to be sorry for. Your discipline, wisdom, and leadership in the home has shaped me in to who I am today. You have shaped me in how I discipline and love my children. You are my role model. You are my hero. I love you Dad!

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  2. cares says:

    Learning to let go is tough. Reminding myself constantly that God loves my children more than I ever could gives me confidence in loosening the leash.
    ps, I remember that night you slammed into someone playing Ghosts in the Graveyard! Your glasses were shoved into your eyebrows. Chilling. I was present for most of your stitches stories… The worst was when you lost the fight with the boat. You taught me not to be squirmish around blood, thanks Bro.

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