Growing up my mother, Beatrize, was a huge helicopter parent — years before the term was coined. As a kid, I hated it. Beyond embarrassed by her overzealous security measures, I was sure a second career in law enforcement was in her future.
Now a mum myself, I am a chip off the old block, which — as a mother to a high energy child — this has served me well especially when it comes to keeping him safe. When he was somewhere between toddler and little kid, my heart rate would jump every 20 seconds when we were outside. He would try to slip out an open gate, run into a dark public restroom or onto a field during a softball game. And footpath restaurants? Big mistake.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to be that chill mum who can chat it up at the park with the other mums, but my boy has other plans. I’ve had no choice but to kick it into Beatrize mode and be aware of how best to keep this child safe. I know there are other parents out there who are more relaxed, but not me. Hey, am I a helicopter mom? Perhaps. This is how I see it: He is my gold and like any treasure I want it safe and near me regardless of how one might label me.
So I am my mother’s daughter after all. My son can roll his eyes and sigh all he wants, but the rules come out as soon as we hit the outside world . And it’s working. He thinks twice before breaking any rules. That’s all I ask for. And as I apply my mother’s lessons to my own family, I have no problem passing the helicopter gene to my little man.
Here are 5 of my rules for outdoor safety.
1. Strangers look like me. I try not to portray strangers as the boogie man or a person dressed a certain way. I tell my son that a stranger can look like me, meaning they can look a normal person. At at an early age my son, who watched some TV, knew that witches and goblins were scary and bad. After I have heard my son describing strangers in this manner, I told him a witch looks like a witch, a stranger looks like anyone.
2. Review with your child the list of people allowed to pick him up. My husband and I constantly go over this list — it’s tight and we rarely add anyone. This is the same crew my son has been with since birth, give or take a babysitter or two. As he is grows older and forms friendships, we have started to add a few parents from his little network.
3. Be part of a community. Your fellow group of parents is essential for supporting you as a mother but also for having your back. My mum friends, who have been my rock since I am a working mum, know my son is all over the place and make sure to keep an extra eye on him. If we are all at the park, we keep track of each other’s kids. We do head counts and shout out names between all our gossip and sips of lattes. If you haven’t connected with other mums, don’t fret — it really didn’t happen for me until my son started school. Yahoo groups, Meetup.com and asking at your favourite mum stores are also good ways to find local mum support.
4. Really trust your gut. Last September we hired a babysitter at the beginning of my son’s first year at school. Despite great interviews and references, after we hired her I felt this twinge of worry that I dismissed as being a nervous mother. My son, who always loved our past sitters, begged me to not have her pick him up. Again, I figured that this had to do with his first year at a school and not being with me. I finally asked some of my stay-at-home-mom friends to let me know how the sitter was watching my son. The report back was horrible: total disregard for my rules, always on the phone, not properly watching him and so on. I let her go immediately. I was so upset for not listening to my son — and myself. This was a huge lesson for me on trusting my intuition as well as how I choose to parent. I now constantly text the sitter a reminder of what I need from them when they are watching my child.
5. Dress them up. No, I do not mean dresses and bows, although that is awfully pretty. If you want to keep an eye on your children put them in at least one bright colour. There is a reason we see the kids in summer camp wearing the same t-shirts that are usually bright and best to keep an eye on them. I started adding bright clothes in my son’s wardrobe after one day at the park when I was emailing work on my phone (guilty!) and lost track of him. This happen in less then a minute. For a good 45 seconds I could not breath as I searched him out. He easily blended into the city landscape with his dark clothes, so since that day he has worn one brightly coloured item. And it works. Not a week passes without a fellow mum mentioning how easy it is to keep track of him in the park — and now they too have added a outstanding shoe or backpack into their child’s wardrobe.
*This post is sponsored by American Family Insurance.