People have a tendency to wax nostalgic about how they were raised. I have to admit, in some ways my childhood was idyllic. Growing up in a small town, my siblings and I had the freedom to roam, the simple pleasure of playing outside until the sun set, and the luxury of living in a close-knit community where people took care of each other. Things weren't always perfect, but they were pretty great. In fact, growing up in a small town changed the way I parent my kids, but probably not in the ways that you think.
Recently I read that Republican Senator Ben Sasse (who lives about 50 miles from me) wrote a book about how "parents these days" aren't raising their kids to be self-reliant adults. Honestly, I think is pretty presumptive of him, since he has yet to raise a child to adulthood. He based his version of perfect parenthood and #adulting on his own experiences growing up in a small Midwestern town. It sounds good, but having had a pretty similar experience growing up, I can tell you that I learned an entirely different set of parenting strategies from my childhood. I also hope to teach my kids an entirely different set of "small town values," that are a bit less privileged than the Senator's.
Just a few days ago, I traveled back to my hometown. I told my husband stories about growing up — like how my neighbors always called ahead to let my parents know we were on our way home from school — but I was also reminded that so many small towns now have fewer jobs, opportunities, an, as a result, fewer kids returning as adults to raise their families. I also remembered that things weren't always so great. We may have not had internet bullies, but we certainly had bullies on the playground and at the ball field. Sometimes, "I'm telling my dad" meant those bullies would be held responsible at home, but sometimes it meant hearing "boys will be boys."
Now that I have kids, I can see how my parenting was shaped by growing up in a small town. Here are just a few:
For me, the answer to "I'm bored" is usually, "Well, go outside." We are so privileged to live in a tiny town and a safe neighborhood.
While I'm not saying that our kids don't occasionally come home covered in bug bites or bleeding from tree-climbing adventures, I am saying that, for the most part, I see those things as part of growing up, and an OK exchange for getting to hunt for bugs and climb trees on a daily basis.
For me, growing up in a small town was marked by tons of experiences where neighbors helped neighbors. This can be hard when you are a progressive family living in a red state, but my partner and I genuinely believe in helping others, especially when there are kids are involved. So we host parties and playdates and try to build community as best as we can.
Now, if only we could get more progressive people to move here. #goals
With the exception of our littlest kids, we give our kids tons of freedom to roam. There have occasionally been times when I regret it, like when my daughter road on the back of a teenage neighbor's ATV (I was so scared) or my stepson forgot to tell us that he was going to the neighbor's house to play. Still, and regardless of those exceptions, I love that my children have room to explore and grow (not to mention, get exercise), without me having to cart them around to different places.
OMG I will never get used to driving in the city. Never. It's scary. Also, I am so terrified of the nearby highway that we set clear boundaries for our kids, who don't really get understand the necessity of "looking both ways," because there are rarely cars on our sleepy street.
Honestly, one of the reasons my partner and I decided to move to a small town, was because our kids could enjoy personal, one-on-one attention at school.
So I expect their teachers and administrators will take me seriously. It really only took a few meetings to let them know that despite my blue hair, this mama will make sure that all of her kids get what they need in order to thrive in an educational environment.
I hate driving to the small city nearby, but we don't have a ton of options in our tiny town. So, just like when I was a kid, we make trips into town count, trying to buy in bulk and get all of our shopping done in one trip. It really sucks when you run out of milk, or worse, coffee, when you live in the middle of nowhere.
I think in this day and age technology awareness is not only super important, it's essential. Also, we have five freaking kids. I set limits, often exchange screen time for time reading, playing outside or doing chores. My house has never been cleaner and everyone wins.
We always welcome neighborhood kids to play at our home or in our yard, as long as they follow rules and everyone is getting along. For me, this is part of being a village and helping to raise the next generation. Plus, it's easier than searching the whole damn town for a kid who forgot to check in.
This one is really hard for me. I was raised by parents (and grandparents) who thought that being a good neighbor and giving back to your community was a requirement, not an option. Now I would love to get involved, but my politics sometimes get in the way. So I spent the election knocking on the doors of the other 20 registered Democrats in our town of 700 people (20, you guys). I figured I could give back and network at the same time.
Also, thank goodness for social media, otherwise I would be so lonely.
I didn't always live in a small town. For example, after school I moved to a city where no one knew my name unless I wanted them to. I loved and hated the anonymity at the same time. Then I had kids and moved back to a small town, because I wanted a different childhood than the one a city was going to provide for my babies. I wanted them to experience something familiar and safe, and although I may disagree with my communities politics and dislike the long trips into town, I'm honestly really glad I did.