Readers: Here’s a lovely essay from Chris Byrne, editor of the on-line magazine, TimetoPlayMag.com. Enjoy!
BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE
I grew up before the concept of “Free Range Kids.” No, not when the earth’s crust had cooled just enough to support single-cell life forms. It was in the 1960s and ‘70s, thank you very much.
My brothers and I had lots of freedom – so did all the neighborhood kids — and of course we did things the adults didn’t know about. One summer, things went horribly wrong when we tried to cremate a parakeet. (Too much cloth wrapping. And gasoline.)
But we weren’t the “complete hooligans” my grandmother called us, either. We had household chores. We learned to cook, do laundry, sew buttons on our shirts and shine our shoes. My mother’s mantras were, “You need to be able to do things for yourself when you go to college,” and “You’re not going to grow up to be a burden on your wives.”
And that’s ultimately the point of raising a Free-Range kid—so he or she can be a capable, self-sufficient person. As adults, we have to learn to separate from our children. We have to learn the limits of our control and let them go.
Separating from the parent is natural in all the other animal species. Only humans hang on and sentimentalize childhood as something other than preparation to compete and survive as adults in a sometimes-difficult world.
Children need to make mistakes when they’re young, and under our care, and the stakes are not so high. They need to learn to win, lose, fall, get up, keep going—figure it out by themselves. I’m sure no parent wants their child to grow up to be like the 23-year-old woman who worked briefly in our office.
This woman – call her Sue — was on the phone to her parents twice a day. She broke down when anything frustrating happened. That’s okay when you’re in kindergarten. But when you’re on the job? Not so much.
Sue was a good person, but she didn’t last in our entrepreneurial company. Having been protected and bailed out by her parents all her life, she was virtually incapable of operating on her own as an adult. The real job of parents is to raise kids who can eventually make their way without them.
Not that the kids don’t still love them.
These days my mother has passed on, but I’m actually closer than ever to my 87-year-old father. When I visited him last month, we talked about the whole “Free-Range” concept and how well he and mom had done with us. His comment was a typically affectionate and curmudgeonly, “Oh, for God’s sake! Now they’ve got a name for everything. We just let you be boys and did our best to give you some guidance.”
For that – and for the chance to enjoy a real childhood (immolated parakeet and all) – I’ll always be grateful.