“Supervision Doesn’t Mean Being Attached at the Hip”

Hi Readers — This comment,  from a gal named Elizabeth, puts things in perspective — especially when it comes to the current obsession with never letting go of our kids, ever. Not even for a minute. Literally.

Yes, free-range is about empowering children, no doubt. But it’s also about not living in fear and realizing that other human beings can be sources of help, suppors, and understanding. Sometimes, taking a deep breath and realizing that  it is infinitely more likely that nothing bad will happen than that it will does make parents’ lives easier in the moment, and it also makes kids proud to be trusted.

My 4 1/2 year old is smart, confident, capable, and understands more about what’s going on around her than many adults I’ve known. Leaving her in a locked, turned-off car for three minutes to go pick up dinner isn’t about me being lazy, it’s about me not being paranoid about the nearly impossible.

Remember, supervision (which I am generally in favor of) doesn’t mean being attached at the hip, it’s about being AWARE and paying attention. And, yes, that can happen from 15 feet away!

We need to remember that while there are some bad people who do bad things in the world the vast majority of people are good and decent and enjoy helping one another.

21 Responses

  1. “isn’t about me being lazy”

    and sometimes it is about you respecting her wishes. My daughter would much rather read a book then the car than get dragged into the library so I can go tot the book return.

  2. Except that the comment was in response to the thread about handing your baby off to strangers. You know, I live in a lovely community where people get to know each other and bonds have formed. It’s been work and it’s taken time to form relationships and be connected. It’s got zero to do with handing babies off to strangers in Starbucks and leaving 4 year olds in the car. Zero. We’ve recently had a tragedy in our community and it’s really reminded me of the interconnectedness we all share. I think you’re barking up the wrong tree with the sorts of things you (general) seem to feel create a life lived without fear. I find a lot of it really weird and counterproductive when it comes to the goal of raising empowered children. I’ll go back to lurking now so you can all go pat yourselves on the back. 😛

  3. My house backs on to a caravan park. Just over the fence is a clothes line used by tourists staying at the park. Yesterday, while I was gardening, a women using the clothes line called a hello. She had a toddler who kept running away investigating my fence, the leaves and sticks and sometimes just running. The women calmly called her back and sometimes fetched her. We started a conversation. She, still at the clothes line. The toddler immediately came over to me at the fence with her rugby ball in her hands and babbled and laughed at me and handed up the ball. I played a little ball with her over the fence while mum and I continued our conversation. I began reassuring mum that the toddler can’t come to any harm running a little way, when mum began asking questions about snakes (A bite from a brown snakes in Australia can kill an adult in half to one hour) As we talked more about snakes, then where they were from, the toddler began responding to me talking directly to her, even calling her back when she went a little too far for safety. And so I invited them for a cuppa with my wife and myself, and we had a salubrious hour, and for the first time in a while, a toddler in the house. Whether we see them again or not, we made real connection of hearts, mostly because we all allowed ourselves the possibility of extending our relationships including with a little girl. On reflection, I can see that child safety relates to the limitations we come ot understand we must impose on ourselves and each other in those relationships. For example, however much I come to befriend the mother and the daughter, I would not offer to be alone with either. I would not refuse an emergency request, but, in building that relationship, I would make that view known. And so, I hope, the mother would, except in emergency, not leave her girl child alone with a male friend. Then, everyone is safe. I feel that, for children outside of family, babysitting should have at least one woman involved.

  4. @owen59: Your comment, though kindly meant, breaks my heart. My husband takes two mornings off a week to spend with our 3yo daughter, escorting her to ballet classes, playgroups, etc. He has offered to watch her friends occasionally if a mom needs to go to a dr. appointment or something and they have accepted. They have welcomed him into their houses, left him alone with their children, and allowed him onto their playgroup listserve. Those things make him so proud. He loves his daughter and he genuinely loves her friends. The idea that he shouldn’t be trusted merely by virtue of his sex would wound him–and me–terribly.
    Again, I appreciate your obvious affection for the toddler you met, and your desire not to cross any boundaries, but I respectfully disagree with the idea that being a man somehow makes one’s moral character suspect when it comes to children.

  5. @LindaLou, I wish I knew what you’re referring to. I’m the mother of a 3 year-old and an infant, so many of the issues debated on this web site are still in the distant future for me as a parent. (I.e., who knows if I’ll let my daughter rider her bike to school? The roads might be a bit too busy for my taste…) But your cryptic (and semi-sarcastic) comment made me wonder what you’re really talking about. What kind of tragedy? Is it something we can learn from? If so, I’d like to hear more about it so we can talk about what we can learn. We’re all trying to figure out how to help our kids become independent, smart kids who make good decisions, but we also weigh those goals with our more primal goals of keeping them safe, healthy, and alive. Exploring the debatable situations between those sometimes opposing goals is important.

  6. I personally wouldn’t leave a four year old unsupervised in a car, but not because of a kidnapping threat. When I was a kid (I guess about 8 years old?) my parents left me in the car and I managed to move the gear shift into neutral. The car brake wasn’t on and the car slid a few feet out of the parking spot. You can imagine their reaction when they came back and saw the car had moved, not to mention my panic when I realized the car was moving and I had no way to stop it.

    I definitely lean towards the free-range side of things, but the freedoms we give our kids have to be in line with their maturity level.

  7. @li well, no such problem with a manual gear 🙂

    Anyway, is it even still possible to change gears in a current automatic when the ignition’s off?

  8. It was an automatic car! But the point isn’t specifically about the gear shift, it’s more about how your kid will handle him/herself when they are alone and unsupervised. Will your child have the judgment to keep out of mischief? And if something odd does come up, will they have the judgment to respond appropriately? It’s not anti-free range to look at these issues and make the right decision for your kid.

    Another example: I’ve never needed to use a leash on my kid because he’s always been very good about staying close and not running into the street. But I once saw a toddler run straight into traffic with his mother running right behind him, unable to catch him. Thank God the drivers were able to stop in time, but I wouldn’t blame that mom a bit for putting her kid on a leash.

  9. I loved getting to stay in the car when I was a kid, even if it meant being in charge of my little brother. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to shlep around the Co-op with their mom, or stand in line at the bank, when they could be alone in the car with a good book. Then again, I’m an introvert…

    There’s also the argument that the kid who comes along on parental errands is learning how the world works and how to interact with people (including strangers).

    I would be comfortable leaving my seven-year-old in the car for short periods, and she wouldn’t mind (as long as she’s got a good book!), but my husband is totally not on board with that. Since we don’t have our own car, this particular issue doesn’t really come up that much. In general, though, he tends to be less free-range-y than I am; so I’ve kind of started doing some stealth free-range things when he’s not around, and then telling him about them afterwards when he can see perfectly well that DD is just fine and, furthermore, really proud of herself. Last week, for instance, when we were at the playground near her Sunday school, I gave her $2 in change and let her go down the block and around the corner — OUT OF MY SIGHT!!! — to the convenience store to buy a bottle of water. DH likely wouldn’t have done that, but he could see how proud she was of having done it all by herself, so maybe now he might consider it. And the other day I let her take the elevator downstairs (two floors) and play by herself in front of our building for maybe 20 minutes while I finished up the article I was editing — and then I came down and helped her bring up her bike from the parking garage in the basement, and let her ride it all around the building by herself. Once again, she was fine, and totally stoked; once again, DH couldn’t find any reason after the fact to complain about what I’d let her do, since it had obviously been such a positive experience.

    I did the same thing with sending her down the hall alone to the garbage chute and letting her play in the corridor on her own (both of which he objected to initially, both of which she now does on a regular basis, even when I’m out and he’s in sole charge. I mean, who doesn’t want their kid to take the garbage out?!). I really think it’s her obvious pride in being trusted and capable that makes the difference between “What were you thinking?!” and “Hmm, I guess she is able to do that after all.”

  10. And so, I hope, the mother would, except in emergency, not leave her girl child alone with a male friend. Then, everyone is safe. I feel that, for children outside of family, babysitting should have at least one woman involved.

    You know that women abuse children too, right? Sometimes women help men abuse children as well. (And of course, inside families, both women and men are far more likely to abuse children than those outside the families are.)

  11. Heh, I was thinking about using a leash on my tot. So far been taking him in the stoller everywhere we go, which is a pain since he tries to climb out, stick his feet on the wheels, etc etc, letting him walk doesn’t work, he runs off and fights with me when I try to hold his hand, looks like a good option to go for one of those back pack leashes. My hubby argues with me about it. but he’s never been out with him alone.

    Overprotective parents almost ruined a trip to an indoor mall-park last week, kept hovering their tots and blocking the other kids from actually being able to play by crowding the park.

  12. @Michelle, my daughter started walking at 10 mos, when she was not mature enough to keep holding my hand or stay by my side. We used the backpack leash on our daily walks down the main street (we live in a city) or in big, unfamiliar crowds (fairs, airports). She stopped needing it around 16 mos or so, but we were *very* grateful to have had it. I did feel like a bad parent and heard a lot of comments, but it was the best solution at the time.

  13. Most cars have an interlock on the gearshift nowadays which makes it impossible to shift out of Park without simultaneously pressing the brake pedal, which is pretty difficult for a small child.

  14. liberrian, the tragedy I’m referring to is none of your business. Had I wanted to share it, I’d have done so to begin with. Yes, you could probably all *learn* from it, but it’s currently an ongoing situation and one that’s left an entire community emotionally raw and exhausted. Let your imagination run wild. You won’t come up with anything worse than this reality. There was nothing *saracastic* in my post.

  15. Geez LindaLou, that tragedy seems to have damaged you pretty badly. Perhaps you should stay off sites about children that obviously upset you.

    P.S. If you don’t want people to ask about your tragedy, don’t mention it in the first place.

  16. Thanks for your kind sympathy, Marion. It’s about what I’ve come to expect on here.

  17. Michelle,
    I used one with my niece and now with her brother. It gives them freedom to move but a boundary. I have a skin condition that can make it extremely painful to hold their hands, plus I’m tall and it hurts to walk leaning over.
    Niece nicknamed the packpack George (It is a monkey) and still loves it and wants to sleep with the animal part (I take off the tail), when she spends the night.

    Of course, I asked their parents before I started using it.

  18. Wow, LindaLou, and you said your weren’t sarcastic! Kudos for coming out of the closet! 🙂

    Truly, I don’t know what is going on in your life and community, but if you are hurting, this doesn’t appear to be a healthy place for you. The stress is obvious. If reading about Free-Range Kids is upsetting, perhaps a more soothing site might suit you better until things are a little better. I am sincere about that.

  19. I always feel guilty leaving the kids in the car, like I’m going to come out of the gas station kiosk or library or take-out place and find someone standing there all ready to reprimand me for being a bad parent. I never leave them if I can’t see the vehicle but all the same it stresses me out.

  20. I’m not really sure how someone is empowering a four month old by letting a stranger hold her while mama pee’s. Is it an empowerment of the mama? I don’t think so, she is relinquishing power. It seems, really, it is an empowerment of the stranger who was just entrusted with the four month old’s care.

    Anyway, I don’t see anything wrong with trusting a stranger to hold your baby while you pee. Though, like I remember someone else saying, I don’t think I’d do it for concern that that person would actually feel put-out by it. Though, if asked “will you hold her while I pee,” you’d like to *assume* the stranger has the reason and rationality to say NO if they really didn’t want to hold a stranger’s baby, the bottom line is – that person is a stranger – so all you can do is trust their word for it.

    We all have different comfort levels regarding this – even as free range parents we are in different places with decisions such as these. I will say this statement made me say, Hmmmm, “My 4 1/2 year old is smart, confident, capable, and understands more about what’s going on around her than many adults I’ve known.” Really? I think you just made a case for those who disagree with handing off their four month old to a stranger.

    All in all, good for the mama who trusted her gut about the ladies, asked for help, and no harm came out of it. It is good to be resourceful in any needed situation. And resourceful you were!

    I’m not sure how or why this conversation got derailed discussing kids in cars and such.

  21. I think that the people who are saying that this post is “off topic” or criticizing others for trying to apply ideas that aren’t strictly about kids are off-base.

    The Free-Range movement is about more than what people do or do not allow their school age children to do. It is about a fundamental philosophy of life. Do you choose to live in fear or not? Do you choose to spend your time, energy, and resources trying to plan for, prepare for, anticipate, and even expect the worse case scenario to happen? Or do you put your energies elsewhere and expect that life will be challenging and there are bad things that can happen but that you must live life without being crippled by fear?

    This is applicable whether you have school age kids or toddlers; whether you have children or don’t have children at all. We need to have a society of independent adults. That can not happen if people are living in fear of the worst at all times.

    Bad things happen, but infinitely more often bad things don’t happen. This is, of course, relevant to what we do or don’t do with our kids, but it is also relevant in how we interact with everyone in our society.

    Someone pointed out that it takes time to build a community. Yes, this is true. But in some senses building that community is still about trusting only those select few you have come to know well. We need to move past that and realize that people we do not know are not automatically untrustworthy. People we don’t know are, for the most part friendly, helpful, kind, and compassionate. When we turn everyone we don’t know into a faceless drone that is when we lose our humanity and assume the worst of everyone and everything.

    You can say I was neglectful, lazy, or naive by leaving my kids in the car for five minutes while I could see them the whole time through a window. Or you could see my behavior as an act of faith that the world isn’t as bad as we’re told it is, that strangers aren’t as bad as we’re told they are, and that our kids are more capable than we’re told they can be. This is Free-Range in it’s best sense.

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