These things happen

Toby black eye

Kids being kids, they will always get into scuffles and scrapes. But I never dreamed that Toby’s first black eye would come as a result of an encounter with an inanimate object.

He ran into a sofa yesterday, apparently, and clearly not the soft cushioned bit. By the time I got home in the evening his face had puffed up good and proper, swelling so much that it left his right eye three-quarters closed.

This is how he looked by this morning.

Beaten up by an inanimate object!
You should see the other guy …

Boys will be boys, I suppose. This sort of thing is always going to happen when you have three kids haring around the house, no matter how much you try to protect them. And while I’m naturally not going leave obvious dangers around the house for them in the manner of, say, Home Alone or Skyfall, I also think you can be too over-protective. Minimising hazards within reason is the right thing to do – but it simply isn’t possible to eliminate them altogether. All we can do as parents is to be watchful and bring up our kids to have a healthy regard for their own safety, while allowing them to still enjoy just being children.

When I was younger – before I or most of my friends had children – I used to wonder how parents could allow their kids to wander off in shops, or let them fall off climbing frames in playgrounds or any of the 1,001 accidents that can befall a child and a harried parent. Having been through a few similar incidents myself now, I understand that sometimes these things happen – you turn your back on them in Tesco for two seconds, you’re busy dealing with one of your other kids, a million other reasons.

The important thing is that both of us – parent and child – learn from such incidents so they don’t occur repeatedly. After all, 99.99% of such incidents result in nothing more than a tearful child or a bump and a scrape.

It’s for reasons like this that I’m reluctant to ascribe blame to the parents when tragedies such as Madeleine McCann occur. Sure, Kate and Gerry McCann made a mistake, an error of judgement, call it what you will, and paid a heavy price. But, if we’re being honest, how many of us have done similar things without even thinking twice about it?

There but for the grace of God go I, and all that.

We do what we can, but we can’t protect our children from everything: acts of malevolence, an inattentive car driver, a domestic accident – you can minimise the risk but you can never legislate completely against these things. At some point, we have to stop protecting and allow our children the latitude to make their own little mistakes and learn from them with our support. Just as one day we will have to let Toby cross the road on his own, or take himself to school, or all those other milestones where it eventually becomes counter-productive to be over-protective.

At some point, our kids will have to learn to take care of themselves, and as parents it’s up to us to decide how much we can let the leash out. There is no hard and fast how-to guide as to what to do when. We just do the best we can in the circumstances. In the meantime, I’m resigned to more black eyes, broken bones and other minor accidents in the future. That’s life.