Photo: Photo by Bambi Corro on Unsplash

Have you ever felt the need to apologize for your kids’ behavior to other parents, friends, or family members? Have you ever worried about something your child does, not because you actually thought they shouldn’t be doing it, but because of what other parents might think? I feel your pain.

I have definitely apologized for my children many times. My beautiful, creative, ambitious children who are finding their way in this world and are sometimes getting it wrong (or rather paving a whole new path, in the dirt, in their underwear, on a rainy day when all the other kids are sitting inside dry and clothed.) I feel like I should be sorry, like it’s not okay to let them be themselves, wild and free and exploring life to its fullest extent with safe and secure boundaries fully in place. But I’m not actually sorry, because I think it’s great. I want my kids to know what the rain feels like on their skin, or how the mud squishes between their toes. So, I let my kids do a few things that seem to frighten other parents. I’m not being negligent, I promise! If you see my kids doing any of these, just consider it a very deliberate observance of natural exploration!

1. Wear Shorts in the Winter: My son decided at the beginning of the 3rd grade that he would not be wearing pants for the whole year. At first, I thought, living in the icy tundra known as Minnesota, he would get cold and forget he ever said such nonsense. But he didn’t, and rarely could I go somewhere without someone commenting on my kid’s choice of apparel. “He really does wear shorts huh?!” parents would say, having heard such crazy talk but not believing it. Others would comment, trying to hide the judgment but failing miserably. “Why does he always wear shorts?” other kids would ask me, possibly confused as to why my son seemed to get special treatment in a world where all other children in the colder regions of the country are required to wear pants between the months of November and April. “Because he wants to,” I replied. I mean, what the heck is going to happen people? If his legs are really that cold, he will learn to put his pants back on.

2. Go Barefoot: The first thing my kids do when they get to a park is kick off their shoes. Not my kid who wears shorts, of course, he always has the proper socks and tennis shoes on. But my other two refuse to keep socks or shoes on their little piggy’s and run around like Mowgli from The Jungle Book all day long, barely batting an eye at the inevitable stick pokes and toe stubs. Well-meaning parents and grandparents of other children have let me know that the rocks are hot, they saw glass on the ground, and that my child lost a shoe over there under the swing. Thanks for watching out peeps, I appreciate it. But really, we are totally good with bare feet. In fact, it is actually good for kids and adults to go barefoot outside. It enhances proprioceptive and vestibular development, builds muscle strength in the feet and legs, actually making us less prone to injury. And getting scrapes and stubs are part of life. Learning to deal with minor pains only creates confidence and strength for other areas of life.

3. Climb Poles and Trees: My daughter loves to climb the street sign on our corner. She worked for an hour one day by herself to get to the top. The smile of pride on her face was bigger than I have ever seen. Now, I will admit it is a bit odd to turn the corner and see a 7-year-old up on top of a street sign, but I would argue it shouldn’t be. If I could pull my own body up with my bare arms I would do it too! She fell, a lot. She scraped up her hands and had blisters on her palms. She jumped from the top and landed hard on the ground. And she looked like you would expect someone looks when they make it to the top of Mount Everest—half in disbelief of their own ability, half-awed and inspired with the amazing view from the top, and wholly content in knowing they did this hard thing all on their own. Totally worth the risks.

4. Wear Clothes to Bed: We have a little different bedtime routine at our house. I found myself becoming incredibly frustrated with our morning schedule trying to force large sleepy children into new clean outfits when they were warm and snug in their pajamas. Even if we picked clothes out the night before it was a time suck. So, after my kids take a shower at bedtime, they put on clean clothes for the next day. In the morning they can sleep in or just relax, and we have extra time to talk about what awesome kids they are instead of me harassing them to put on a shirt! Sure, they might look a little wrinkled but it keeps everyone in our house sane, so I call it a win!

5. Talk About Sex: My son is the type of kid who has to know things. After we had our third child, he thought a lot about babies and how the heck they come to be. With the help of a children’s body book I tried to share the most information possible without spilling on the actual deed, fearsome he would not only be scarred for life but also that he would go to school and tell other kids all the juicy details resulting in mothers calling me in fury forcing me to hide my face in shame until my son turned eighteen. “Something has to be missing!” he said. So, I spilled it all. “OH!” he said like a light bulb went off in his brain. He smiled, relieved to finally have the missing piece of the puzzle. I felt pretty good too, having had a healthy appropriate talk with my son. Until of course his face changed from glad to grossed out. “Did dad do that to you!?” he questioned me with disgust. We can only prepare ourselves so much for the truth I guess! But it has opened the door to more healthy, honest conversations and my kid feels safe asking me the questions I’d rather they not learn the answers to on the bus.
All in all, if you see me at the park this winter and my kids are barefoot in shorts and have already shed their coats, just smile and wave and know that I do actually own these items and have them fully available at any time should my children decide they are cold or their feet hurt. Life lessons are more impactful when they are learned on one’s own. If you still want your kids to wear shoes, totally cool. But if you feel like I do, like you should be sorry for so many things, but you really aren’t because your kids are safe and happy and testing their own personal limits and strengths in creative and exploratory ways, then ignore the judgments and let kids be kids. Your kids are awesome, and so are you!