While waiting for our flight at Munich airport, we and lots of other passengers became unwilling witnesses to a very disturbing scene. A family with two little girls dressed in identical cute dresses were also waiting for boarding. The elder girl kept close to her parents, but the smaller one ran around merrily, with her mother keeping a loose eye on her. The child paid no heed to her parents’s occasional calls for order. Yes, we all know it only takes a second: the mother called, and there was no answer. She rushed all over calling desperately, louder and louder, sobbing, for some fifteen minutes. All the passengers reacted, glancing in various directions nervously. The passageways, the gates, the stairs, the lift, and the unmentionables… Then the woman appeared, her face ravaged, carrying the little girl who was also sobbing. The young sister ran to them, clearly shaken. The father kept his cool.
This episode reminded me of many similar ones unfortunately, and I also thought of another side to the story. When my own first child was a toddler, I would run after her at a playground and in a park; I would always hold her hand firmly in mine when going anywhere. Above all else, I taught all my kids this one valuable rule: when we are outside and I call you, do not shout back, “What?” Just run to my side at once. The slides, the swings, the carousel, the sandpit all presuppose your child being at a small distance from you. They are usually oblivious to everything around them when they are playing, but you are not. If something, anything feels off, be sure they are close enough for you to grab their hand.
My own mother used to tell me that she was nicknamed Mother Hen when we were small kids and she was a young mother. “You are definitely a Mother Hen!” A grandmother laughed at me at a playground. “My little grandson is so independent, and he is only four. It’s OK if he strays away for a few minutes, he’ll come back”. But the day came when the little boy disappeared. After a couple hours of fruitless searching grandmother was taken to a hospital with a heart attack, and the frantic parents continued with the search parties. In the evening somebody rushed outside shouting: the local news were running a picture of a small boy who was in a state of shock and could not even talk. Apparently he escaped the playground, got onto a bus and went all the way to the end of its route. Luckily he was picked up by police. Unbelievably, in a few days time his mother shouted at me, “Mother Hen!” I politely inquired if her son was out of shock and if her mother was feeling better.
In New York, a friend kept telling me there was no need for us to run after the kids all the time, they’d be fine. A homeless man sitting on a bench nearby stroked the little girl’s cheek when she stopped and stared, smiled and mumbled something unpleasant about her future. One day the girl ran too far away; for a few minutes her pregnant mother couldn’t find her. And she shouted her daughter’s name frantically, sobbing. I thought she would give birth prematurely.
Yes, the list is long, these cases happen anywhere, and not all of them have a happy ending. For how long must one remain Mother Hen, and won’t this constant vigilance result in the children lacking the sense of independence? You walk your children to and from school until you are sure they know the route well and they can recite all the safety rules. When they are teenagers, you can sensibly discuss any situation with them. If a teen girl does not feel confident that she can get home by herself in the dark, it is better to meet her after a party or a late extra-curricular activity. “It is so good you are meeting your kids even now, when they are practically adults! I shake inside each time my daughters come home very late”, a woman confided. Why didn’t she meet them, or arrange that her husband met them? “But it means that we have to get dressed, get out and miss our favorite show! ” was the astounding reply. For me, there is never a problem. Either you shake inside imagining all the horrors or you get dressed, get out and miss that show. But you never miss the kids.
The children tend to grow almost daily. They learn from you about the good and the bad things, and they know when to be vigilant and when they can relax. Gradually you teach them how to be independent, what to do in which situation, how to react to dangers. You do not need to give them long lectures, they learn better through you. You are out late at some event, so the father goes out to meet you. They imbibe the family tradition early in life. A long time ago I read this wise phrase: you have children to let them go. Once my own children reached the stage at which they could understand the sense of this wisdom, I discussed it with them. Follow your dream!
According to the Chinese calendar, 2017 is the Year of the Golden (Fire) Hen. The symbolic animals rotate every twelve years; 2005 though was the Year of Rooster. Now the female is coming to the fore. I believe it is allowed to be a mother hen when your kids are very young. Truth be told, you remain the same because motherhood is for life. But when you have enough understanding and wisdom to realize that your children are ready to fly into Life by themselves, you have fulfilled your life task.