Saturday, October 26, 2013

Parenting Without a Net

The below essay was printed in the September edition of Chicago Parent magazine, the first time a by-line appeared on the cover!  Cake for everyone!

Thanks for the great photo, Jen (of Me, Myself & Jen)

Several months back, I made the questionable parenting decision to allow my three boys to watch one of those Flying Wallendas walk across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope.   Live.  There were no safety nets or harnesses whatsoever.    

What could possibly go wrong? 

I tried to remain optimistic.  Discovery Channel was broadcasting the walk, and I considered the network to be similar to Disney Channel and PBS in terms of family-friendly programming.  Yet when the show began detailing all the Wallendas who had fallen to their early deaths, I felt compelled to call my husband at the firehouse for reassurance.

“You’re letting the kids watch WHAT?” Joe demanded.

“So… you think it’s a bad idea then?  I’m sure Discovery Channel isn’t interested in airing a live tragedy.  They must recognize it’s in the bag.  The guy IS a professional.”

“Marianne, you do recall that Discovery Channel also airs Shark Week, Storm Chasers and The Deadliest Catch, right?  When Captain Phil died, Discovery got monster ratings.”

“I thought you never wanted to talk about poor Captain Phil again?”

“It still hurts.”

I hung up with Joe feeling extremely unsure of myself.  But my sons were riveted and counting down the moments to the live feat.  If I attempted to put the kibosh on things now, my teetering regime would surely be overthrown.

I next tried convincing myself that the suspense associated with these televised stunts is practically a rite of childhood passage.  After all, didn’t every kid in the 1970s tune in to watch Evel Knieval?  And who could forget that episode of Happy Days where Fonzie jumped the shark on water skis?  We were a nation of daredevils, I told myself.  Isn’t that what being an American is all about?

Except me, of course.  I make my kids wear helmets when they play Duck-Duck-Goose.

By the time Nik Wallenda made it safely to the other side, praying to Jesus with each precarious step, I was a wreck.  My kids, on the other hand, cheered wildly and pulled out a jump rope so they could start “practicing” their careers as aerialists. 

I naturally made them put on helmets.

Like most people, I am very relieved that Mr. Wallenda survived his personal challenge.  The man has an adoring wife and a young family whom would be devastated by his loss.  Yet as a mom, I am also thankful that I didn’t have to launch into a teachable moment about the dangers of walking across string stretched tightly above hundreds of feet of earth.  Had Mr. Wallenda fallen, I would still be dealing with the endless questions and extra hugs at bedtime.

In a way, I sense a certain kinship between myself and the bold Mr. Wallenda.  Parenting, as it turns out, is quite similar to tight-rope walking.

There are no safety nets or second chances.

But there is praying.  A whole lot of praying.


  1. I was riveted on the edge of my seat the whole time too. I was thankful when you could see him getting closer and closer to being done. I did like how he prayed outloud to Jesus the whole way across, that was a nice testimony. And you are right, there is a lot of praying with parenting. I think though you do get safety nets and second chances. Your safety net is hopefully a group of friends/family that is doing life with you, they help hold you accountable and also you have someone you can sound things off to. And if you do mess up a bit on something with parenting, you can admit to your children that y ou might have made a mistake in allowing them to do something one time, but now that you reconsidered it, its not going to happen again. But I do get what you are saying Marianne.


    1. Thanks, Betty! I know I'm making a lot of mistakes, but you are so right that admitting to mucking it up now and then is probably a smart move. I've got my go-to line ready for when they complain to me in adulthood: I did the best I could with what I had. Appreciate the comments!! xoxo mar

  2. I didn't watch it, but I heard all about it. I guess the difference between you and me is that I'm too dense for it to have occurred to me that it might have been damaging to my kids if they'd seen him plummet to his death. Of course, my kids are in their 20s, but had they been children... Yeah, it still wouldn't have occurred to me.

    Now, where's my cake??


    1. Ha! I can send you Twinkies. Does that count?

  3. Can I have your autograph?
    So stinkin' excited for you, my friend!

    1. How about my firstborn instead? ;) Thanks, Kari!!

  4. Congratulations on making the cover!

    I am writing down "Put helmet on kid before duck-duck-goose starts."

  5. I fear you will soon be too famous to even be my friend anymore. Your post reminded me of the Challenger space shuttle explosion. I remember I was in Elementary School and they had brought tvs in the classroom (a huge treat) for us to watch the launch. Clearly, no one knew that it would explode and as a grown up now I can only imagine what was going through the teachers' heads as they had to talk to all the kids about what happened.

  6. Brave choice. Not sure I would have let young ones watch. I had trouble watching myself. Thank God the man is OK. Crazy, but OK.

  7. Hey Marianne :) Boys huh - don't they realize we didn't spend nine months carrying them around and all those years feeding them and encouraging them to live a full life (and investing in our own support during our old age) to have it fall from the sky and splat on the ground?