My son was around 12 and he had saved up for a fixed gear bike. I didn’t know much about these bikes, but I can remember him saying how cool it was because there were no brakes so he could skid to a stop. My heart skipped a beat and I just stared at him with about 137.5 thoughts racing through my mind, “That doesn’t seem safe. No, it’s definitely not safe. A bike without brakes? I think I would rather have him driving. No definitely not ready for driving. Could I hide his bike somewhere? What if it was ‘stolen’?”
I was a wreck for two reasons, one, the no brake thing and two, he made it very clear that it wasn’t ‘cool’ to wear a helmet and he wasn’t going to.
We live in a community where kids ride their bikes everywhere. It is very much like generations past when kids would take off on their bikes for the day, except we are living with more cars on the roads and more distractions in our cars. So if we put this all together, my almost 12-year-old son wanted to ride a bike with no brakes, no helmet, lots of cars and lots of distractions. I was a wreck.
I planted my feet firmly on the ground and began, “You need to wear a helmet when you are riding your bike! There are cars all over the place, many driven by distracted drivers and you have no brakes on your bike!”
It took no time for the expected response,
“Nobody else’s mom makes them wear a helmet! Why are you being so protective? I will look like a complete idiot! I am going to be made fun of by everyone!”
My firmly planted feet began slipping, “But, it’s unsafe! You are riding around with no brakes and cars! Lots of cars! You really should be wearing a helmet!”
“MOM! I will be safe, I promise! I will take the backstreets and I will stop pedaling long before I need to brake”
I had officially lost my footing and felt like I was in quicksand: Was I too protective? Would he be made fun of? I hate when he is upset with me! Could I just ask him to ride slowly? Could he take backstreets?
I felt the words coming out of my mouth before I could stop them, “Okay! Then make sure you take backstreets and go really slow! Look both ways before you cross a street, and…” It was as if I had given him a small kick board for protection in the middle of shark infested waters. I was hoping that a few sentences of safety would bubble wrap him enough to make up for taking away the helmet rule.
With a, “Thanks mom! You’re the best! I love you!” he sped off and I spent the rest of the afternoon with a complete pit in my stomach.
This went on for a while until one day it hit me, I was putting his ‘coolness’ and my ‘fear of his upset’ before his safety. I had a son that loved me in the moment, but a son who was less safe because of my need for his social acceptance and his acceptance of me.
That night when he came home I sat him down, “Here is the deal. Your safety is more important to me than what others think of you and what you think of me. When you ride your bike, you need to wear a helmet or you will not be allowed to ride your bike.” And I finished with, “I know you are going to be furious with me, but I love you enough to be hated by you.”
And he did. In his almost 12-years of life it was the angriest he had ever been with me. He chose not to talk to me (for a short while). He chose not to ride his bike and soon after, he chose to sell it.
For me it was a bike helmet, for others, that might not be important, but what I learned was this, our job is to keep our children safe until they learn to do it themselves. In doing this, my children might be furious with me, but they will internalize security and love, “My mom has my back when I can’t do it myself.”
It’s been around eight years since the helmet incident. In those eight years I continued to set strong boundaries and then, as he grew, I slowly began handing the responsibility off to him.
Today, that same almost 12-year-old boy is a freshman in college. He is in charge of keeping himself safe and while I am sure he has his moments as any newly independent, away from home, 19-year-old man-child does, for the most he is doing a good job. When I finally learned to set strong boundaries for him, he learned to set strong boundaries for himself and the best part, he now understands that all the tough times ultimately came from a place of love.