One small step for my kids; one giant leap for their mum


I read a cycle blog a few years ago which argued that there’s a strong link between children’s happiness and their ability to travel independently, such as cycling to school. The top four European nations for children’s wellbeing, according to UNICEF, are all cycling nations, with the Netherlands at the top. British children – often driven to their primary schools – are at the bottom. That observation has haunted me ever since. It’s been my motivation behind giving the Redster a series of ‘independence challenges’, like popping out to a local shop without me. She relishes them, as long as she can take her little sister with her as a security blanket – I’m not sure who’s looking after who. And now she’s about to turn 11 it’s high time it blossomed into getting to school on her own.

So…we have invested in a couple of ‘Zip’ Oyster cards, and at 8.30am (in theory – 8.40am in reality) we walk to the bus stop at the end of our road and I watch my two little girls get on the bus without me. We are into week two now, but I’m still not quite used to it. The other parents pretend not to stare at me as they accompany their own children on board. The doors close in my face, the girls invariably forget to return my pathetic smiles and waves as they find their seats, and the bus pulls off far more abruptly than I feel is strictly necessary.

The Redster’s plan is that I will soon stop accompanying them to the bus stop, and then soon after that they will do the return journey without me too. This is perfectly logical because, unsurprisingly, the return journey is in fact identical to the journey there, except in reverse…There is one road to cross between school and bus stop, which has pedestrian lights and loads of other parents and children crossing at the same time. But it feels like a completely different scenario. What about all the secondary school kids at the bus stop? What about that loud drunk guy? And there’s the fact that the school will frown on the Cutester – who is seven and in Year 3 – travelling back without a parent. Still, I guess the school – and I – will get over it.

It may seem to you that I’m reporting quite an unremarkable decision, and it should be, but I’ve seen the shock on other parents’ faces when I show them the girls’ Oyster cards. One mother looked at me, the cards, and just slowly shook her head. (At least I haven’t quite had the guts to let my children travel abroad on their own like this mother of five.)

Anyway, I guess that mum was joking. The next week I saw her Year 6 son coming out of the tube station near the school clutching his little sister’s hand, with no parent in sight.

What could go wrong, really? I suppose at the back of most parental minds lurks stranger danger. What no one seems to consider is stranger nurture – the reality that most adults instinctively want to protect the children around them. A friend of ours was cycling with his daughter to school when the Year 4 child on the pavement ahead suddenly fell down a manhole. He pulled her out, of course (thankfully apart from grazed shins she was fine) – and the fact is that any passing adult would have done the same. Society is more caring than we give it credit for. My friend was a bit shocked that no parent was with her. But I think her parents had made a sensible risk assessment by letting her walk to school (with a sibling) and begin to exercise some freedom. If they had insisted on taking her just because there may be such a thing as faulty manhole covers, when would she ever get to taste independence?

So this is really – surely – not a radical thing to do, but it makes the girls feel grown up and I hope it makes them more confident. And soon I hope to stop being such a wuss about letting them do it.



6 thoughts on “One small step for my kids; one giant leap for their mum

  1. Bravo!!

    I might not entirely agree with you on some of the restrictions you’d like to see on cars but THIS…BRAVO!!

    I used to pop up the shop for my mum when I was 6/7 to get her some essentials and usually a packet of Golden Wonder for me. It was liberating. I know I’ve never been lucky enough to be a parent, but I know that if I was I’d want to give them the same freedom that I had when I was their age. Down with molly-coddling, down with game-boys (or whatever’s in vogue this week), and up with Sunday afternoons playing on the street!

    • Thanks Shortie! Yes, there was always something especially delicious about that packet of crisps you went out to buy all by yourself…. Although of course the Redster has yet to venture out without the little sister in tow!
      As to restricting cars, I’m not sure I want to restrict them so much as to see sensible alternatives on offer that are more sustainable than the way we do transport at the moment. I find cars very handy at times myself, so that could include having car clubs in every neighbourhood – then fewer people would need to own cars privately, saving a lot of money. That should also include making cycling easier and safer so that more people choose to cycle instead of drive for shorter journeys. That should definitely include giving pedestrians and cyclists priority over drivers on residential streets, so it’s safer to play and talk to your neighbours. I also think 3000 people a year dying of air pollution-related diseases is scandalous and we need to do something to change that. I hope that makes sense…

  2. Well done you for standing up to the culture of fear.

    Here it is quite normal for children to be packed off to school from an early age, and our son now catches the bus to the tram stop and changes to the tram to go to school the other side of Stuttgart. On weekends he uses his “Scool pass” (A sort of Prepaid ‘Oyster’) to zip off all over the city to visit friends.

    The only real danger to children on their own is from cars, whose owners sem to think that the squishy things should all vanish magically when they want to drive somewhere fast…

    • Andy – sorry i’ve taken such a long time to reply to your thoughtful comments. My blog has kind of been on hold for the last week or so. Interesting to hear about kids’ independence in Stuttgart. I bet public transport is better there than London. How old is your son?

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