Offloading Your Kids, Early and Often

June 14, 2010 by cloften  
Filed under Family and Parenting

We met my parents at Fergusons restaurant near Marshall for lunch on Saturday.  They then took our girls back to Branson for a few days.  It’s been about 36 hours now and this is when I really start to miss them.  They say they miss me, but water slides and roller coasters tend to make my girls forget that they even have parents.  I digress, as always.   We have done this a lot over the last 12 years, not the meet at Fergusons, but the offloading of kids to grandparents for days of eating bad, partying hard, and sleeping rarely.

Being at Fergusons reminded me of one of the first times that we did this.  Maylee was 2 and Lauren was still internally attached to her mom.  We met my folks there and we had not told Maylee that she was leaving with Mimi and Rowr (my parents).  She had spent the night with them before and been fine, but we didn’t know how she would react to know in advance, so we said nothing.  After lunch (It might have been a late breakfast.  Does that even matter?), we walk outside.  Maylee gets ahead of all of us, opens Mimi’s car, sits in the back middle seat, buckles herself with the lap belt and then doesn’t make eye contact with anyone.  We all start laughing.  She has this look on her face that says, “I don’t know what you think the plans are, but I am going wherever the people in this car are going.”  Lucky for us, that was the plan.

From the time both of our children were little, they have had no anxiety about spending the night or a week with either sets of grandparents, other family friends, going to camp, whatever.  They both are very adventurous and brave.  A summary of your likely reactions :

1) “You evil ogre of a father.  You left your kids with other people over night at age 2?  You should be ashamed”  It’s worse than that.  They were both 15 months when we first did that, as soon as they were no longer externally attached to their mom (We’re all adults here, right?).

2) “I’m so jealous.  I can’t get my spouse to agree to stuff like that.”

3) “You are so lucky.  My kids would never do something like that.”

I have heard all three of those reactions.  People have said, in one form or another, all of that to me.  Here is what I believe–whether or not spending the night away from parents is scary to a kid is almost exclusively a function of the parents’ attitudes.  Little kids think that anything that is new is scary.  Anything that is different is scary.  Anything that is unknown is scary.  It is our job to tell them what is our is not scary. (I have talked about this before, with regard to speaking to adults and roller coasters.  See here.) 

Be honest, it is you that are scared to leave your kids with family for a couple of days.  It is you that gets nervous when you drop your kid off at their class at church.  Right?  “No Cloften, you big judgmental jerk.  You should see how scared they get when I drop them off.”  Of course they do, they are feeding off of you.  You tell them that they are going to have fun, that you love them and walk away.  Then, they have fun and are significantly less anxious the next time.  Hopefully you will be too.

Now I know that even the most confident of kids will go through some separation anxiety.  Some day I will tell you about the time when toddler Lauren literally tore down the walls in her class (It was a make-shift hallroom class made of temporary walls.)  You know what fixed it?  Consistently dropping her off with no drama from us, never going to “check on her” (which translated means, calming my own nervous heart), and lots and lots of Teddy Grahams.

In what I want for my girls, closely behind passionate love for God, respect and kindness, is confidence.  I want my girls to believe that they can go through life, depending on God and believing confidently that they can be and do whatever it is that God has called them to be.  I never want their fear and insecurity to hold them back.

There are some things that are scary.  Snakes–scary.  Dudes in trenchcoats with candy–scary.  Life–not so much.

Two Things Loftens Cannot Fear Part 2

If you missed Part one, check it out here.  The first thing that a Loften cannot fear is talking to adults–ordering food, asking for refills, introducing themselves, etc.  The second, I’m guessing will shock you and maybe make you smile.

The second thing that Loftens are never afraid of is a little less (or a lot less) intuitive.  We are not scared of rides and roller coasters.  That’s right.  The rule is this:  once you are tall enough to ride it, you ride it, at least once.  My guess is that some of you are looking up the numbers for child endangerment services right now.  How could you do such a thing? Well, just like I said in part 1, I put my girls in situations that can be scary but not dangerous.  We are not cliff-diving or swimming with crocodiles.  These rides are safer than riding in the car.

What can the justification for this be?  Do you like watching kids scream? Are you just looking for someone to ride with when your wife won’t?  Are you just mean?  We do this, because the fear of the unknown is not OK.  How much adventure and fun is lost when we are too scared to try?  How often are we intimidated by something that is uncertain and so we stay safe?  A new job, a new opportunity, a new friendship, a new adventure, an awesome roller coaster that goes upside-down and shakes you around at high speeds.

Once you have tried the ride once, you may then choose to not ride it again.  You can decide that you didn’t enjoy it and you don’t want to do it again.  That’s fine.  You cannot however choose to not do something because of an irrational belief that it is unsafe (That sentence was a triple negative, but it seems grammatically ok).  Their Dad that they trust tells them what is safe.  They trust me, not their fears.  I am with them and we face the rides together, the whole time their dad telling them, you are going to love this.

What have we learned.  We have learned that we all love, I mean LOVE roller coasters.  The faster the better, the more upside down the better, backwards, forwards, sitting, suspension, all kinds.  They cannot get enough of them.

Pre ride: Dad: “You are going to love this.”  Daughter: “No, it’s scary.”  Dad: “No it’s not.  You will love it.”

Post ride: Dad: “I was right again, wasn’t I?”  Daughter: “Yes, Dad.  Can we ride it again?”

We’ve also learned that they are not as big of fans of the freefall rides, the ones that pull you straight up and drop you straight down.  Even with that though, I made Maylee ride Tower of Terror again at Disney Hollywood Studios the next time we went to Walt Disney World, even though she didn’t enjoy it the last trip.  Post trip, favorite ride? Tower of Terror.

Fear of the unknown grips us.  We strive for security.  I want my girls to find it in the relational trust that they have in their Dad.  Somehow I wonder if we are stil talking about parenting.  Wouldn’t we do well to face the world not with fear, but relational trust in a Father that loves us and is always with us?

Watch out World, the Loften girls are not scared of you.

We always know where the cameras are. . . always.

We always know where the cameras are. . . always.

They look absolutely miserable, don't they?

They look absolutely miserable, don't they?

2 Things Loftens Cannot Fear Part 1

At first you may think that this is a joke, but you can ask either of my girls what the two things are that we cannot be afraid of as Loftens and they will both tell you the same thing.

The first is that we cannot be afraid to talk to people.  This includes new people that we meet, it includes waitresses, essentially everyone.  For example, we are at a fast food restaurant and we are sitting down at the table with our food.  One of the girls may ask, “Dad can I have some ranch?’  I tell them, “sure” and then I look toward the counter.  They then go to the counter themselves and ask the people themselves and get their own ranch.  You may wonder when I started doing this.  They started ordering for themselves as soon as they could formulate sentences and they have been going to the counter by themselves way earlier than many of you would think is safe.

You may think that I am (at least was) putting my girls into scary situations, and I should (or at least should have) gotten stuff for them, ordered for them, etc.  First, you are right.  This is a scary situation for a little kid.  However, there is a difference between a scary situation and a dangerous one.  I have never put them in danger, but they have been scared.  Why is it important to me that they do this?  First, our lives/my job thrusts my girls into situations all the time where they are meeting new people.  We’ve told them we never go to stranger’s house, we are meeting new friends.  But even if I weren’t a pastor, what better life skill is there than the ability to confidently talk to people, especially people that you might naturally be intimidated by?  There aren’t many.  I’ve said this before, but I want our girls to be confident and want them to have hearts to love and engage with people.  God has called us to love others like we love ourselves and fear will not be what holds a Loften back.

(Stay tuned for Part 2, the second thing we cannot fear.  You won’t believe it.)