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Tales from the Motherhood: Why I let my kids handle a rifle, and why I did, too

Published: Friday, Jan. 3, 2014 3:25 p.m. CDT

My brother approached on his ATV.

“Hey, Noah, you wanna jump on?” He offered, gesturing gamely toward the seat behind him. Noah grinned.

“Sure,” I said, “If you’ve got a helmet.” I winced.

“Sure, back at the house,” he replied.

He did a 180 and led the way back to his gorgeous home, deep in the south-Georgia woods. 

“Thanks Mom. I’m gonna have to turn in my man-card now,” my 15-year-old said as we followed.

I almost felt sorry for him. Sometimes I really hate this part of my job, the one that requires that I be mindful of striking a healthy balance between safety and adventure. (You may recall that three years ago, when I took Noah and his buddies skiing, I showed them how to ski off the jumps. Yes, we all wore helmets, and yes, I got more air than any of them, but I digress.)

If you’re lucky, you and your children also got to visit with extended family over the holidays. If you’re really lucky, like I was, your kids’ aunts and uncles actually looked forward to hanging out with them. My brother taught Noah how to use his ATV, and my fishing-obsessed sister-in-law generously volunteered to take him fishing with her one morning off the coast (oh my, never before have I been treated to such a fish-fry!). 

They also asked if I had any objection to my kids learning to shoot a .22-caliber rifle.

Whoa. That one stopped me in my tracks. They’d be aiming for cans, not critters, but still, adventuresome as I am, handling firearms is way outside my comfort zone. I imagine you bumped into the edges of your comfort zone, too, in one way or another, if you got a chance to hang with family over the holidays. It happens.

I could have said no. To his great credit, my brother didn’t put me on the spot in front of my kids. That was cool. Still, I admit, it was hard for me, as I truly wish guns had never been invented.

After some reflection I said yes.

Like it or not, in our well-armed society – whether it involves friends who hunt or some other circumstance – our kids may someday be faced with a situation involving guns, and I decided that I’d rather my kids’ first exposure include a lesson in handling them safely by someone I trust, instead. (This conundrum reminds me about how I feel about sex education. They’ll learn it all, one way or another and from many sources, but I’m glad that the first – and most oft-heard – voice my children hear on the subject is mine.)

My brother made sure the kids knew to stand behind the person holding the gun and taught them the importance of using the safety, among other things. Whether they’re interested in hunting or not, I know that my kids, like most, are naturally curious and may be tempted to see what guns are all about, if given the opportunity (unless guns are locked up completely away from them, where they’ll never stumble upon them, they have the opportunity), and I wanted my children to consider the enormous power and responsibility that comes with handling one – and they did.

Holly wasn’t game but, like Noah, I was also curious to see how it felt to shoot a real gun. In spite of expert coaching, I never hit the cans. I came close, once, but all I hit was dirt. (When it occurred to me that I might be harming the little ones living there, I decided I was done. But that’s me.)

Because accidents happen, I won’t allow my kids to touch firearms again, but I am grateful we all had this one opportunity. I actually hope they’ll choose to never use them again, but when they’re adults, they’ll have to decide for themselves.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I made the right choice in allowing them this experience, but it felt right in my gut.

One new mom I know put it best, as she considered another conundrum, that of how best to care for her newborn: “It’s mind blowing … every decision seems like the most important thing ever, and there’s never really a ‘right’ choice. I suppose this is what parenting is, though. Right?”

Right. We may lose a lot of sleep thinking things through, but it’s worth doing. We learn, as this new mom already has, that there’s really no one-size-fits-all way to solve parenting questions. You’ve got to go with the choice that settles best in your gut.

This one, for me, felt right.

• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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