Parenting Risk Why Adventure?

Is this Ridiculous Cotton Wool Parenting?

Boy cycling solo amongst daffodils
Written by Kirstie Pelling

 Am I a Ridiculous Cotton Wool Mum?

I know it’s my job to let go, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. I mean how do you know when they’re old enough to do something on their own anyway. How do you deal with differing opinions about that within the family? And how do you deal with the feelings that go along with the whole business? 

Boy with his bicycle

What age is old enough to go solo?

 Is this cotton wool parenting?

“It’s fine. Go to your poetry evening. Matthew can cycle to scouts.”

“No, he can’t.”

“Why not?”

“He’s too young.”
It’s a familiar argument in our house and poses a familiar question. How old is old enough for the kids to do anything? In my book, it’s better to be safe than sorry every time. If I’m with them then I’m happy for them to take risks and act independently. I’m delighted for them to cycle across Europe, scale high peaks, and sail across a loch in a leaky boat. If I’m with them I can keep in control, assess the level of risk and protect them if it all goes pear shaped. Or so I kid myself.

Family Sailing

I’m happy to take risks (well, some risks) when I’m there to supervise

What is too young?

“Too young? He’s ten years old. Are you still going to be holding his hand when he goes to secondary school?” Stuart cries.

He’s interrupted by the door. It’s some of Cameron’s friends wanting him to go out to play. This is a recent occurrence and one that also makes me feel uncomfortable.

“Tell me where you are going?” I interrogate them.

“To the playground,” they reply.

“Just the playground and no further. And he’s not to go on the zip wire and needs to be back in half an hour,” I brief them.

“We know,” they shrug. We have the same conversation every day. Meanwhile Cameron is out of the house like a skinny streak of lightening.

“Let me do your laces,” I trail off as Stuart raises his eyebrows.

“What age does he have to be to do his own laces?”

Boy reaching for zipwire

But how do you know when they ready to go solo?

If anything happens….

Fed up of where this is going, I decide to call his bluff. “Ok then, Matthew can cycle to scouts but if anything happens to him it’s on your head,” I say.  It’s just like lighting a twig and watching the fire sweep through the forest.

“So because we agree to let him go to scouts on his own, a simple journey involving one main road, two cows and an allotment, I’m forever to blame if a drunk driver decides to go to the shop for another can of Stella? Stuart is angry. It’s a part of the argument that always makes him angry. I’m starting to feel like a hamster in wheel, going round and round in circles. I know without a doubt that he’s about to say I’m a ridiculous cotton wool mum.

“You’re a ridiculous cotton wool mum.”

Now he’ll mention all the things Matthew has achieved in his short life thanks to me letting go of the stranglehold I apparently have on him.

“He’s just cycled across Europe with us for God’s sake. 1200 miles. And you won’t let him bike down the road to scouts. In a rural village. In the daylight?”

“He still makes silly mistakes.”

“And how will he learn unless he makes them?”

“He could make them with me! How can I go off to a poetry evening and listen to people wandering lonely as a cloud when a black cloud of impending Matthew doom is hanging over my own head.”

“What black cloud of Matthew doom?” says Matthew, wandering in with a half eaten apple.”

“It’s just Mum being paranoid again,” says Stuart

“I’m supposed to be paranoid. That’s part of my job!”

Boy cycling on trail in Holland

I know it’s my job to cut the reins and let them go free, but..

I know it’s my job to let go, but..

Yet, at heart I know it’s not. I know it’s my job to cut loose the old restraints and give him more freedom. It’s just after 10 years this is incredibly hard to do. But this issue is going to come up again and again and we are forcing ourselves to become stereotypes; the risk taking father versus the cotton wool mother. As we head into the teenage years it’s going to end up driving us apart and if we’re not careful we’re going to turn into a bad remake of Kramer vs Kramer.

Read more cotton wool stories…

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • It’s a fine balance between being overprotective and not protective enough, isn’t it? I have a nine year-old daughter, so the question of going further and doing more on her own comes up in our house, too. The funny thing about my situation, is that the conversation happens with her! I try to encourage her to be more independent – go further and do more WITHOUT me. But she still wants mum to walk her to school, which is literally around one corner in a quiet suburban neighbourhood, with a crossing guard at the one place she actually has to cross the (not-so-busy) street. Sigh. We do the best we can and it’s always a learning curve. But I do tend to have the same way of thinking as your husband. They will never learn if they are not given the freedom to experience things on their own. Your discomfort now will give him important skills as he grows older… the skills to think on his own, to be independent.

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