Free-Range Kids Changes A Mom (And Two Childhoods)

Hi Readers — This letter, received today, made me cheer. For the mom, for the kids, for the movement!

From a mom named Mia:

I do very much wish to thank you for writing and sharing this blog.  It is changing my life and that of my children and I suppose you could call me a convert of sorts.

It feels like such a relief, a weight lifted from my shoulders, a permission of sorts to be the kind of parent I feel comfortable being.  And that kind of parent is not one who approaches child-rearing with fear and quilt, rarely able to take a deep breath and relax.  I am so weary of the excessive worry about every little thing – and the pressure, judgment  and competition from other mothers to see who can cushion their child the most.

I want to be a free range mom!  The thoughtfulness behind your articles and the intelligence of your reader’s discussions have emboldened me to change it up and let loose a bit around here –

A week ago I let my 11 year old leave the dentist’s office we were at (for his brothers appointment)  to walk alone, out of my sight, across the semi-busy shopping center to the McDonald’s and buy an ice cream cone.  He was so proud of himself .  And I felt such shame that I had never before allowed my son to feel this accomplishment and confidence.  Next time there is a dentist appointment for his brother he can stay home alone and I know he’ll be just fine.

Yesterday I let him make a boxed mac & cheese.  I wasn’t even in the same room where he was boiling water on the gas stove for the 1st time.  Just hollered out my answers to any questions he had.  He did it!  And his grin of pride was huge.

Also yesterday, I let my 8yo son go outside alone for the 1st time.  To go to friends homes and see if anyone could play, or maybe go to the park on the corner and find some kids there to play with.  He rode his bike and he stopped by often – for popsicles, to give home tours to new friends, to grab a ball, to get our puppy and participate in an impromptu 5-child dog walking trip around the neighborhood.  And with the age old twin calls of hunger and twilight, he was back home, grinning and enthusiastically asking if he could do it all over again tomorrow.

Ahh,  *now* I’m breathing and it feels like fun and happiness.

And with that, readers, a great weekend to all! — Lenore

25 Responses

  1. I’m trying so hard to embrace this. I feel it in my soul, but it’s so hard going against the grain. I live in a very small town in suburban Philly. I frequently walk to the post office. My double stroller does *not* fit inside this small post office. I would only be in there for 3 mins tops, and hell, there’s a friggin floor to ceiling glass front on the place, so I can see said double stroller the entire time I’m in there. So I leave two kiddos parked out front. It is June after all. People were looking at me as if I was Andrea Yates and one woman stood next to my stroller and ‘watched’ my kids for me…despite me not asking her to do so!

  2. Reading this letter, I just smiled. I am so happy for this mom. My kids are so proud of themselves when they are able to do something on their own. I think our kids know when they’re ready: they ask. We should follow their lead.

  3. Thank you that made me smile. I really believe that the more we trust and respect our children when they have earned it, the more they will trust and respect us.

  4. I would really LOVE to be this kind of mom, and it’s not them getting hurt that scares me so much as it is, in this day how can I send my 8 year old sun out on his own when 4 blocks away a girl was taken from a bus stop, and 6 blocks away another child was attacked in a playground. It’s not what my kids are going to do to themselves, it’s what others can do to them.

    The indoor responsibilities and letting them have cooking, chore, etc freedom I am on board with but the out of my earshot. I am still to terrified. Maybe if I stop watching the news.

    Yes I did it, my husband did it and we survived, but 30 years ago it was a different time. I would never forgive myself if anything happened, and anything seems to happen more and more.

    My boys can THINK they have the freedom without knowing mommy is a block behind them. To me it is just not worth the risk.

  5. Good luck and thank you for writing, Mia! Keep on with the fun and happiness, boys and puppies. You’ve done a brave and wonderful thing; don’t look back!

  6. @tammy

    For me, free-range isn’t about all of us allowing our kids all the same freedoms. It’s about realistically looking at the dangers, the benefits, and each child’s skills and making reasonable decisions. We shouldn’t necessarily be fearless–a little fear can be healthy sometimes. What is not healthy is irrational fears that are fed to us by others as well as the idea that we can control the world and keep ALL bad stuff from happening.

    When my daughter was about 2, I was admonished by another parent because I didn’t rush to remove her from the end of a slide and she got knocked down. My thought was that she was in sand and the kid coming down the slide was about her size. She got a good bump and learned to move out of the way. Now, if it was a lot bigger kid who could cause some real injury, I would have moved her.

    So, if you have analyzed your area and the probability of harm is significant and you choose to take reasoned precautions then you are still doing great as a free-range mom.

  7. Well said, DJ.

  8. Yay, Mia! Your letter made me very happy for you and all of us trying to let our kids go a little more. The job of parenting is all about letting go, a little at a time, until they can “fly” on their own, after all.

  9. Exceptionally well said, DJ! I especially liked
    “So, if you have analyzed your area and the probability of harm is significant and you choose to take reasoned precautions then you are still doing great as a free-range mom.”

  10. “When my daughter was about 2, I was admonished by another parent because I didn’t rush to remove her from the end of a slide and she got knocked down. My thought was that she was in sand and the kid coming down the slide was about her size. She got a good bump and learned to move out of the way. Now, if it was a lot bigger kid who could cause some real injury, I would have moved her. ”

    Just what I would’ve done, for the record – except after she got bumped I probably would’ve thrown in an “I told you so” for good measure. What’s the point of being bigger, older, and wiser if you can’t sometimes say that you told them so!?

    “I would really LOVE to be this kind of mom, and it’s not them getting hurt that scares me so much as it is, in this day how can I send my 8 year old sun out on his own when 4 blocks away a girl was taken from a bus stop, and 6 blocks away another child was attacked in a playground. It’s not what my kids are going to do to themselves, it’s what others can do to them.”

    It sounds like you’re living in a pretty dangerous neighborhood at the time. In my neighborhood, nothing happened four blocks away, and nobody was attacked six blocks away.

    It *seems* like a different time, but the statistics don’t back that up – it’s not. It’s actually safer than it was 30 years ago.

    However, if you live in an area where it is truly dangerous (and it’s not just fear talking) then nobody can possibly blame you for taking extra precautions. That’s sensible.

  11. LOL – i remember the first time I let my daughter make boxed mac and cheese by herself. What a sense of accomplishment she got from that seemingly small task!
    Same thing with her laundry and being able to walk in to our small town.

  12. Hi Lisa –

    Next time that other woman “watches” your kids, just thank her and tell her you love living in a neighborhood where it’s so safe and all the adults look out for each other’s children. That way, you are taking her fear and attitude, and turning it on its head. Her worry over it made your kids even safer.

  13. So fun, accomplishment, and independence are an important features of the childhood experience? Have you stopped to consider what these children will be like when they become adults? What will happen to all the therapists and the psycho-behavioral business community they support? What will replace those empty aisles of safety products at the TryNsave? Please, people, think about that before you further disrupt the economy.

  14. I agree with the poster who said you need to analyze the risks in your neighborhood. My children generally aren’t allowed to leave our small block unless there is a large group of them. It’s just not safe. My children do not walk home from school unless they are in a group, but even then that did not stop them from being harassed, so we had to stop and I have to be the mom driving her kids 6 blocks to school.

    People are so amazed at all my kids do in the kitchen. My 10 yo made an entire dinner, even using a sharp knife to cut vegetables. She’s confident in herself and so am I!

    My other children also do things that people think we are nuts for doing. I just tell them I’m just “that” kind of mom and we’re all quite happy thank you very much!

  15. That is a lovely letter and I hope that as my daughter grows (she is only 19 months right now), I am able to give her similar freedoms and build her confidence. Thank-you for posting it!

  16. 30 years ago our parents were lamenting about the unsafe world we had been born into, followed by, “In my day…”

    Every generation can look back with rose-tinted spectacles but the sad truth is there was probably just as much innocence lost 30 years ago as there is today.

    I’m happy some parents are overcoming their fears and allowing their children to have their own experiences of the world. It is these that help them to grow into beautiful, strong, capable, resourceful and happy men and women; just like us.

  17. oh my goodness! That letter made me tear up! Yea, Mama!

  18. Bravo! My 5 year old uses a sharp knife to cut up vegetables for dinner, can use the microwave, and walks next door to ask kids if they want to play. We parents still hang out on the sidewalk when our 4-6 year olds ride all types of wheeled vehicles past us, but I can’t wait till we don’t anymore. Now, we give limits – to the north corner, and no further south than the train tracks.

    Oh yeah, and we don’t live in a small town – it’s Chicago.

  19. @ lonedattyof3: I am laughing so hard my coworkers are staring! 🙂

    Kudos to Mia! I am so pleased I’ve stumbled onto this website – the reassurance that it’s okay to want to loosen the reins on my 9-year-old is worth pure gold. I had a very dysfunctional/abusive childhood, so my natural inclination is to wrap her in bubble-wrap; thankfully, logic and self-awareness overrules that and I constantly try to think of small ways I can give her more independence.

    We’ve started leaving her at home alone for quick trips to the convenience store or whatnot. She was scared to death the first time we did it, and I realized she had internalized MY fear! And now she’s handling it so well and responsibly we’re thinking of letting her stay home by herself after school next year (bus arrives 3:50pm, husband gets home @ 4:45pm, I work less than a mile away, we have an alarm system and a big Doberman – all sorta like the bubble-wrap I guess, LOL).

  20. “30 years ago our parents were lamenting about the unsafe world we had been born into, followed by, “In my day…””

    And sixty years ago, in their day, they were children. If the world seemed safer to them then it was for the same reason the world of my childhood seemed safer to me than this world does – they were ignorant. Because they were children. That’s all there is, but people seem convinced it’s more than that. (Well YOU know that, but….)

  21. YEAH Mia! This is so exciting to me! I’ve always thought this was basically how I’d be raising my kids, but at the same time I kept telling myself, “I’ll have to arrange play dates at the park so there will always be a parent around,” etc. I feel the same way, to suddenly realize the world isn’t as terrible as I’ve been taught. Congratulations!

  22. Uly-

    Bingo! The world was better 30 years ago because you were 30 years younger, with the lack of experience that implies. When you recognize that even the ancient Romans complained about the denigrated state of the next generation, you realize that it is about something inherent in people, not any real change in the environment.

  23. I have started embracing this concept too. A few weeks ago, I let my 10yo daughter walk with a friend to the corner store a few blocks away and I ahve also started sending her on errands to neighbours houses and things like that.

    Just last weekend, she and her friend caught the train on their own from our place to the friend’s place (I put them on at one station in the carriage next to the guards van and the other mum met them at the other station four stations up the line).

    It would have been easy enough to drive them but this other mum and I thought it would be “good train catching practice” as both of them are going to have to start catching public transport to school in about 18m time. Both girls were so excited and pleased with themselves!

    Catherine
    Sydney, Australia

  24. Yesterday I took my two boys (10 & 7), along w/ my younger sister & brother to Knott’s Berry Farm. The youngest boy was unimpressed by the roller coasters and wanted to get on rides in camp snoopy. Thw four of us rollercoaster lovers had one more ride we wanted to get on and the little one wanted no part in it. So I gave him a spot to meet us and let him get on his own ride while we went to ours. He was out of my site for probably 30 minutes (what with the long amusement park lines), but when the ride was over, he was right were I had told him to be. Since it we took so long he had time to get on two rides and he was so excited at having been given a little freedom. It was beautiful to see the joy on his face, not being forced to stand at the exit, waiting while we had fun. He loved it and I knew the freedom was what he had been waiting for all day.

    He’ll be riding his bike to school in the fall and I’m excited to watch him blossom with every inch of freedom he is given. Free-range: good for the kids, good for the parents.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: