Mommy and the tramp

Posted: Thursday, March 25th, 2010


Recently I was at the front door of a gal pal of Speed’s telling the girl’s mom about the great play date they’d enjoyed that afternoon.  ”They played for hours on the trampoline,” I said.  ”She should sleep well tonight!”

[insert long awkward silence here]

“Oh.” said the mom.  ”You have a trampoline.  My kids would love one but they’re so…..” her voice trailed off into another awkward silence.

A bad mommy's trampoline- No nets, two kids jumping at once & accessible springs...scary!

“Dangerous?” I said bravely.

“Yes…from what I hear” said the other mom.

And with that, a line was drawn in the sand – “Good Mommy” on one side and “Bad Mommy” on the other.  It was clear that this was my opportunity to explain myself and the next words I uttered would forever place me on one side of the line or the other in this woman’s mind.

I inhaled in preparation for the smart and redemptive explanation I would give but as I exhaled, the words that came out were “Ok!  Well, see you tomorrow at drop off!  She was a gem…SUCH amazing manners!”  And I beat a hasty retreat back to the car.

One of my favorite things about blogging is the opportunity it provides to take mulligans on my toughest mom moments.  So, please join me as I take another deep breath and help myself to a fantasy do-over.  Here’s what I would say:

“Yes.  I suppose trampolines can be dangerous.  We did quite a lot of research before we bought it and chose one that’s designed to greatly reduce the risk of injury.  We have strict rules around how our kids use it and they know the day they break one of those rules is the day the tramp goes away.  But in the mean time, every day – sometimes for hours a day – they’re outside, in the fresh air, moving their bodies.  They’re laughing together, and challenging each other, and inventing great adventures about which planet they’re leaping to.  I know it would be safer for them to sit on my fully padded couch watching someone else jump around on a video game, but that doesn’t really work for me.  I’m pretty sure one of them will get hurt one day on the trampoline but I think maybe a broken wrist will be easier to mend in the long run than a mushy mind.”

Phew!  That feels better!

It’s no secret to any of you that being a parent is hard.  I think one of the hardest parts is the never ending risk/reward analysis we all have to navigate.  There’s nothing I hate more than seeing one of my kids in pain, and it’s unbearable to think about one of them ever getting seriously injured.  But it’s also kind of tough to think about them growing up afraid of life or unwilling to try the good things because they don’t believe in themselves or their bodies.  So I spend a lot of my day walking that “Good Mommy” / “Bad Mommy” line.

Some of the choices are easy:  ”Yes”, you always have to wear sunscreen even though you hate getting it on.  ”Yes”, you have to wear a helmet when you’re on wheels even if it’s itchy.  ”No”, you can not go scuba-diving in the deep end of the pool with the hose of drinking straws you taped together.  All easy.

But lots of them are really hard.  Do you let a seven year old ski down a double black diamond ski run if he’s dying to do it and has proven that he’s capable of getting down all the single black diamonds on the mountain?  Do you give your completely trustworthy kids the freedom to play beyond your sight when you’re car camping in a state park?  Do you let your five year old climb to the tippity top of the coolest climbing tree either of you has ever seen?  Any one of these could result in catastrophic disaster, but they also each offer the kid in question the opportunity to learn, grow, make their own tough decisions, challenge themselves, survive failure, or savor the unique joy and immense sense of accomplishment that only comes when we try and succeed.

When I’m faced with those kinds of decisions I rely a lot on advice from more experienced moms and on  information I find here on and other parenting resources.  But mostly, I just trust my gut.  I’m never 100% sure but, knock on wood, my kids are healthy and happy and turning out to be people I find interesting and genuinely enjoy hanging out with.  So maybe that’s the best way to know that I’m doing what’s right for me and for my family.

What parenting decisions are toughest for you?  Have you ever made a big one you later regretted?  How do you handle it when it’s clear your parenting peers think you’re on the “Bad Mommy” side of the line?  Don’t be shy…Share!  Our favorite comment will win a box of kids books so be sure to include your email address.

9 Responses to “Mommy and the tramp”

  1. Shauna Says:

    I have a lot of experience with “Ohs” and awkward silences, as until the beginning of this year I homeschooled my kids! Especially when you make choices that go against the mainstream, you have to accept that your choices will be criticized, either openly or behind your back. As much as I would like to persuade others that my parenting decisions are sound and based on logic, reason, and what’s best for our family, I decided pretty early on that it wasn’t my job to convince anyone else that my parenting decisions are right—whether they involve my children’s education, nursing in public, food, electronic time, or anything else. My attitude has been to accept that other parents have opinions and they are entitled to them, and if they don’t agree with my parenting methods, that’s OK. I don’t tolerate personal attacks and will change the subject or walk away if necessary, but I also don’t feel compelled to offer an annotated list of facts and explanations in order to defend myself or my reasons for making a particular decision. That’s not easy, because I still want people to think that I’m right or at least have made a reasonable decision for my own family. It’s especially difficult when my choices are not the same ones my own mother made and she feels slighted or as if I’m judging her simply because I came to a different conclusion.

    No matter what you do, *someone* is going to disagree and try to put you in the Bad Mom camp, and sometimes it’s because of the silliest things that you wouldn’t think could cause controversy. I once saw an online forum discussion among moms about shopping carts of all things devolve into a virtual brawl, with hurt feelings and vicious character attacks zinging back and forth!

    My positions on certain issues have evolved or even changed dramatically over time based on personal experience and new information. None of us are perfect, and I try to extend grace to others and accept that they’re doing the best they can for their own families.

  2. Kat Says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective Shauna. I totally agree! I often wish we moms could be a little kinder to each other. We all know how hard it is to make the big decisions but once we make them it seems like we forget that there were ever other viable options or approaches and decide that our way is the “right way”. I love your last sentence – if everyone here adopted that the world would be a happier place :-)

  3. vdancer Says:

    Kids need risk. Kids need the right level of risk at the right time in their lives. They need to experience, for themselves, what the “edge” is between safety and disaster. We can protect them all we can, and limit these risk experiences, but they will still seek them, in ever increasing danger zones, through adolescence and young adulthood. Some experts on drug abuse, for instance, express that REAL experiences with healthy risk, be in on a trampoline, sailing a boat, climbing a hill or a mountain, will help children and young adults differentiate between those and VIRTUAL risks in violent video games, or with sex, drugs, violence. They will seek risk. Let them find their challenges, and let them strive to meet them. (That being said, you might want to pad the metal frame of the trampoline. I would.)

  4. Colleen Says:

    I agree kids need risk, but I think you may have missed something from the other mom’s perspective before the play date even began. You could have asked her, “We have a trampoline. Is it okay if Susie Q. plays on the trampoline while she is here?”… This would have given the other mom a chance to see the said trampoline, and give you her feelings about that. Most people we know with trampolines have nets around them for safety. The picture you posted does not show a safety net. I think you would probably be writing a very different blog post here if your child’s friend was injured, even if it was only a broken wrist.

    There are always two sides to every story.

  5. Kat Says:

    Thanks for your comments eveyone! Just to be clear….the photo on this post is NOT our trampoline (or my kids)! I meant it to be kind of a cartoonish example of a totally UNSAFE trampoline set up (no net, accessible springs, multiple kids jumping at once, etc). Ours is fully enclosed and the springs (which apparently are the biggest cause of injury) are underneath where they can’t be a problem. No trampoline is risk free but ours at least covers these bases.

  6. Penny Williams Says:

    Most of my parenting peers think I am on the ultimate bad mommy side of the line. My son has ADHD. There is so much misinformation in the public that I am often faced with stares and judgmental whispers, “Why can’t she control her child? Why does she let him act that way? A little discipline would fix that kid. If that were my child…”

    But what these other parents don’t know is that my son has a neurological difference that just happens to look like lazy parenting on the outside. They don’t know that I spend countless hours every week reading and researching ADHD, taking my son to psychotherapy and occupational therapy, networking with other parents of ADHD and ADHD experts to make life better for my neurologically different child.

    I have learned not to pay any attention to them and focus on my son and helping him find a path to happiness and success on this different life journey we were given. The bottom line for all of us moms is that we have to make the best decisions for our child and our family. It may not be the right decision for someone else, but it’s right for us.


    {oh, I love your explanation of the trampoline. I am one of those moms who thinks it is far too dangerous. However, it is definitely less dangerous than raising couch potatoes. Thanks for opening my eyes.}

  7. Denise Graab Says:

    Thanks for this post Kat! When I came to the sentence, “Do you give your completely trustworthy kids the freedom to play beyond your sight when you’re car camping in a state park?”, my gut wrenched. While I tend to be overly conservative and strict when it comes to risk/reward analysis in parenting, I once chose “Yes” and narrowly averted disastrous consequences for that decision.

    We had been car camping and the bathroom was only two sites away. During the weekend, I hadn’t allowed our then six-year-old daughter to go alone, as the park was crowded and I was worried I’d lose her. But as we were packing up, she asked me again if she could go alone, and since the campground had emptied and I had a clear line of sight, I decided to loosen up and let her have some freedom and develop her independence. After watching her make it to the bathroom and go into a stall, I was distracted by another child’s needs, and when I returned focus, I found that our daughter was missing. My husband and I, plus eight of our adult friends (themselves parents), frantically searched that campground. It was the most heart-wrenching 20 minutes of my life. Ultimately, a ranger found her in a nearby campground — she went the wrong direction upon exiting the bathroom and ended up in an adjacent campground where she didn’t hear our calls for her.

    She wasn’t hurt, and said she wasn’t worried too much when she was alone. She knew she was lost, but also wasn’t as panicked as we were! Every parent involved in that search felt some emotional trauma from the experience. I regretted my decision, regretted allowing myself to get distracted, felt embarrassed among my friends and family, and was so thankful that we averted the nightmares in my mind’s eye during that search.

    One friend, a mom of a girl our daughter’s age, was particularly upset about what happened. A couple years later, she came to me and made amends for being too judgmental then. She had recently lost (and later found) her under-ten daughter at a county fair, and could better empathize with what I went through, having experienced a similar decision and resulting terror herself (in worse conditions than a campground!).

    I agree with what Shauna said: “None of us are perfect, and I try to extend grace to others and accept that they’re doing the best they can for their own families.” It’s good to have reminders about that philosophy and approach. Thank you!

  8. Kat Says:

    Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments. Congrats to vdancer for winning the ‘best comment’ challenge. I’ll be in touch directly by email to get your mailing info – a box of great children’s books is yours!

  9. Jay Says:

    Hi Penny,

    Could not agree more about people’s often strange views to ADHD in children. These come probably from ignorance which is a shme as ADHD kids are often brilliant is their special area and we all have a special area which is difficult to find but I imagine that is part of life’s quest for us all.

    Best wishes

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