This is a question I find myself constantly asking, as a new parent. Even though my baby's not even a year old, I still have to decide whether I'm going to give her the freedom to learn on her own or protect her from all the frightening and difficult things in the world.
There are obvious benefits to protecting our children, whether it's from sharp knives or scary movies. We want our kids to grow up feeling loved and safe. We don't want them to get hurt.
But on the other hand, it doesn't really help to try to protect our kids from everything. For one thing, we literally can't. They live in a world with hot surfaces and mean people, and it's no use trying to pretend those things don't exist. And even if we could protect them from everything, should we? We don't do our kids any favors by sheltering them too much. We have to give them some freedom to learn on their own.
My daughter is only seven months old and I'm already asking myself every other minute, "Is this an instance where I need to protect her, or challenge her?"
I mean, first off, she is a baby, so I usually choose to protect her (as well I should). Obviously, I don't let her play with dangerous things or leave her to play unsupervised. But I'm not talking about physical protection: I'm mostly talking about putting her in situations that are difficult for her to manage.
One of the biggest issues for me (and for just about every mom of an infant) is sleep. I think that's why we can be so adamant about our own sleep philosophies (and so critical of those who disagree with us). Moms who advocate attachment parenting say, "We need to protect our babies! Anyone who lets their child cry it out is throwing their baby to the wolves!" Moms in favor of crying it out roll their eyes and say, "We need to let our children learn how to sleep! Anyone who rocks their baby to sleep is being a helicopter parent!"
I mean, first of all, let's stop criticizing each other, but that's a conversation for another day. Those of us new parents who are trying to figure out what to do with our own children are pulled in two different directions, constantly wondering if we're "babying" our babies too much, or not making them feel loved and safe enough.
Personally, I do let my own child cry it out because it's what works for us. But I also jealously guard her sleep times. My husband and I don't generally stay out past 8:00 pm, because we don't want to allow the baby to get too tired. I don't go out much during the day because the baby takes a lot of naps and I want to be sure she can sleep in her own crib. (If I do go out, I'll cut my outing short if the baby seems sleepy.)
Some parents might see this as over-the-top. I usually see it as a way to protect my daughter, to show her that she's important to me. I want to protect her from getting overtired. I want her to feel that she can always sleep somewhere that's comfortable for her.
But yesterday, my husband and I decided to challenge her.
Our friends invited us out to a movie in the park. I immediately wanted to respond "no"--even though we hadn't seen these friends in a while and we'd been wanting to get together with them. The movie started at my daughter's bedtime, which meant we'd be out way too late for her and she'd be cranky.
But my husband thought we should go. He convinced me that we'd be able to get the baby to sleep in our arms--and if she was really too tired and wouldn't sleep, we could always go home. So I agreed, with some trepidation.
And guess what? It was completely fine. Yes, the baby had some difficulty when she started to get tired. But she also had a wonderful time playing in the park and seeing new people. And she eventually did fall asleep in my lap without much fuss.
It was a situation she didn't usually experience, but she got a chance to prove herself. She got a little lesson in "the world doesn't revolve around you." My husband and I had a good time and we actually got to stay out past 8:00.
I wouldn't want to do it every night, or even every week. But every once in a while, I try to remember that even a seven-month-old baby needs a little challenge in her life.