Playgrounds Are Too Safe? Where? Sign Me Up for a Playdate There!

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Newsflash: Playgrounds are too safe. If you're taking your children to one of these un-imaginative, un-inspiring, un-risky, un-challenging playgrounds, you are short-changing your child of a productive future. They won't know how to take life risks or how to succeed at a challenging goal if they don't have real monkey bars. Just another thing to worry about according to a recent article in the New York Times. Swell, right?

Of course, I want to know where these too-safe playgrounds are and I want to build a house in the middle of it. I want to live there. I want to throw a party in honor of this majestic place of safety. I want to tie balloons on safe slides and ladders. I want to climb to the not-too-high heights of the tallest thing on that playground and scream through a microphone, "I LOVE THIS PLAYGROUND!"

That's right: I love safe playgrounds. I love knowing that my children aren't risking their lives by playing on any given playground toy. I like foamy grounds for if they fall. I like a lack of splinters.

This all stems from the fact that I have been repeatedly berated over the past nearly six years of my everyday parenting experience for the woe-begotten "Helicopter Parenting." Due to relinquishing my firstborn at birth under the belief that I wasn't good enough to parent her, I had an overwhelming need to be The Best Parent, and that involved making sure my parented children weren't injured on my watch. I have worked through some (not all) of that in therapy and have forced myself to sit down while they're at the playground. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I do a little work. But I sit. And I know I can sit because we go to safe playgrounds during low-traffic hours. If we're in a new place or if a lot of kids are at the playground, I can't sit. I try not to hover, but I have to move where they move.

Currently, we're away at camp. There's a wonderful wooden playset in the square where all the kids play when they're not sidewalk chalking or in a fun class or eating lots of food. I hate that playset. I didn't hate it before I had kids. But now? I see it wobble when kids swing. I think the slide is too high. I wish the bigger kids wouldn't play on it when the younger kids were trying to maneuver the slide. But I sit. I stare. I wish. I hope. I pray that they won't fall. Or trip. Or break something. Or that the whole thing won't tip the heck over. And I'm glad they're climbing and learning and making friends over the wobbly playset. But, oh man. I worry.

And, yes, I get it. I do. Allowing our children the room to explore, try new things, take risks and accept challenges teaches them great life skills. I'm all for great life skills. Really, I am. I'm also interested in my children having a safe place to play. Without me in their face.

I get so many mixed messages for how I am supposed to be parenting my children. I'm supposed to be encouraging these risks and challenges. The message here: Ditch the safe playground. Noted. I'm not supposed to be a helicopter mom. The message here: Life happens and kids will get hurt occasionally, but it will be okay. Noted. But don't read a book or look at your smartphone while you're at the playground, because if you do, you were a neglectful mother. The message here: You can't win. Noted.

So can someone tell me what I'm supposed to be doing here? And how I'm supposed to parent? Because I thought I was figuring it out on my own, finding a balance that worked for my family and generally flubbing my way through this parenting gig. But it seems, as with everything, I'm doing it wrong.

Are you doing it wrong, too?

Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.


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