Feisty Mom Comes Out Swinging — A Lovely Read

Hi All!
This letter, just received, has  me smiling. Maybe it’ll do the same for you! It’s certainly a nice one to cite when folks say, “Free-Range” is just a fancy term for “lazy.” Before you give your kids indepdendence you have to teach them a lot more than if you just kept them locked inside all day, as this lady proves!

She writes: 

“I am the mother of two “Free-Range” kids, ages 3 and 5.  They are adorable little blonde girls – any abductor’s dream.  So, rather than be freaked out about it when they were 3 I made sure they both new our phone number – AND could dial it from any phone.  I made sure they knew our address and how to get there, as well as the address of their grandparents, the names of their schools, etc.  I made sure they knew that IF we got seperated in a crowd and they got scared they should ask someone for help.  People in uniforms or working in shops were good bets because they were likely to have a phone that my girls could use to call us.

“When ‘stranger danger’ came up at school and my oldest daughter came home terrified and crying, I reassured her that MOST strangers are safe. After all every friend you have was once a stranger!  I reminded her to trust her instincts and that if someone ever asked her to do something she was uncomfortable with, that she should say no and to never let anyone force her into anything she didn’t like. 

“My daughter might be the shortest kid in school by a good 6 inches, but she’s tough.  She climbs trees and knows to go as high as SHE feels comfortable – NOT as high as I feel comfortabe watching. The two are very different!  She swims, she does flips at gymnastics.  In any fight between her and an abductor, I’m putting my money on her!

“And the germ thing – PLEASE.  They’re germs, they’re not going to kill you. Well most of them won’t.  We’re spoiled Americans, we have safe drinking water pouring out our taps, flushing our toilets and filling our swimming pools.  Sure, the guard rails of the NY subway might one day lead to an outbreak of the plague or, God forbid, swine flu, but then again tomorrow Publisher’s Clearing House could arrive on my door with a few million dollars.  The odds are about the same, and you don’t see me racking up my shopping bills in expectation of the windfall!

“By state law my children are not old enough to play at the park across the street from my house without me there.  Thankfully I don’t yet have to keep them on a leash even when I am with them.  I get looks from other moms because I let my girls play on thie big kid side of the playground instead of the baby/toddler side.  I encourage them to do ‘dangerous’ stunts, and applaud when they pull it off.  I also don’t rush over to coddle them every time they skin their knee.  They know how to assess the damages and ask for a Band-Aid if it’s serious.

“When my daughters turn eight, they’ll get their first Swiss Army knives, and not the tiny ones with a nail file and some scissors, but real ones, big enough to gut a fish with. 

“We have to start allowing our children to be people, we have to listen to them when they tell us that they can do it by themselves.  They know what they are capable of, and it is our job to listen.

“And yes, once I even let my girls eat a whole bag of candy in one sitting, and you know what, it didn’t kill them AND they’ve never asked again!!

“Good luck to all you other Free-Range parents, for letting  our children breathe!!”

Whew! That mom is more Free-Range than ME, good ol’ Lenore here (who has never gutted a fish, nor have my sons). And I applaud her! There’s no “right” level to this whole thing, just a willingness to accept that our kids are more capable than society says,  and times are  safer times than whatever you see  on TV. (Epecially whatever you see on Law & Order SVU.  — Lenore

38 Responses

  1. As a mental health provider, I know that the population I see skews from the average population. Nonetheless, I see many kids who have never learned to do basic things like keep track of their school assignments. The parents often report that their kids are not alone with this, and that, in fact, it appears that many schools are set up to allow the kids to cram it all in at the end of the term so they can pass. I just wonder if a lack of responsibility early in life led to a lack of skills later in school.

  2. Thanks for posting this letter, it reminded me of a free-range side topic: treating girls differently than boys.

    I have two sons (3 and 1), and when I let them wander around at the park, or talk about future Halloweens when they can go trick or treating without adults, I am often told by scared parents “oh, you’d think differently if you had girls.” WHAT? As if modern helicopter parenting weren’t bad enough, we have to add a healthy dollop of sexism to the top?

    Kudos to this mother, not only raising her kids free-range, but expecting them to be tough enough for tree-climbing and pocketknives regardless of gender.

  3. I aspire to be more free-rangey than I am. But I don’t think letting my boy eat a whole bag of candy will be my yardstick. Would it kill him? Of course not. Of course, neither would a cigarette or shot of whiskey. (And, yes, I understand that candy differs from cigarettes and booze in plenty of important ways.)

  4. And yes, once I even let my girls eat a whole bag of candy in one sitting, and you know what, it didn’t kill them AND they’ve never asked again!!

    That is too funny! I love how she is letting her children learn. In this case that too much candy leads to stomach aches…

    Great Post!

  5. I just signed my daughter up for a camp that REQUIRES it’s over 8 year old campers to bring a knife with them!

  6. “I get looks from other moms because I let my girls play on thie big kid side of the playground instead of the baby/toddler side. ”

    We once went to a playgroup (son is 17 now) that meets at a park, with of all things, a stream running though it. The other mothers spent most of the time giving my friend and me dirty looks.
    Why?
    Because even though it was fall we let our kids play in the stream and get wet. They had a blast, not so much the other kids who spent most of the time being hurried away from the steam or yelled at to “get away from the water, don’t get wet.”
    Of course we never went back to that playgroup, we did go back to the park to play in the stream again numerous times.

  7. Ok, I agree with everything, but… the knife thing. I’m not sure if the writer put that part in more as bravado or is serious. Am I worried that they will cut themselves? No.

    But speaking from experience, a child at my son’s school brought his pocket knife to school, that his parents *expressly* forbid him to do. But he did it anyway. He was just joking around with it, but was caught. As per our school district rules, the police were called, a report filed, and the parent required to appear before court, and a social worker assigned to assess their “parenting decision skills”. It has cost them thousands in fees, and the damage to their reputation is incalculable. Rightly deserved or not.

    We all may be on the free-range-kid bandwagon here. Just don’t forget that children do not possess the reasoning and decision skills that adults have (or should have). Breaking an arm is one thing. Giving weapons to children is another.

    Let them have the knife, but please supervise at all times. Just return it to an adult’s possession when the child is done.

  8. To moms, parents and all gift-givers who are wise enough to know when to trust their children with pocket knives: PLEASE select a model with a locking blade. Any blade lock system will do, as long as it is present. Thank you!

  9. Swiss army knives are tools, not weapons. I mean, a hammer could be used as a weapon, a baseball bat could be used as a weapon. No they shouldn’t be bringing them to school, but neither should they be bringing their hammers and baseball bats.

    Another whole topic is the lack of common sense among school officials who equate a cub scout forgetting to take his jackknife out of his backpack after a scouting trip with a mass murdering psychopath.

  10. A true free range kid would most likely NOT bring the “pocket knife” (it is not a weapon) to school, because the child would be used to making decisions on their own and would not feel the need to “sneak” the “pocket knife” to school. This is true for the bag of candy as well. A child who has always been allowed to make these decisions would not feel the need to binge on a bag. What purpose would it serve? If candy is always available, when the need for sweets presented itself, the child would take what was needed and no more.

    I would also challenge the statement that children do not possess the reasoning and decision making skills of adults. Clearly the adults who ended up in court over a pocket knife could have learned something from the children. I am sure the children knew it was a pocket knife and not a weapon. I would say this is a clear example of children being confused by adults more than helped. What sort of clear reasoning was being demonstrated by this?

  11. I love it. I’m just starting to teach my 7 year old to use a sharp knife. She’s nervous about it, but it’s definitely time she learn to do these things with supervision. She’s been learning about matches too, mostly that they’re hot, but can light a candle under supervision.

    Do I worry that she’ll do the wrong thing with these skills when I’m not watching her? Of course! She’s been warned of the consequences for misusing these, and does not yet have free access to them. They’re just skills she’s ready to acquire.

    Jules, my kids love getting wet in “inappropriate” weather too. My son is obsessed with puddles, and many people can’t believe how freely I let him jump in them.

  12. I taught my 9 year old to run the lawn tractor this past weekend – she took to it like a fish to water and begged to mow the whole lawn. She’s had a real tool kit for two years now and this Saturday I will teach her to use a MIG welder to make a school project.

    A kid who can weld thinks nothing of doing the laundry or repairing her own clothes with the sewing machine.

  13. Of course 8 year olds don’t have the reasoning capability of a fully functioning adult! No one suggested they did. However, I would point out that even adults aren’t trusted with pocket knives. We don’t trust ADULTS to be fully functioning adults, that’s why this idea hits people wrong. If I, as an over -21-adult can’t be trusted not to bring my knife into court buildings and on airplanes how can we possibly expect an 8 year old to follow a basic rule?

    Lenore, thiss free range thing is great and all, but so far as I can tell we aren’t overprotecting our kids all that much more than we overprotect ourselves.

    It may be just me, but I’ve been noticing more taser deaths lately. It could be that these cops are jerks on a power trip, but it could also be that when they said they were afraid for their safety they meant it. What kind of media problem do we have when trained, armed, large men are afraid to be out in company, despite having crime rates at a 40 year low?

  14. I just read this and loved it! I’ve also let my kids eat candy until they figured out eating all of it in one sitting wasn’t all that great. Both my son and my daughter wanted to ride their scooters down the hill next to our house. Was it dangerous – sure…however I KNEW that if I said no they’d do it the first chance they’d get when I WASN’T home. So I watched them put on helmets and head for the hill. Not five minutes later here they came back….along with them were a few scraped knees and elbows and they’ve NEVER been back since.

    I was also given a pocket knife by my father when I was 8. We used to spend time whittling on the front porch during the weekends and making interesting things from wood. I was taught early on about the responsibility he bestowed upon me by giving me this “tool” and I took it very seriously. As my three children reached similar ages – one was granted the same privilege and the other two I had to wait a few years. Why – I knew they weren’t responsible enough…yet…but I didn’t deny any of them the experience. Nor do I continue to do so today.

    Do I understand that they might not possess the same reasoning skills as an adult? Sure I do – but I feel it’s my job to educate them – not deny them learning experiences. Sometimes those little “school of hard knock lessons” are the best to learn from…of course while the parent is standing in the background shaking their heads. I watched a 9 year old fall off his bike on the way to school one morning and people put their cars in park (in traffic to run to his aid). Granted it was nice to see people helping – but this child was dressed like the Michelin Man from head to toe….come on now he wasn’t even crying – at least not from being hurt….maybe from embarrassment for being dressed up like a huge donut? lol

    So thank you for posting this….there IS some sanity left in the world!

  15. Culdesachero, on May 20th, 2009 at 10:48 am Said:

    I was hoping for a daughter so that I could teach her to fish and do all of those great and dirty things that only boys are supposed to like.
    When I was in school, there were plenty of pocket knives brought to school. If a child was foolish enough to get caught with one, it was confiscated until the end of school. Usually, the parent would be called. Not the police. It would have been just ridiculous to assume that a pocket knife’s only purpose is to cause harm.
    I always brought my baseball bat. How else was I going to play scrub? Or is that not allowed anymore either?
    As for streams, I always played near or in them but I knew, careful attention must be paid to the weather! Even a small stream can turn into a deadly torrent if a flash storm occurs – even miles away.

  16. Beautiful! That’s too bad about state laws dictating what a mom can let her responsible kids do. My four year old now knows how many houses to count to walk all the way to the entrance street to the school to wait for her 11 year old brother to be done and come out to walk back with her. And she does this all by herself. Not scary at all. My 17 month old has now mastered getting up on the trampoline by herself, and she knows how to climb up on a stool and get to the snack cupboard by standing on the counter. She’s following in the footsteps of three other children that all got their bruises and still survived.

    I would have no qualms whatsoever with letting an 8 year old have a knife. Where my husband grew up, by the age of eight they not only had knives mastered, they also had used virtually every type of firearm and knew how to gut a squirrel. And they grew up to have college degrees and be great people. And have all of their fingers.

  17. Jake Von Slatt, you sound just like my husband! I asked him the other day what skills he’d like our kids (two girls and a boy on the way) to leave home with and welding was on the list, along with car repair, basic wiring, plumbing and carpentry.

    My husband has a dream that when the kids hit 16 he’ll buy them some run down old junker of a car and they will work together to fix it up . In his daydream the car will be a 1982 Trans Am and they will make it look like KITT from Knight Rider, but whatever. It’s a fun idea and I do think the kids would respect a car they had helped build.

    Learning to gut a fish is my goal for the summer.

  18. Funny that posts above mention both “tools” and “weapons.” My son has had supervised access to a Swiss Army knife since age 5, and his own comparable knife (unfettered access) since late age 7. He has been drilled to know the difference between a “tool” and a “toy” (or, if one will, a “weapon”). In fact, he’s aware that the tool CAN become a weapon, but that falls into the offense/defense divide that’s a whole other lesson. So far, so good.

    And whoever already noted that any tool can become a weapon: so true. My son and I once got some sideways looks when he brought (gasp!) a baseball bat to school, for use after school. Silent sirens — a WEAPON! Fortunately, some parents, along with the teachers, were more grounded in everyday reality.

    Since I don’t have a daughter, I can only praise and applaud those parents raising their girls to be (is this PC?) more than just wallflowers. To its credit, the school my son attends seems to strive for this, so if any of my son’s female classmates ask for information on Swiss Army knifes, I will give it. If they ask for access, I’ll certainly check with the parents first, but I’ll have no qualms. Odds are the girls will be even more responsible than my son is — and I trust my son.

  19. I wonder if my five year old has ever considered his jack knife a weapon – I suspect it hasn’t crossed his mind. I was a little surprised when he pulled it out the other day to sharpen his pencil – the pencil was too small for the sharpener that he had, so he (mostly) successfully sharpened it with his knife.

    The commenter who said (some) school officials (or airline officials) can’t tell the difference between a kid who forgot to take the knife out of his backpack, and a murderer is right on.

  20. I was raised free-range, but never allowed or taught to use a pocket knife, “because there are some things girls just can’t do”. I’m STILL not comfortable with a knife 30 years later! I will definitely be giving my daughter a pocket knife, just like her brother, when she turns 6.

    We let our kids gorge on Halloween candy as soon as they get it (same for Easter). They eat too much and feel sick, and don’t want candy again for 6 months. Doling it out one piece at a time only guarantees that they will eat every last piece (plus lots of whining and begging for weeks).

  21. This is the first time I’ve ever seen your blog and I’m intrigued. I found myself comparing the way I was brought up to the way my nieces and nephews are being raised. I think I was basically free range. My mom would lock us out of the house for play time. We had 6 girls and 3 boys and my earliest memory is my dad teaching me, a girl, how to hammer and weld. He taught us basic car maintenance, and the girls mowed the lawn. At 15 I remember going to a friend’s house who didn’t even know how to do laundry. I was doing it as soon as I could read the instructions on the label!

    Also, we weren’t allowed to cry if there was no blood.😉

    Free range parenting is fantastic! Like everyone has already said, it teaches decision making skills, but not only that. It teaches how to be a parent. Thanks for the awesome post!

  22. This was a great post! I agree with it all, including the pocket knives. 🙂 I also think a debate about the right age for a child to carry a pocket knife is a good one. Whether school-age children should have pocket knives at all is not a good debate. Pocket knives are tools–right along with scissors, sand-paper, paring knives, blenders, saws, stove tops, hammers, knitting needles, ovens…If we take all those crafts away from children (and at what age do children become non-children, anyway?) what can they do? Oh, right: play organized sports, watch tv, and play video games. I will interrupt myself here to say I truly am not judging those activities -all three are part of our family life and fun to boot! However, we simply cannot allow the “safe” big three be the only childhood our children have. We have to take a stand, whether it is encouraging and supporting like-minded folks, writing scathing letters to those namby-pamby recess-reducing suburban school boards, or perhaps publically declaring ourselves “FreeRange and Lovin’ It!” to the world at large. Lenore, do you have bumper stickers and buttons yet? 🙂

  23. Great letter, thanks for posting, Lenore.

    I used knives as a kid, and am still here today with all my fingers and toes, and no arrest record for knifing anyone. Of course we have to follow the rules of school or anywhere else we or our kids might go (think: airports), but that’s not a free-range issue. Should little Jonny and little Jill be expelled for forgetting they had their boy/girl scout penknife in their bag? No. Should they get in trouble for showing off daddy’s Marine Ka-Bar at school on purpose? Uh, yeah.

    Some families may not be into knives, or firearms, or anything number of items. Fine. I really don’t think that the marker of fully-enabled free range child is huntsman-like expertise at filleting wild game, nor Marine-like proficiency with a rifle. I don’t personally see this as an outdoor survivalist movement, but a societal survivalist movement. I love the outdoors, but not everybody is, or wants to be, an outdoorsman, for example.

    More important to me is our kids knowing how to deal with people, and handle themselves when they’re alone. How to ask for help in a crowd of strangers, how to choose a good route to through the city at night, how to determine those times when maybe you ought to head home. Those are some of the important issues to me.

  24. Hmmm…I never learned how to gut a fish, but I did get extra credit in High School for shooting (with a real pistol) the frog that I dissected in Biology. Saved my small school some money because they didn’t have to buy the frogs from a scientific supply place. I’m thinking if I had learned to gut a fish at an earlier age I would have learned some of the same things I learned dissecting that frog.;-)

  25. Yeah for freerange. I hate that kids aren’t encouraged to grow. It’s great to let them be them, and know that sometimes life hurts. And it’s ok, that’s how our life muscles get big.

  26. I walked into my daughter’s Montessori classroom one day when she was about 2 and a half and saw her using scissors. I started to freak out until the the teacher calmly explained that she’d been using them for months and was perfectly fine and by the way they help develop fine motor skills. It was a good reminder that kids know what they are capable of and smart adults give them room to try. The writer of this post was right when she said there is a difference between how high they are comfortable climbing and how high we are comfortable watching them climb. The limitations are with us, not them.

  27. This comic strip (For Better or For Worse, yesterday) is relevant to discussions on this blog, re: finding a balance between protecting our children and giving them independence – enjoy!
    http://www.fborfw.com/strip_fix/archives/003774.php

  28. Well, sure, kids don’t have the reasoning skills of adults. Adults don’t have them, either, unless they’re taught to, when they’re kids. But in the pocketknife example, the answer to “kids don’t have the reasoning skills of adults” is that you don’t give the pocketknife until you’re sure they’re able to understand the rules for using it, and can be relied on to follow them — which include, “Don’t take it to school.” If a child is told not to take a knife to school, and takes a knife to school (other than by accident), the problem is not the knife. It is a child who doesn’t follow the rules for using the knife. I’m not saying I expect kids to be perfect, but there are ways of teaching kids how to handle things and to correct them when they fail at it.

    I think some of the problem with people who react to this or that freedom with “What if they abuse it” is the sense that many modern parents have, that they have no control over their kids’ actions. NONE. They always have to think in terms of “what if” because they don’t have the sense that they can exert some, if imperfect, control over the outcomes, by teaching their kids and placing some expectations upon them.

    So instead of teaching their kids to be careful and responsible in this or that area, they just put up barriers and withhold potentially dangerous things. And so that gets back to the old Free-Range song — how will they ever learn to take responsibility?

  29. I totally agree with the Free Range Childhood, that is how I grew up and I think I turned out wonderful🙂 As did all my siblings.

    I’m the oldest, a girl, and my dad taught me how to use a pocket knife and a bee bee gun and everything he ended up teaching my brothers later.

    In the summer when we played outside all day, the rule was when one of our parents rang a large bell on the porch, we had to be home in 2 minutes, if we couldn’t be home in 2 minutes, we were too far away. We all became very fast runners so we could venture as far as possible.

    So I was so saddened when I read this article in our local paper
    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09141/971783-455.stm

    A Penn Hills teenager was suspended from middle school when a random search turned up an eyebrow shaver in her handbag.

    Officials at Linton Middle School recommended at a disciplinary hearing yesterday that 15-year-old Taylor Ray Jetter be expelled for the rest of this year and 45 days next year.

    Miss Jetter said she doesn’t consider the eyebrow trimmer a weapon. She fears expulsion will hurt her chances of becoming a nurse-anesthetist. She’s a Girl Scout and a member of the school’s basketball team, choir and leadership team.

    The school released a statement saying it has a standard disciplinary policy that addresses all students equally. Miss Jetter’s mother, Lisa Ray, says she doesn’t believe her daughter has been given a chance.

  30. […] Feisty Mom Comes Out Swinging — A Lovely Read Hi All! This letter, just received, has  me smiling. Maybe it’ll do the same for you! It’s certainly a […] […]

  31. love the letter and enjoyed the comments. My two cents: I agree–it’s about what our children are resonsible enough to handle and comfortable enough to do–not us. I hope to interest my girl (not quite 2) in many of the “boyish” things I enjoyed doing (I was definately not a girly girl). She already demands to spend as much time outside as possible, so I’m thinking it shouldn’t be too hard.

  32. This was such a breath of fresh air. Thanks! It reminded me of a story a friend often tells, about the day her daughter came home from school and told her mom that they’d gotten the “stranger danger” lecture at an assembly.

    “That’s silly!” this girl said to her mom, “there are no strangers! just friends we haven’t met yet.”

  33. “As per our school district rules, the police were called, a report filed, and the parent required to appear before court, and a social worker assigned to assess their “parenting decision skills”. It has cost them thousands in fees, and the damage to their reputation is incalculable. Rightly deserved or not.”

    “A Penn Hills teenager was suspended from middle school when a random search turned up an eyebrow shaver in her handbag.”

    Kee-ripes! Lenore, how about a column on this ‘Zero Tolerance’ nonsense (I’d really like to use a stronger word here) some time?

  34. yeah for teaching children how to be safe rather than being scared and scaring them with “boggeymen”. give your kids the tools (verbal, physical, mental etc.) and empower them. instill them with healthy doses of commonsense.

  35. Thank you! Now could you help me convince my husband that the woodburning kit I bought my daughter for her 10th birthday is not likely to be fatal?

  36. I do worry a bit about the level of consequences for a child that accidentally brings a knife to school and is caught. While they should be allowed to use them, I do think parents should ensure they are properly stowed. An 8 year old shouldn’t have a record that will follow them for 10 years because she forgot a knife in her backpack. Unfortunatey, that will happen in today’s society.

  37. I just signed my daughter up for a camp that REQUIRES it’s over 8 year old campers to bring a knife with them!

  38. aw blechttt!
    I was all excited there about the idea of equal opportunity and actual gender-balance.
    Cub scouts always carried knives – pen knives, pocket knives, whatever (just not anything large enough to need a belt-sheath)
    and wow / were they ever prepared (for the million things a kid could use a knife for….minus the .000000016 percent of anything actually dangerous.
    Why not the Brownies too? hmm?

    That’s um – how we actually learned how handy a pocket knife was, and what to use if for.

    Our world is full of a gazzillion things that can be potential weapons (including any and all makes and models of the proverbial “blunt instrument.”)

    I dunno………how many people out there have memories of revered and respected grandparents or great-grandparents – who would have loathed them for the sissies and pansies they truly are, winding up in such denial of normal life processes. Would there not be some creeping sense of shame? (or has the potential for that been swallowed up in the other 16 tons’ worth of contemporary BS that smothered out all the good common sense we used to be able to count on in an average community.)

    We don’t seem capable of trusting kids to actually learn about life from hands-on application.
    (virtual computer-aided training? textbook standins?
    Deferred maturity?

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