Help! How Can Mom Explain She is Raising Independent (Not Neglected) Kids?

Hi Readers! This mom needs some great ideas in how to deal with friends, neighbors — and PASTOR — who equate “Free-Range” with NEGLECT. Let’s give her some strategies! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: My nine-year-old, eight-year-old and five-year-old have been walking to school alone for a couple of months now. The walk is about thirty minutes child pace, fifteen if you’re adult. We built this trip up slowly we me walking them most of the way, then half etc.

I promote independence in my children, they can all cook, peel and chop veg, do laundry etc. They are not slaves, they enjoy being able to do things for themselves and  each other.

I run a playgroup at my church in the UK and the other day my pastor sat me down and said that people have been expressing a lot of concern about my kids walking to school alone. He implied that I must not be coping as a parent and used the words “social services” about fifty times during the conversation. I am soooo angry. He is basically emotionally blackmailing me and saying that if I continue to let my kids walk to school alone then someone is going to report me. How very Christian.

I am coping just fine and I made this decision with my children. I’m just so angry that I’m being told that I can’t raise my kids how I see  fit. Especially as we are a very tight  family who spend loads of quality time together and the people complaining think it’s fine to let the Internet raise their kids. I’m so mad and I don’t know how to proceed. I don’t want to be bullied in to changing the way I raise my family, but I don’t want to be reported for neglect either. I’m a damn good mom. Help!!

123 Responses

  1. Wow. Now I have something to shoot for with my kids!

    I wonder if it’s worth it to confront everything before it blows up. Ask for some time in your church to speak and explain what your kids can do. Invite your pastor to your house for dinner…that was cooked by your kids. Show them not that you’re a negligent parent, but that your kids are more responsible and more capable than any of the kids of the “concerned” parents.

    And while this is quite risky, and I have absolutely no experience in this department and the chance of a backfire is quite possible, I wonder what would happen if you called social services yourself, explained the situation, and asked for their advice. They could completely flip out, of course, and I’m admittedly being naive, but I just have to think that a social worker would appreciate that your kids are quite well-cared for, and are learning how to be responsible and not neglected in front of a game console or computer.

  2. I always think the best way to deal with things like this is to provide back up – in this case, research on (1) the actual rate of child abductions (teeny tiny), (2) the obesity rate in children (huge) and the benefits of regular physical activity to avoid that, and (3) information on the benefits of independence for kids (Lenore’s book perhaps – or at least a chapter or an article.

    Knowing me, I’d probably also write something, but I’m a writer. I tend to get emotional when I talk and that doesn’t usually present your case in the best light.

    Remember that there is a lot of fear out there. We have been ingrained in the idea that we have to watch our kids 24/7 or “something” might happen. The countermessage has to get out that if we let our kids be free range “something else” might happen – they might become independent, responsible kids and adults.

    Good luck! You are in a frustrating position. Please keep us posted.

  3. Any pastor who threatened me with social services would instantly have himself one family less to cluck over.

    I say let them report you. Those idiots have NO IDEA how bad a home situation has to be before they can take any action at all.

    The world has become such a baffling place. My brother and I used to roam all over the neighborhood when we were younger than your oldest two, exploring on our bikes and even (gasp!) playing in the nearby creek. And this was back in the 1980s when child abduction rates were actually much higher!

  4. I love the ideas above, especially Marc’s of having the pastor over for dinner, and my immediate thought was to look into what the actual laws are and if it’s illegal for children to walk to school by themselves (meaning, would social services really deem that even noticeable). Also, writing maybe some sort of newsletter or posting a flyer or something with actual data on child kidnappings, the safety of walking to school alone,. etc, might open up a few minds.

    That said, my personal reaction would probably be to find a new church. I’m not sure I could remain in a community that I knew questioned me so much and trusted and respected me and my family so little.

  5. I suspect some sort of interpersonal politics here. Tell the Pastor that since people have been complaining about your parenting style, you expect they would like you to stop running the playgroup. Wait and see who steps up to take over– or who speaks about not having it continue–, and there’s likely to be your complainer. I would, honestly, leave such a church; where there’s one culture of undermining there will be more.

  6. I might suspect the pastor had been put in the middle on this one by complainers, if it weren’t for the fact that he’s the one who kept talking about social services and questioning the coping/parenting skills. If you’re just trying to express some concerns that others have raised, you don’t go for the scare words yourself.

    I’m one who believes in trying to work things through rather than leaving a church quickly even when clear offense has been given. I like the suggestion of having the pastor over, and maybe an extra effort to let the complainers in on your family life (even though I realize this will be hard as you have cause for anger at them.) There are a lot of people who are just so conditioned to the modern way of thinking about parenting that they just simply don’t “get” it that it can work another way. If you can somehow work this through amicably, everyone will have gained for it.

  7. I continue to be gobsmacked at these kinds of stories. As a short- term solution I agree with whoever said to ignore it, but then again I’ve gotten quite the uppity attitude since getting reported for a similar thing last year.

    As a longer term solution I think somebody (Lenore? LOL) needs to write a book on the raising of free-range kids. After all, everyone on this site knows that free-range kids are made, not born. We all know the years of hard work, the many decisions and choices, the many things handled “differently”, beginning in infancy, that get our kids to this point of competence and trustworthiness but others don’t see that when they see our children out alone.

  8. I was recently reported in a somewhat similar situation – not by my pastor, but by the owner of a yarn store where my knitting group used to meet. My son, and sometimes a friend or two, often tagged along and played their various handheld video games or talked or rode bikes on the block when the weather was nice enough. They were never disruptive or caused any trouble or damage at the store, so there were no complaints there. However, the owner got her undies in a bundle because some of the people in my group were gay/transgendered/non-monogamous/had a pulse and she freaked out when she realized a poor, innocent child was in the same room as people talking about their non-heteronormative partners. I also had the audacity to tell funny stories about bad dates in my past. Things never got close to being graphic but that didn’t matter to her – someone even mentioning their sex-change surgery or lesbian partner was enough.

    Anyway, the point is that when social services came out to visit me, it ended up not so much the social worker questioning me, but rather the social worker giving me advice on how to defuse situations where one person is obsessed with the supposed “morality” of another. Apparently, and sadly, it’s not uncommon around here for nosy busybodies on their high horses to call on other parents who are doing just fine, but are doing things their own way. Social services, at least in Wisconsin – can’t say about the UK, recognizes that this happens and won’t take further action. Which was a huge relief to me.

  9. As for the suggestion on statistics, a friend’s take on anything bad we hear in the news is that if it didn’t happen within 25 miles from here its not a likely thing to be fearful of.
    My town’s PD likes to use the stranger danger fear but when they released the crime stats it was nowhere on the list. Ironically, in line with the fact that acquaintances are more likely to commit a crime, we’ve had a few highly publicized incidents of people known to others engaging in questionable behavior.

  10. I should say, the advice I was given was basically “Stay away from her, leave her alone, don’t antagonize her because she won’t back down.” We moved our knitting group to a different location (also because the owner started harrassing our group on our website and members by phone/e-mail), and I have ignored/blocked her everywhere I can.

    I don’t know how helpful that is to someone in a church setting, though. It was no skin off my nose to not go back to a yarn store; someone’s faith and church community is a whole different story.

  11. Writing an article for the community newsletter, if there is one, sounds like a good bet. From the encounter with the pastor, I’d be scared to switch churches for fear he’d take that as evidence of guilt!

  12. Personally, I don’t think this woman needs to “do” anything, except continue living her life the way she feels is best for her and her children! The pastor sounds like a big fat jerk, and I, too might consider changing churches–finding a place that’s much more tolerant and progressive and open-minded. I would be FURIOUS if social services was mentioned even ONCE in a conversation like that.

    I don’t know about the laws in the U.K., but I’m about 99.9% certain a complaint of this nature wouldn’t have a leg to stand on here in the U.S.

    I’m the kind of person that might just say “go ahead, call the authorities” because I’m pretty sure they’d find nothing wrong with what you’re doing. Then all the local busy-bodies would have something to chew on for a while.

  13. Hi there

    I was so saddened by your story. I’m also from the UK, and have a 3yr old and 5 month old – I can only aspire to be as good a parent as you are when you say;

    “I promote independence in my children, they can all cook, peel and chop veg, do laundry etc. They are not slaves, they enjoy being able to do things for themselves and each other”

    that paragraph was just awesome to read.

    In terms of my advice – I like the sound of inviting the pastor (priest? vicar?) around for dinner. I would also contact the school to get their views on this. I’m sure having their support would be very good.

    Good luck, please update us all via Lenore if you get a chance, and all the best

  14. I would the mom should thank the pastor for his concern and explain your family believes in exercise and fighting obesity in today’s kids and this is how your kids get exercise and fresh air. And when he tells you there is a predator around every corner, make sure you have printed out information about today’s crime rates that show how the world is just as safe as it was when HE was a kid.

  15. I would do a quick check and make sure it’s legal to let your child on your own. Silly as that sounds. I checked here in PA, and there isn’t a law, although there are some guidelines. There are, in fact, only two states that have a law in place as to leaving a child without parental supervision. My daughter, 6, LOVES going to the bus stop by herself, walking from the bus down the street home, coming home from the park a different way than me so she can walk by herself. If someone threatened me with neglect because I let my child walk home alone, I can say that legally, social services or anybody else does not have a leg to stand on if they criticize, since there is no law stating that she cannot walk home by herself. End of story.

  16. With the three kids 9, 8, and 5 walking together I don’t see how social services could be concerned. They’ve got bigger issued to deal with.

    I’m a member of the LDS church which basically “assigns” folks to a congregation based on geography. Learning to get along with a church leader or other members with whom you disagree naturally becomes important. Our local leaders are all temporary so maybe that makes this advice easier to give than receive. I would say growing thicker skin is the best option here.

    Hopefully there are some other families in your congregation who understand and appreciate your approach to parenting. Take comfort in them (and in having your kids help with dinner).😉

    If you are concerned about continuing the playgroup, the advice about having the pastor over seems good to me. If you don’t feel you explained yourself well while being so accused–who feels articulate while being accused like that–you could write him a brief letter. But you don’t need to convince him or prove anything to him. Feeling like you do will probably just keep the anger around longer if he (or those original complainers) isn’t persuaded.

  17. Take charge. The best defence is a strong offence (that’s deliberate use of Commonwealth spellings for those readers who might wonder if I’m e-lisping). If both you and your children assume prominent positions in your community, you will be unassailable. And finding that niche is easier than it sounds because Free Range promotes that very thing via its independence mindset. And what we’re suffering from right now on both sides of the Atlantic is a take-charge vacuum, which is why so many people are being crappy to start with: many are reacting because so few are really leading.

    The last time I was on the receiving end of a judgemental tirade regarding my daughter, my response was, “So what you’re saying is that her winning three consecutive District Science Fair gold medals (and for unconventional Free-Range-flavored projects to boot) is NOT enough to convince you that she is capable, confident, and thriving in our chosen lifestyle??” (I never did receive a rebuttal – the debate seems to have died a swift death at that point).

    So with MY kid, deflection of criticism is increasingly easy!! If your children are inclined to excel in some area other than academics (e.g., hobbies, athletics, community service, etc.), you could encourage their further development in those areas and offer up the results as evidence of viabililty. I’m not saying you / they should develop competencies for the PURPOSE of formulating a defence, because that would be buttocks-backwards – I’m just saying that opportunities to cite competencies will naturally arise as they continue to experience the successes of the lifestyle.

    Good luck!!🙂

    Alison.

  18. I applaud you for having your kids walk. The ideas above sound like good ones.
    Just wanted to point out that your kids are together, right? So, they are not alone. The 5yo is not walking for 30 minutes alone. She has older siblings.
    Has your pastor read Lenore’s book? Maybe putting one on his desk. . . .
    Good luck. You are doing the right thing.

  19. Will somebody tell me when it became illegal to leave a 10 year old kid by himself in a car? I can understand it, if it was 85-90 degrees out or 20-30 degrees, but this was on a nice 70 degree day. I was parked at a shopping center while my Sister and Mother were shopping. It was nice enough that I wanted to stay in the car. I was reading a book, when I saw a group of people at a near-by van. I looked over and there was a kid sitting there watching Iron Man on the van’s DVD player and eating a sandwich. It wasn’t 5 minutes later that a police car showed up. One officer opened the door of the van and was talking to the kid, while the second officer went into the store. He came out about 5 minutes later, practically dragging a woman with him. They talk for about ten minutes, then the kid is placed in the back of the police car and it drives off with the van right behind it. Then I hear on the morning news that the kid was turned over to his Grandmother and the Mother is charged with child endangerment.

  20. Kudos to you! I would gift-wrap a copy of Lenore’s book and leave it on his desk. Write up a list of suggestions for his sermons – since you ARE a member of his congregation, that DOES mean you get to stick your nose in his work, too, right? Offer him ideas for sermons on how to get the congregation’s children MOVING, growing in GOD’S world with health and vitality, LEADING them to service with their fellow congregants in creating a healthy, safe environment, LOVING thy neighbor in assisting in weed-pulling and community gardens, being ACTIVE in another child’s life by keeping one eye on them as they learn to be INDEPENDENT, CAPABLE members of their society.

    Best wishes to you.🙂

  21. Wow, that’s a horrid situation to be in. I think the way to handle it depends on what relationship you have with the pastor.

    If there’s mutual respect there then I think you can try explaining your position, invite him over for dinner and otherwise show him how well your kids respond to the responsibility you give them and how capable they are. I would also emphasize that this is part of a strategy to develop capable adults, not a quick way to get them to school. That while you appreciate the offers of help, having someone else walk them to school is not only unnecessary (because you are quite capable of doing it if it were necessary), but actively harmful to your kids.

    If, on the other hand, you don’t think the pastor respects you or is likely to listen to you with an open mind then I’d start looking for another playgroup/church (it isn’t clear to me whether you’re a part of the congregation or not). You could try putting your foot down with the pastor – tell him you think his attempt at emotional blackmail over a parenting decision that is niether neglectful nor unchristian is appalling, that there is not and has not ever been a time when it was inappropriate for a group of brothers and sisters to walk to school together, and how on earth can he justify having let you run the playgroup if he’s actually concerned about your abilities (assuming it’s a church playgroup). But if this is the situation (i.e. no real respect for you) your choices if you stay are most likely to conform or get social services called (which would probably be a pretty horrible experience even though you’re on solid ground).

    I’m really sorry you find yourself in that situation. Best of luck.

  22. In these situations, I always wonder how they would react if the kids HAD to walk by themselves, rather than chose to walk by themselves. If, for instance, you were a widow who worked crazy hours as a nurse (or whatever) and the kids just had to fend for themselves some days.

    Would your pastor be lecturing then, or would he be offering help? It’s a safe bet that the complainers would be clucking with faux-sympathy…anything to make themselves look good and upstanding, right?

    I would tell them to call ss and see where it gets them. I would then resign from the playgroup, make a rude gesture, and find a new church. But I can be reactionary sometimes.😉

  23. Pastors are Book Readers.

    Hand him a copy of Free Range Kids, and in a kind voice suggest he might be interested in reading it to understand where you’re coming from. And also suggest he take a look at Lenore’s Blog. (and the other blogs linked to it)

    ALSO, give him a copy of Warwick Cairn’s little paperback:

    “HOW TO LIVE DANGEROUSLY: Why We Should All Stop Worrying and Start Living”

    …which happens to be be a book Lenore lists in the back of her own book.

    Together, these two books will at least give the pastor a lot to think about.

  24. It *is* the hardest part of parenting, free range or not, is other parent’s judgement. “Well, I wouldn’t do it that way so it must be wrong”. Then they “do the right thing as concerned parents”. Ugh.

    I don’t have an advice as I’m trying to negotiate how to free range in a land of helicopters too. Chin up. At least it is sparking a discussion, and sometimes that’s all it takes to get people motivated to change.

  25. I guess just telling the pastor to go f**k off isn’t the answer.

    You might try this: Write a list of the reasons you are raising you kids this way and rehearse it so you don’t forget anything. Begin your talk with him and steamroll him — don’t let him lecture or sermonize on your dime; he would do the same to you if given a chance. Close with a statement to the effect that these are YOUR children and are subject to YOUR rules, not his.

    If that doesn’t work, then my first sentence should be considered an option. Make sure you call your lawyer first.

  26. One thing to remember, commenters, is that she’s in the UK, not the USA, and right now that country is hell-bent on finding DANGER in EVERY. BLESSED. THING their people do. So this could be coming from, “ZOMG SOMEONE MIGHT TAKE A PICTURE OF THESE CHILDREN AND POST IT ON THE INTERNETS!!!” Common sense MUST prevail.

  27. My older kids walk a lot of places like that and I think it’s great. Would I let my nine year old be in charge of the safety of my FIVE year old for a half an hour while walking down public streets? Oh. Hell. No. And my concern on the matter has zero to do with the threat of abduction. Yay, Free Range! But have some common sense as well.

  28. J. Collins, maybe you were being sarcastic, but I clearly remember “when it became illegal” to leave any child under 12 in a car without an adult probably 10 or 15 years ago, at least in my state. So yeah, it really did “become illegal,” sadly enough.

  29. I liked the first suggestion. The best way to avoid a confrontation is to build understanding, as tempting as it is to tell the Pastor to bite it. Invite him to dinner and allow him to see what a functional household you are running.

    She mentioned that her kids can peel, chop, and cook, which reminded me of an activity from my son’s K/1 classroom.

    Every year the teacher did a Stone Soup activity. The class read the story, then parents helped their children shop for a vegetable. Kids were given the freedom to choose whichever piece of produce suited them, and several brought foods they’d never tried before.

    In class, they used blunt pumpkin carvers to saw their veggies into pieces, then added them to the pot with the stone at the bottom. They invited us parents to join them, and we stood there watching them eat soup with veggies they never consumed at home. We were amazed! Their behavior is different when you allow them to invest themselves in an activity.

    Also consider having some regular parent meetings. At my son’s parent-participation elementary school, we met regularly to discuss school business and parenting issues. I’ve had great advice and get advice from the group.

  30. Reading the above comments, I completely agree and suggest a few of the same: 1) change pastor/church, 2) inviting pastor over for dinner and letting him experience your family, and 3) offering up your role as playgroup leader to someone who has practices that coincide with what the other parents supposedly “want.”

    With a pre-schooler and another on the way, I am *hoping* to be a free-range parent. I am *hoping* I have the insight this mom did to ease her children into the more responsible children they are. It was well thought out AND implemented… I applaud her for that.

    I’m also angry…. not just at the pastor who was “elected” to do the dirty deed of explaining all the “wrongs” of her parenting, but also at the other mothers who refuse to be adults and address their concern at the source! Therein lies clear evidence that the women who apparently have issues with this mom’s parenting techniques have parenting issues themselves!!! Act like an adult… show your kid how to deal with a situation they don’t like by confronting the issue in a polite, firm, and tactful way with the person the “problem” stems from. Ridiculous.

    Lastly, my heart just aches for this mom. Not only has she done an impeccable job of raising her children to BE the amazing adults they can be… but she’s getting “in trouble” for it! Please don’t doubt your parenting skills!! Please don’t quit what you’re doing with your children just because some close-minded women/men/the pastor can’t see the HUGE benefits parenting like you can reap.

    ARGH!!!!

  31. I don’t trust social services to be objective.

  32. Tell them to Bring it. Then if social services really thinks you’re a bad parent, take it to the highest court in the land if you have to.

    The media has taught the last 2 generations to fear normal life, which has become a cultural norm, which then COULD feed into law. It must stop before that.

  33. The approach will differ depending on whether she just wants people off her back, or whether she wants to promote peace among people (while also getting them to realize they don’t need to be on her back.) I would think that in church relationships, the latter would be the goal, even though it’s not often well-implemented.

  34. The Walk to School campaign in the UK (many schools run the walk to school events that this org promotes) has a page on independent walking that might be useful for the woman to show her pastor:
    http://www.walktoschool.org.uk/content/independent_walking.php

  35. LindaLou – That’s a new definition of common sense then. For generations kids of that age were trusted to look after their younger siblings. While every parent should consider whether it will work for their particular kids, just because it won’t work for yours doesn’t mean that every other family has the same issues.

  36. sigh. well-intentioned or not, this pastor is fostering gossip and busybodies amongst his congregation (both of which are viewed pretty negatively in the new testament), not to mention the fact that people are supposed to go directly (and not passive-aggressively) to those with whom they have issue. bad theology, bad practice, bad form.

  37. i suggest the reader look up the definition of neglect in case she is ever approached again. This site has a fairly standard definition.

    http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/

    I’ll note that this definition includes that parents must provide a safe environment for their children to explore both physically and socially.

  38. Best to be prepared for this kind of thing in advance. Maybe have a short booklist or list of websites to prove that this is not a whacko parenting method but one that has a lot of support and research behind it. Also, research the law so that you can readily counter “threats,” e.g., “it is not illegal to do __ as long as ___.” Make it clear that you have put a lot of thought into choosing this parenting style and structuring your kids’ lives to maximize their opportunities to learn the things you feel will help them most in life.

    I get “concerned bystanders’ interference” to some extent. I find myself having to say things “to my kids” that explain parenting choices. Example: I tell my kids to put their coats on as we are leaving preschool. They can choose to close their coat or not – a little exposure between the door and my car isn’t going to hurt them. Also, if they dawdle, I refuse to repeat myself 100 times; let them find out what happens if they don’t act responsibly. Sometimes a daycare employee will feel sorry for my kids and help them with their coats. I will say something to my kids, in the adult’s hearing, to the effect that they are big, capable girls and need to practice doing things for themselves.

  39. I’d simply find a new church to attend, one that didn’t butt into its parishioners’ personal lives.

  40. I am trying to find an email address on your site, but no luck, so I hope you catch this comment.
    You talk a lot about free range kids, but my predicament is about and eight month old.
    we are attending a wedding reception that starts after our baby’s bedtime. we are staying in the hotel and the reception is in hotel’s ballroom. I believe we will be on the same floor, but that is a detail.
    I for one am not nervous about leaving my baby to sleep in the room alone (he sleeps a rock solid 12 hours a night) and checking up on him every thirty minutes (myself, or my husband). We go back and forth because I truly have .001 percent fear that someone might nab him who has access to a keycard. However, someone mentioned it and the power of suggestion is strong. I know deep down that the reactions of the people attending the wedding are part of why I may not due it. If we were just going to eat alone at a dinner in that room, and knew no one, I think I would do it without hesitation – knowing that I would check up on him for those 2 or 3 hours, multiple times.

    I thought about asking the front desk man if they have cameras on the floors, and to watch our corridor. But again, i am not worried. I am just looking for ways to feel less guilty.

    My husband suggested we pay for a sitter for those two hours to sit in the room. But the sitter would be a complete stranger!! (it’s not in our town) and ultimately, I am just battling my instincts against societal guilt.
    What do you think?
    Sincerely,
    Jessica M

  41. I like helenquine’s response.

    THE GOVERNMENT wants your children to walk to school alone. Perfect ammunition against a busybody (be it the pastor or the person who aggitated the pastor).

    From the website:
    “Children out on their own:
    There is no law prohibiting children from being out on their own at any age. It is a matter of judgement for parents to decide when children can play out on their own, walk to the shops or school.”

    And THE BEST quote:
    “Living Streets believes that children who are driven to school do not have the opportunity to develop road awareness and are therefore more vulnerable when they start to walk to school independently at secondary level.”

    But what an odd world we live in that we need a government website to tell us how to walk our kids to school. Sigh.

  42. Sorry to double post:

    Here is the PDF “parent’s guide” on how to have your child walk to school.

    With the quote: “Once you and
    they are happy, they can begin travelling
    independently.”

    Off topic: Jessica, I’d get the sitter. Yes, it would be a stranger, but hotel supplied sitters are usually bonded and very reliable. If you don’t like them when they come to the door you don’t have to let them in. I would not leave a baby alone behind a locked door, certainly not on a different floor. Free Range is about giving our kids tools to be safe without us, but a baby doesn’t quite fit into that scheme yet. Give it a few years🙂

  43. Hi, Jessica, Welcome.
    Are there any others with babies who will be at the reception and might want to share a sitter – possibly a teenager also attending who would rather the opportunity to make some money. Or you could bring an audio baby monitor if it’s close enough for the signal.

    You’re in a tough spot. My son was not a rock solid sleeper at that age so I would have had to have a sitter of some sort. He definitely demanded attention when he woke up – loud enough that I don’t think anyone else nearby would have appreciated it!

    The hotel probably has pretty good references on sitters or a reputable service that they use. You might be able to meet them earlier in the day. I used a service like this once, although my son was older, and it was just fine. And I have a friend with a baby just a little older than yours and she arranges for babysitters through our local medical school. She does not know them in advance, but figures they are pretty well vetted to be in med school!

  44. Hmmm. I’m a freeranger for religious reasons. Let’s face it, society is definitely not assisting us in raising our children to be virtous, loving, generous, loyal, intelligent, faithful, and chaste. TV is cynical, material, smallminded, amoral and illiterate. Freedom of movement equals freedom of thought. If my DD is out there going where she pleases and making her own decisions and relying on her own instinct, she is less likely to fall victim to peer pressure and the negative influences of others. She will be better at trusting herself. BTW, the media act like it wants us to fall away from church (or other houses of worship). Maybe we should ask ourselves why.
    Maybe if you explained it to the Pastor in this way (adding a light incredulous laugh at the thought of you being negligent) he will understand. I don’t think being on the offensive will accomplish much.
    As a Catholic, I too go to church by district. Pastors come and go but a parrish is like an extended family and they do assist you in raising your children with good qualities. Be firm in what you feel is right. They will back off sooner than you think.

  45. You’d be surprised how easy it is to leave the Church. I left the Catholic Church about 4 years ago and have not looked back. That was after several years of being extremely involved and even on the Board of Directors.

    Bye, bye!

  46. The best place to start is to invite your pastor or the suggested dinner. It allows him to observe for himself and you to enlighten him on your turf. Introducing him to the UK initiative is a great idea. And you should suggest that he think about a sermon on helping our children develop wings and well as roots.
    My children are in college but when they were in grade school I got a series of calls from their school. One child went without a coat for a couple of days one fall. I was asked if there was a problem, did we need help. I replied only if it involved teaching my child to be responsible for her own clothing-she had misplaced her new coat. I assured them it would be returned to her if the weather got bad. The school was supportive after that.
    Obviously you are involved in the church if you are running a playgroup. The parents of your playgroup obviously trust you so you have some support in the church community but changing churches is also an option but why give the complainers the satisfaction if you like the church?

  47. @Jessica
    Is something preventing you from taking the sleeping baby to the reception in a sling, car seat or stroller?

  48. Perhaps Zie has given a clue. You should call your child’s doctor to ask him/her and then be the first to make the call to child services and ask if they think it’s ok for kids to walk to school if the school does not provide transportation. Get your foot in first so to speak.

    A pastor should not be making threats (if there is genuine concern then go back and let him know what you “learned” from your doctor and child services) but working with parents to help them raise children into functioning, reasonable adults. I seriously doubt that any pastor would say outright that walking to school and helping to prepare meals would make a child reject the faith or be a worse person in the long run.

    It might be worthwhile to ask the pastor if people have just used these “talking points” to get a different leader for the playgroup. If that is the case then your talents are probably better put to use elsewhere. Maybe child services needs someone to run a play group

  49. Hard to give advice because I am in a somewhat similar situation. Someone again (I suspect the same person as last year) called 911 because my sons (8 & 5) were walking home from a friend’s house 1 block away. This stranger pulled over and grabbed the youngest’s hand to “keep him safe”. My older son who was a little ways ahead, went back and yanked his brother from her and they ran home together. The police showed up and claimed I was being negligent and then that I was argumentative because I didn’t agree with them. I do appreciate the advice of not letting it get to you too much.

  50. Barb mentioned calling your doctor.

    Here’s a peaceful and a creative solution–try getting a doctor’s note for walking outside independently. I know it sounds silly, but it might be a good trick.

    My son is the string bean variety, needed a few extra fats in his diet, and once had a prescription to eat ice cream.

  51. I’m sorry to hear this! Recently I bought a rake other other yard tools at Home Depot and I asked the clerk about child sized tools. He said to me, “You know child labor is against the law.” He didn’t laugh and he didn’t smile so I don’t think he was joking. This problem is so pervasive… I hope the good folks at your church will back off.

  52. I was in a similar situation recently. A neighborhood woman saw my 5 year old daughter on our street. She put my daughter in her car and drove her to my home. She then went to my neighbor, who works for DSS. The DSS neighbor came to and said, “If I leave my child unsupervised off of my property, she would have to report me.” I called an attorney to find out my rights. Although my state doesn’t have any laws on the books, the Parent Police have all the power and I as the parent, have few rights as to how I raise my children. So now I have to succumb to the helicopter, self-righteous, over-protective parenting which is everything my husband and I are against. Even though we’re statistically safer. Lenore, I felt like you wrote chapter 6 for me. Welcome to the world of defensive parenting.

  53. I just went through this exact same thing. My guys walk a BLOCK and a HALF to a sledding hill. They are 8, 6, and 4. They go together, have fun outside and walk home at the appointed time. Last week two woman followed them home and when I saw this, I immediately went outside to make sure everything was okay. I spent the next twenty minutes being lectured about how they were going to call social services and that almost every mother would love to have my boys if I wasn’t coping well enough to take care of them. The worse part was, I had laryngitist so I literally couldn’t defend myself. I wish I could have done better but I was shocked and sick and couldn’t speak, so I was shaken and furious.

  54. This is a political situation. You know better than anyone else whether you have the numbers or not – if you don’t, get out before it gets really bad, because it will.

    Churches are exactly like any other gang, if you are on the bottom your life will be a misery. Unfortunately, most people only figure that out after they are screwed over by their ‘friends’ at Church. Your pastor thought nothing of threatening you and your kids, most likely at the insistence of other people he likes more than you – you figure out where you think that’s going to end.

  55. I would immediately find another church. Full stop. I would certainly not offer support in either tithes or volunteering to someone who threatened my family.

    I wouldn’t make a fuss, I would wait a week or so then quietly leave, never to return.

  56. dmd “(2) the obesity rate in children (huge) and the benefits of regular physical activity to avoid that, ” – this has next to no effect on obesity; it’s food/drink, not exercise.

    Gawd – a “do-gooding” Pastor – causing trouble – how can this be?!😉

  57. I’m just not sure leaving your church is the solution. Wherever you go, people will disagree with the way you do things, so you may as well learn to defend yourself and then stick in a place where you only had to do it once.

    I like the people who said call DCFS or your doctor or lawyer or whatever. Tell your pastor you didn’t want to take his concerns lightly. You appreciate it that he’s looking after his congregation and wants the children to be safe (Then you’re on his side) and explain that you checked with so-and-so to see if there’s a problem or if you should be doing it differently and they said blahblahblah.

    Then ask if he’d talk to the people who complained, and see if they would be willing to talk to you one on one. Tell him you’re not offended/upset and you’d just like to let them know they don’t need to be worried. Make sure you have your statistics and everything in writing, so you don’t get flustered and forget something.

    I know it sounds like a bunch of crap, but if you act like you really appreciate their concern for your kids (I’m so glad we live in such a tight knit community where everyone looks out for each other!) they’ll be that much more willing to listen to you.

    MAKE SURE you don’t yell or get angry. If the person you’re talking to gets upset, say, “I don’t want to upset you. Should we take a little breather and get back to this later?”

    You catch more flies with honey, my dear.

  58. >>>>lonedattyof3, on March 23, 2010 at 3:01 am Said:
    I don’t trust social services to be objective.

    I don’t trust the majority of the posters on the website to be objective. SMALL children require adult supervision. This is a complete no brainer and has nothing to do with appropriate free ranging.

    >>>>helenquine, on March 23, 2010 at 4:07 am Said:
    LindaLou – That’s a new definition of common sense then. For generations kids of that age were trusted to look after their younger siblings. While every parent should consider whether it will work for their particular kids, just because it won’t work for yours doesn’t mean that every other family has the same issues.

    Ahhhhhh, the old “Your kids must not be as mature as my kids” argument. Couldn’t see that one coming.:/ You know what: Bullsh^t. 🙂 The fact is that if you dare disagree with someone’s judgement on here people are all over it. I’ll bet you ANYTHING that the other parents and pastor are concerned (and rightly so) for the safety and well being of the FIVE year old.

    >>>>Lisa19, on March 23, 2010 at 8:36 am Said:
    I was in a similar situation recently. A neighborhood woman saw my 5 year old daughter on our street. She put my daughter in her car and drove her to my home. She then went to my neighbor, who works for DSS. The DSS neighbor came to and said, “If I leave my child unsupervised off of my property, she would have to report me.”

    And this is why 5 year olds require adult supervision. They do stupid things like, oh, GET IN THE CAR WITH STRANGE PEOPLE. Not to mention just having an underdeveloped sense of impulse control. Ball rolls in teh street, small child darts out after it. Backing car, child doesn’t even notice and walks right behind it.

  59. LindaLou – I didn’t say your kids were less mature. different personality types lead to different behavior in kids. One five year old might run into the road after a ball but others would be scared to. Not that they are more mature 9they might be much less so) just that for the particular task we’re talking about that particular child might be better suited.

    I’m not jumping on you for disagreeing. I posted a strong reply against disagreeing on the basis that it was “common sense” not to do something that has been done for generations. Why is it so much more dangerous now? What do we know now that we didn’t know 40 years ago? That sort of information would be useful to consider. Not some little rant about how the mother is lacking common sense when it’s simply that you don’t like what she’s doing.

  60. Oh, please. I was waiting for your post, Helenquine. If it wasn’t you, it would have been someone else. I think it was pretty obvious what you were getting at. I do not see how anyone who has the slightest bit of knowledge about child development would think a five year old would be safe on his own, unsupervised. I don’t think that it happened like that 40 years ago either. I grew up with tons of freedom and still remember my mother walking me to and from Kindergarten. I think there’s a certain sector of people on here who will support the absolutely ridiculous, and in doing so, make the rest of free rnagers look like a bunch of loons.

    At any rate, I won’t be commenting on this particular thread anymore as I don’t wish to get in a semantics argument over what common sense constitutes. I do hope some of you have the backbone to tell the mom that is consdering leaving her 8 month old baby alone in a hotel room while she goes to a party for several hours that she is completely bonkers to even be considering such nonsense, But hey, you probably won’t.

  61. LindaLou – The mother isn’t letting her five year old walk to school unsupervised. That’s a total misrepresentation of the situation. The kid’s nine year old sibling is with him/her. And I’m pretty sure kids of 9 were asked to supervise their younger siblings 40 years ago because I know people for whom that’s true.

    As for your “I think it was pretty obvious what you were getting at. ” If you mean I really was trying to imply “my kids are more mature than your kids” – Well, no I really wasn’t. My kids aren’t that age yet so I have no idea how mature they will be at five or nine. They may well not be capable of something similar. Their route to school may not be as suitable. More than that *my* issues may stop me from letting them do it even if they are capable. Those issues could be about all sorts of things – wanting to control or be aware of their environment more, wanting to take the quality time I can with them, wanting to have the exercise myself, or just that I’m not ready to let go. I don’t know. So no. It wasn’t about criticizing you or your kids because you wouldn’t let them do this particular thing. I was about there being lots of ways to parent that are neither superior nor inferior to each other.

  62. You might offer to let the pastor interview your kids to see how they would handle various (unlikely, worst-case) situations.

    For example,

    Q: How do you get to school?

    A: Up two blocks, turn right, walk to first street, turn left, etc.

    Q: What if the road was blocked at first street?

    A: Walk up another block to second, then back to first a block later, etc.

    Q: What if you get into an argument and want to split up?

    A: That’s against the rules; we are never to split up.

    Q: Should you talk to strangers who approach you?

    A: No (possible exception for uniformed police, but they should tell everyone else to go away, be prepared to run, insert stranger-danger strategy here)

    Q: What would you do if one of you (fell down, sprained an ankle, got a bad cut, etc)

    A: Try to make it to school or back home, which ever is closer. OR stay with the injured and flag down help from a parent, bus driver, shopkeeper, police officer, etc. (Yes, this contravenes the stranger-danger rule, but in reality MOST PEOPLE ARE GOOD and will offer assistance to their fellow human beings.) If you live in a rural area, and the injured cannot walk, either the eight or nine year old should run for help, so both of them need to be able to make the trek independently, and know how to ask for help, explain the situation, give directions back to the scene.

    Your kids should be able to answer these questions intuitively without prompting from you. The pastor should stick to scenarios that the children would be likely to encounter, not far-out situations.

    If your children can make it through such an interview, the pastor should be satisfied and go back to his business. If they can’t, you might question their readiness for independent walking.

  63. @king krak. Sorry to disagree, but physical activity does have something to do with it along with food and beverage consumption. And I’m speaking as someone who has worked in obesity prevention.

  64. @linda Lou, Why so much anger? It’s true, not all Free Rangers do things just alike. We wouldn’t be very “free” if we followed a rigid set of rules- there’s definitely room for difference here.

    I can say that 39 years ago, my friends 9 year old sister walked us home from school. We only had one incident when the 9 year old decided to visit a friend. We got lost on our own but we asked some ladies for help. Since I knew my # they could call my family. All was well and the 9 year old admonished not to do that again.

    As for the new poster, I’m not sure if calling her bonkers would make her feel very welcome here on her first day.

  65. My neighbour walked me to school when I was 5 some 40 plus years back. She earned a little extra pocket money and I got there on time. She was 8. I walked myself home after school. It was a mile each way and this was just considered normal.

    My own kids walked themselves home from ages 5 and 7 including a public bus and a good amount of walking. They now go on their bikes aged 11 and 13.

    viv in nz

  66. I went to kindergarten in 1971. That would be 39 years ago. My grandmother and a neighborhood mother practiced myself and the other kid walking to school a few times over the summer. The FIRST DAY of kindergarten, we met 4 blocks from my house, they told us to hold hands, and stay on the park side of the street (fewer cross streets). We continued the remaining 8 blocks to school on our own. Every day. Snow, rain, wind, broiling (Denver) for the entire year. We were both 5. We didn’t even have any neighborhood older kids going to school. We did coming home. But we went to afternoon kindy. It was just us out there. Most of the other kids came from the other side of the park, or went in the morning. The only problems I ever encountered came muuuuuuch later, closer to 6th grade when I was the unpopular nerd, and other kids took the opportunity of the walk to school to torment me.

    So, yes, 40 years ago people DID let (nay, REQUIRE) their 5 year olds to walk to school. And to the store. And to the library. And to the park, and down the street to the neighbor’s house, and and and and …. you get the point.

  67. I’d say leave the church, but that is easy for me as I left the church years ago and never looked back.

    I’d suggest talking with the Pastor and see about talking with other parents from the church about thee value of giving kids freedom. Maybe a class/seminar for the parents of kids in your playgroup. Jesus was a pretty free range kid wasn’t he?

  68. pentamom,

    I am NOT being sarcastic. Here’s the applicable law in my State.

    § 3701.1. Leaving an unattended child in a motor vehicle.
    (a) General rule.–A person driving or in charge of a motor vehicle may not permit a child under
    six years of age to remain unattended in the vehicle when the motor vehicle is out of the person’s sight
    and under circumstances which endanger the health, safety or welfare of the child.

    The law has no meaning. It is up to the interpretation of the child welfare agent. My state is Pennsylvania. For the woman who quoted PA’s laws earlier, be careful.

  69. You could point out that since so many people are quick to notice they are walking alone, obviously you live in a city where the neighbors pay attention, making your kids safe.

    And then tell the pastor that by calling child services, you lose faith in him and the church, and find a new church to worship.

  70. Wasn’t Jesus by himself as a young child when his parents finally found him teaching the leaders of the synagogue?

    I think that getting a friend to call the UK’s version of DSS and ask them what they consider to be a problem worthy of action would be a good idea.

    Invoking the nostalgia of the minister (or whomever is actually behind this) for their (presumably) free-range childhood and then providing statistics showing that kids now are just as safe might be effective. (Maybe have a photo album of your childhood available as a jumping off point if you invited him over for dinner then ask about his experiences.) I would certainly check with DSS before allowing anyone who might make a complaint against me into my home, though.

  71. J. Collins, by “being sarcastic,” I just meant I wondered if you thought it wasn’t possible that there was such a law. At least in some states, it truly is, and it isn’t a matter of interpretation everywhere.

    Here’s the thing — I live in PA, too, and I thought I remembered that a law forbidding children under 12 from being left in a car was enacted while I lived here. But it’s possible that it happened during the few years I lived in NY, and that’s what I’m remembering.

  72. LindaLou, the woman who put the five year old in her car was a neighbor. She wasn’t a stranger.

  73. Since you already organize a children’s playgroup, perhaps you should offer to set up a walking school bus as well – get other kids walking to school too. Safe Routes to Schools originated in the UK – I’m sure there are resources there to help you. You could be the start of a culture change in your school/neighborhood and end up benefitting many more kids than just your own. Plus you’d be taking a proactive stance on the whole debate…

  74. My 9 year old has been walking alone while I walk with his 7 year old sister (his teacher is more strict on punctuality). I’ve received several surprised comments about his whereabouts on the way to school myself, as has he from other parents. Also my kids play in the back alley (without me watching over them), which is apparently a bit controversial. I like to respond in a lighthearted way by saying that I have faith in the people in my community, and don’t believe that somebody is waiting in the shadows to pounce on my kids. I also point out that we live in an era of information overload, so if something bad happens to a child 3000 km away, we live with it in our homes through our TV set. I think the world is the same as the one that we grew up in so freely, except now we just have more information about all the bad things that happen and I refuse to let that dictate my life.

  75. “I don’t think that it happened like that 40 years ago either. I grew up with tons of freedom and still remember my mother walking me to and from Kindergarten.”

    We’re talking about a situation where a 9 and 8-year-old are walking with the 5-year-old.

    When I was growing up (1980s), we lived a mile away from school, and by 9 years old I was definitely escorting both my younger sibs and younger kids from my block to-and-from school every day. Almost all kindergartners and 1st graders with older siblings were walked to school by those older siblings or older neighbors.

    I and my younger sister started walking ourselves when I was in 2nd grade and she in 1st grade, and that was pretty normal for our neighborhood (in Chicago).

  76. And a funny, or maybe sad, story . . .

    We have a lot of older children’s books at home, and the kid (3.5) loves them. In recent weeks, he’s been obsessed with The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I didn’t know why, just knew that I was reading it at bedtime every night.

    A few nights back, the kid asked me “how old is Peter”? I kind of looked at the book, in which Peter still wears a snowsuit and thinks that he’s not old enough to participate in the older kid’s games, and responded, “I think he’s six or seven.” My internal sense was that he could possibly be as young as five, but since I didn’ t know where the kid was going with this, I didn’t want to say that.

    The kid then continued, “He plays outside by himself.” Yes, in fact, Peter spends the whole day outside by himself. “When I’m six, I will play outside by myself?”

    I don’t think a six-year-old doing what Peter does in the book outside by himself would be exactly acceptable nowadays.

    Then you realize how many older children’s books have young children, looking to be about five or six years of age, doing things outside, by themselves. And that’s when I figured out the theme of all the books the kid is currently obsessed with–they ALL have younger kids doing things by themselves.

  77. Regarding the poster who is trying to decide whether to leave her baby in the hotel room: Actually, I or friends or mine, have done exactly that. If you are in the same building it is not really very different to having the baby asleep upstairs while you are in your living room, in my opinion. Of course they must be in a crib or cot that they cannot get out of if they should wake up. Once my husband and I left our 2 year-old asleep in the hotel room while we went for a nice drink in the bar downstairs. She was at an age when she never woke up once asleep, at least until about 4am…we were only gone 30 minutes. Another occasion I remember was when I was with a bunch of friends who had small children. Once the kids were asleep we grownups had dinner in the hotel restaurant. They had baby monitors, but actually the range wasn’t very good, so every 15 minutes or so, 1 person walked back to the rooms to check for noise. Another time my parents had an adjacent hotel room to me, husband and kid (age 3). So while my husband and I went out to a concert, my parents stayed to babysit – but in fact they just watched TV in their room, while my daughter slept in her room, and they checked on her every 30 minutes or so. We leave our kids/babies on their own while asleep all the time, I don’t see why a hotel is any different from your own house in that respect. A babysitter wouldn’t be very useful if you only have a single room and baby needs darkness to sleep.

  78. Walking to school in UK: I remember in the mid-70s, that I walked to school, aged 7 with my younger brother aged 6, to a school in a working class area of London. There was never any question that we would walk to school on our own. Walking home, my grandfather would meet us halfway, but only because it was winter, and already dark.

  79. I applaud your work there – good job. We’re trying hard in our family to foster a similar capability and independence. I have a rather controversial suggestion for you however – you are being blackmailed by your pastor, who has zero actual authority over you unless you allow them that right. Social services are extremely unlikely to have anything of consequence over you and would probably interview the kids for their ‘views’ only to find zero to follow-up with. My suggestion is that you extracate yourself from the apparently abusive relationship you’ve allowed yourself to be put in by NOT going to that church any more… The people who have complained are clearly not people you have anything in common with other than the church, or they would not have complained, ergo you are a member of a social club to which you do not belong.

  80. You are a good mom. But, I think it is time for you to ditch religion entirely. A quick Google search for “bible contradictions” should help you on your way. You could also search for “bible misbehaving child” and click the first link to see what the bile says about naughty kids.

    You will find that this supposed book of morals is actually quite immoral in what it preaches. Good luck on your journey!

  81. Bravo for empowering your children to be independent and be able to do things for themselves. As a pediatrician, I can attest that it’s not only healthy to walk to school but safe given the way you have described the situation, working with your children to be able they had the stamina, aka “slowly”, and making sure they walked together.

    My 2 daughters walked to their middle school and walk to the nearby pizza and coffee shoppe with their friends. We, too, taught them to do so over time.

    The issue is not with you, so fear naught. And, don’t worry if social service gets called. Having worked with many a social service worker over the years, you and your family are not the high risk family they are concerned with. They will have to follow up but will do just as the other commenters have noted – give you advice on dealing with the remainder of society who can’t seem to recognize that we are over hovering around our kids and way too consumed with what other parents are doing.

    In the end, parents have to build a broader definition of what it means to be a “good parent” and not define their own parenting by what others are doing. They also have to loosen the rein and let their children have more of a natural and free childhood.

    You’re doing just fine…hang in there.

  82. “Would I let my nine year old be in charge of the safety of my FIVE year old for a half an hour while walking down public streets? Oh. Hell. No. And my concern on the matter has zero to do with the threat of abduction. Yay, Free Range! But have some common sense as well”

    When I was 5, I walked to school with my 9 year old brother. No one thought it at all strange. By the time I was in 2nd grade, he was in another school, so I walked by myself.

    Would I let my 9 year old walk my 5 year old now? Probably not, but more out of fear of being reported to social services than out of fear that a 9 year old couldn’t supervise a 5 year old crossing the street.

  83. I don’t believe it’s anyone’s business how a child gets to or from school. My 11 year old daughter sometimes walks home from school and her dad (my ex-husband) wants to “talk” to me about that. He lives in another town and his only knowledge to this was because his current wife’s sister saw her one day and drove her home. I don’t know this girl and explained to my daughter that she’s no longer to get in the car with her anymore. This girl expressed concern to my ex husband.. whatever! She’s a meddling 20 year old with no clue on raising children. Our school district indicates that less than 2 miles is walking distance There is a sidewalk/bike path with no cross streets in my neighborhood for this purpose of walking/riding to school. Plus my daughter is almost 12 years old!! Busybodies drive me CRAZY

  84. This got me to researching my county’s (I live in the U.S.) child neglect guidelines. I was a bit shockled by what I found:

    “7 years & under: Should not be left alone for ANY period of time. This may include leaving children unattended in cars,playgrounds, and BACKYARDS.”

    Geez. I had no idea I was being negligent by letting my kids play alone in our own backyard. Or letting her play alone on the driveway with her 6 year old friends, whose parents are also neglecting them, I suppose.

    Of course, these are guidelines, not laws. I’d like to find out what the LAWS are.

  85. I would NEVER want to invite social services to back me up on anything, as someone suggested be done here. Listen to these guildelines from my county:

    “The following represent *minimally acceptable* standards for the supervision of children.

    Age Guidelines …

    7 years and under:

    Should not be left alone for ANY period of time. This may include leaving children unattended in cars, playgrounds, and BACKYARDS. The determining consideration would be the dangers in the environment and the ability of the caretaker to intervene.

    8 to 10 years:
    Should not be left alone for more than 1½ hours and only during daylight and early evening hours.

    11 to 12 years:
    May be left alone for up to 3 hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility.

    13 to 15 years:
    May be left unsupervised, but not overnight.

    16 to 17 years:
    May be left unsupervised (in some cases, for up to two consecutive overnight periods).”

    17 years old, unsupervised up to two overnight periods???? I was in COLLEGE when I was 17!

  86. This is truly disgusting behaviour by the pastor and hugely ignorant by others. One thing I might say is ‘Would you have reported this 10 years ago? 20? What’s so different now that it’s not permissible?’

    You’ll probably get some rubbish about ‘but there’s more paedophiles/so many more cars’ to which I’d say rubbish. There’s no proof there are ‘more child abusers’ and nor is traffic significantly more dangerous now than it was 20 years ago – it isn’t as though not many people had cars in 1990!

    And the one I’d always bring up is that old chestnut about ‘Are you happy for children to be taken anywhere in cars?’ – by far the biggest statistical danger to children!

  87. […] Help! How Can Mom Explain She is Raising Independent (Not Neglected) Kids? Hi Readers! This mom needs some great ideas in how to deal with friends, neighbors — and PASTOR — who […] […]

  88. […] Start questioning the way that middle-class children are raised, and you can be accused of neglect by nosey neighbours. Fail to make the children the highest priority in your life for every moment, every day, and then […]

  89. @ Dee Hall
    I too have noticed that many older childrens books show independent younger children. My public library just posted this link http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704586504574654581498942974.html?KEYWORDS=buy%20your%20own%20uggs
    about the reissue of The Babysitters Club. Thought folks here would enjoy the article.

  90. I want to comment on the hotel room case. I would not leave a baby or young child in a hotel room, even though I’m fine leaving them sleeping in my home while I’m downstairs or in the yard. In my view there is a difference between the cases because a number of people have keys and access to the hotel room, whereas that’s not the case with my home.

    I leave my 6 and 7 year old alone in the house for short periods of time while I run brief errands. But I do tell my children to lock and not answer the door and assume that people will not have access to the house. I don’t assume this about a hotel.

  91. 1) Print out statistics and take them to the pastor.

    2) Tell your pastor that if anything, everyone watching your children in the church and being concerned means they’re all that much more safe.

    3) Tell your pastor that, even with that, if he and the flock cannot respect your decisions as an adult in dealing with your children – you’ll be taking your worship and participation in the church elsewhere.

    4) If anything is discussed, it should be explained to him how much of a disservice it is to your children to be pushed into a car and shuttled everywhere. I’d have a barrage of printed statistics on hand – for everything. Do your research and don’t just hand it to him – make him listen to what you’re reading to him, THEN hand him the whole stack. Let him know you’d be happy to provide any other parent with the statistics, and that you’d also happily allow any other children to walk with yours to learn independence too.

    My kids walk to and from school. Luckily, we live in a place where many kids walk as well and parents support such a thing. It’s my in-laws (who live on the other side of the country – by the way) who often bring up how sad it is when my kids have to walk in 39 degree weather. I cheerily remind them that we live in the desert, nowhere near as cold as Ohio was – and both their son and I walked uphill, in the snow, with a burlap sack for a coat, and no shoes… you get the drift. 😀

    Best of luck to you. Your best weapon for this fight is education… make them eat it, baby. 🙂

  92. This might be a stupid question but … how do you find out the laws in your area regarding leaving children alone?

  93. Wow, I thought it was understood that a child is old enough to walk to school by KG, provided the school is physically “walking distance” for a child. Almost everyone I know walked or biked to & from school at 4-5 years old. With or without an older sibling/neighbor. The parents would decide if there was a good reason why their particular child needed more supervision.

    Nowadays busing has created much more distance between homes and schools, hence fewer kids walk, hence there are fewer safety measures for kids who do walk (e.g., crossing guards). So I can understand the trend toward wanting kids to be a little older before they start walking to school. But I don’t see how anyone can declare that it’s unsafe per se for a 5-year-old to walk down the street.

  94. I don’t know how you find the laws but I did a search fir “county name CPS guidelines unsupervised children” to find the CPS guidelines. These are not laws but CPS has a lot of power. I can’t believe the guidelines prohibit leaving a 6 year old alone in your own backyard for any amount of time. I walked to school at 5 – everyone did – and that was less than 30 years ago.

  95. In Texas there is no law except children under 7 can not be left alone in a car due to our extreme heat.
    http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/Child_Protection/About_Child_Protective_Services/faqchildalone.asp

  96. I like this one from another county’s CPS site in my state:

    “There are no laws [in the state] that state specifically how long a child may be left unsupervised. [X] County Child Protective Services may be called about a situation involving inadequate supervision. A social worker may then need to assess the risk to the children. The following guidelines are suggested and may help to prevent such calls.”

    Note that the guidelines are intended to PREVENT SUCH CALLS. Not to prevent neglect or abuse, but to prevent having to deal with assessing neglect or abuse. So the guidelines mean – do what your strictest, most protective nieghbour would want you to do, so they don’t bother CPS with their phone calls??

    Here are the “Child Supervision Guidelines”

    Age 0-9 Should not be left unsupervised for any amount of time. Should be directly supervised by an adult.
    Age 10-12 Should not be left unsupervised for more than 3 hours.
    Age 13-18 May be left alone for longer than 3 hours.
    Under 16 Should not be left alone overnight

  97. Out of curiosity I called my local DCFS because I couldn’t find a link for regulations, and they said Utah has no specific laws or regulations about this kind of thing. It’s up to the parent’s judgment and as far as walking to school, they can go alone at any age and DCFS wouldn’t step in unless the kid started skipping school or acting unsafe (running in the street) and even then they would just talk to the parents about a “Safety Plan” and check back to make sure they implemented one.

    I asked about a 7 year-old staying home while the parents went to the store and he said a 7 year-old might see cleaner and think it was juice, so probably don’t do that. WHAT?! He also said it’s ok (legally) to have 2 kids to a seat belt here. Weird.

    Anyway, I guess the moral is check with your office and find out if it really is a problem.

  98. “I want to comment on the hotel room case. I would not leave a baby or young child in a hotel room, even though I’m fine leaving them sleeping in my home while I’m downstairs or in the yard. In my view there is a difference between the cases because a number of people have keys and access to the hotel room, whereas that’s not the case with my home.”

    I would agree. Leaving an eight month old alone anywhere is neglect. I am disturbed that anyone would think that it is “free range.” An eight month old should not be left alone in what is basically a public place. Besides safety issues already mentioned, it would disturb me to think that my child could wake up alone in a strange place and cry for 15 minutes or longer until someone checked in on her/him.

    As for the person who left a 2 year old alone, that is much worse. Hotel rooms are by no means child safe and she is lucky the two year old didn’t wake up and wander around the hotel room.

  99. Be careful about saying “bring it on” when someone threatens to call child protective services. Unless you’re really excited about the idea of spending a lot of money, time, and heartache in the legal system, you don’t want to start down that road, even if your family’s choices are impeccable under every statute on the books. As someone above said, social services agencies have a lot of leeway, and once you’re on their radar, it’s not easy to get rid of them.

    Leaving a particular church probably won’t shake off the busybodies completely either. If someone at that church truly believes your kids are in danger, your leaving would only signal that they might be onto something! They can still call CPS even if you’re not at their church or playgroup anymore. So that’s not such a good solution.

    I like some of the other ideas. Have the pastor to dinner, let him get a feel for your family and your kids and that’ll dispel many of his concerns. Maybe there will soon be a sermon on community and trust and tolerance? But also, accept that you’ll never convince everyone. Address their misgivings calmly when voiced, but otherwise let it lie. Defending your choices too much can actually make you look unsure, strange as that seems.

  100. On the hotel room issue: I don’t think I would have been comfortable leaving my children in a hotel bedroom at 8 months old. But the idea that it is equivalent to a public place is absurd. If that were the case I wouldn’t ever stay in a hotel room. Get naked. Get into bed. Go to sleep. Get up. Get in the shower. Sit on the toilet. If you think about the way you use a hotel room it is obvious that you treat it as a place in which you are safe. Violent crime by a stranger in most hotels is virtually non-existent.

    So the idea that the risk is from a stranger coming into your room and doing something to your kids seems like the sort of stranger-danger fear-mongering this site generally tries to put in perspective.

    I would personally be concerned about the kid waking up and being scared in a new environment. By 8 months we would have let our kids scream for 15 minutes if they woke up at home but I probably wouldn’t be comfortable not knowing if they were sleeping or crying in a new place. I’d look into the possibility of having a baby monitor. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with checking up on them every 15 minutes. Or with getting a baby-sitter if it makes you or your husband more comfortable.

  101. Leaving your kid in a hotel room while you go for a drink in the hotel bar is *not* like leaving them in your own house while you are in your own house. It’s more like leaving them in your house while you walk four or five houses down to a neighbour’s house and have a drink there. Yes, nothing will probably happen, but it isn’t worth the risk for a drink and a little time to yourself. Order room service.

  102. I’m sorry I just disagree that kids can’t be left alone in a hotel room. OK, the hotels I’m talking about are not skyscraper american style hotels. With my two year old we were in a old-fashioned English hotel/inn, probably smaller than many American houses. So the distance from room to bar was about the same as the distance between bedrooms and living room in your average McMansion. It’s nowhere near like going down the street – you are still in the same building, should there be an emergency. No need for monitors if you are close enough to hear if someone yells. If we ordered room service our kid wouldn’t be able to sleep because we were in a single room and she needs it to be dark. If we had a kid who woke up and screamed whenever she was in a strange place we wouldn’t have left her alone, but she was more than happy asleep in her bed. As for the poor childproofing in hotels: well I’ve always had my children sleep in cribs when in hotels if they were at the age where they would pull stuff. So they can’t wonder around the room. Above about 3 they’ve learned not to fiddle with wires etc.

    The risk with leaving a kid alone in a hotel room is simply that they will wake up and cry, causing the child and people in neighboring rooms distress. I think the risk of a stranger entering the room is as low as the risk of a kid being abducted walking down the street. So I personally looked at the risk of my child waking up and crying (zero for that particular child unless sick- I would never have done this with my second who has frequent nightmares) and decided it was acceptable. Isn’t that what free-ranging is all about? If we had to stay in the hotel room with our child that would condemn us to going to sleep at 8:30 whenever on vacation. (Actually because my second child would not let us leave the room, even at home, we did go through a 5 year stretch where we did not stay in a hotel – but went camping instead, sitting by the fire while kids were asleep in their tent – hopefully that is allowed?)

    Anyway, nowadays, for the paranoid, you could always set up your laptop with skype and watch your child from your cellphone…

  103. No, free ranging is not about leaving your baby alone in a hotel room. I don’t care how you try and frame it and justify it, that’s neglect.

  104. I don’t think that leaving a baby in a hotel room is wise, either. One danger that has not been mentioned is fire. The baby can’t get out of the room by herself (obviously) if the alarm goes off, and you will not be allowed back up on the floor to get her out — you will have to depend on rescue personnel. Granted, it’s a small risk, but not an unheard of one. Beyond that, the oft-mentioned case of having the baby wake up alone is undesirable. I agree that if it were a small country-inn type place it would be considerably different, but a modern American-style hotel with multiple floors and elevators is not the kind of place where you should place a hundred yards or more and a locked door between yourself and an unattended child.

    I also don’t think it’s necessary to castigate someone as being potentially “neglectful” for asking the question, though.

  105. This is an interesting discussion. So tell me, if you live in a mega-mansion, with say a den in the basement where you go and play computer games, are you neglecting your child if you leave them asleep on the top floor alone? Most dads I know do precisely that when their wives go out leaving them with the sleeping kids….

    I should have made it clear from the start that I wasn’t thinking of multi-floor hotels with elevator only access. All the situations I described are ones where we were either on the same floor as the kid(s) or just downstairs, a distance equivalent to that between bedroom and living room in most big American houses. It’s precisely because of fire risk that I would never leave the building. If we can run upstairs to get our child in a fire in our own house, we can do that in a bed-and-breakfast too.

    So what are the risks of leaving a child on their own in a hotel room?
    1) stranger entering room – very unlikely, as unlikely as all the other stranger dangers we talk about on FRK
    2) fire/earthquake/etc – so stay close by, in building, on same floor, etc.
    3) Kid screaming – hardly a life-threatening situation, but one that would be annoying for neighbors and make us look bad, and make kid upset. And as I said I considered that risk and for my oldest decided it was negligible (and I was correct), while for my youngest it was too great a risk to ever leave her alone. Again, isn’t free-ranging about deciding what our own kids are able to handle based on our knowledge of our kids?

    I think that leaving your child in a hotel room is much much safer than leaving them in a car. In a car they are visible to people outside, parking lots are less safe than hotels (cars get broken into), they might get too hot/too cold, and cars are dangerous if “played with”. Yet we’ve had many instances on this page of people defending their/others right to leave their kids unattended in a car.

  106. I really can’t suggest any response that wouldn’t involve lots of profanity and the pastor getting a bloody nose. The thought of clergy being subverted into agents of Big Brother is positively alarming.

  107. Sky,
    I went to Navy boot camp between my Junior and Senior years of high school. I was 16. I became a Third Class Petty Officer two weeks before my 19th birthday.

    You need to remember that when dealing with Child Protective Services or what ever they may be called where you live, that there may be no laws that define what is right or wrong. It is often a judgement call on the part of CPS.

    I have a nephew with Spina Bifida. From the waist up he normal, but he walks with difficulty and has other issues. When he reached 9th grade it was possible to merge him into normal classes. He decided that he wanted to get a varsity jacket and sports letter. It didn’t take long to figure out that the only team he could try out for was Rifle. (yes our schools have Rifle teams)

    Try outs were held in the Spring, so I got into my gun cabinet and dug out the .22 that I shot when I was on the Rifle team and we started going to a sportsman’s club that I belong to a few times a week. One of the requirements for the 9th grade is a Creative Writing class. My nephew did a paper on his learning how to shoot. A few days after he turned the paper in, the CPS people showed up on my Sister’s porch demanding that she show them how they stored their guns. They wanted to assess if there was any danger to her children. When she said that there were no guns in the house, they showed her a copy of my Nephew’s paper. She told them that it was my rifle and I kept it at my place. They demanded my address and left.
    I wake up one Saturday morning to CPS beating on my door. They wanted to see how I stored my guns. When I informed them that I had no children living in my house and they could just buzz off, they threatened to get a Court order prohibiting me from having any contact with my Niece or Nephews. I told them to go for it and my lawyer would be in touch and went back to bed. About two hours later they were back with a State Trooper and a search warrant. I told the Trooper that I’d be happy to show HIM what ever he wanted to see, but, the CPS people were not entering my house. He had no problem with that and I proceeded to show him where I kept my weapons. We stood there and talked about the merits of different calibers of pistols for a while and then he thanked me, told the CPS people that everything was fine and asked why were they bothering me. They told him and he couldn’t believe it. He actually advised me to talk to a lawyer about filing a complaint against CPS. My lawer advised me against it, because, they could make my Sister’s life hell if I did. My Nephew has his varsity jacket, his letter and a third place trophy from the State tournament. He said that he can improve on the third place this year, we’ll know in a few weeks.

    The “prime directive” of CPS is to “protect the child first”. Their idea of protection is to remove the child from the home. It doesn’t matter if there is any evidence to show abuse. A report from a neighbor, teacher, non-custodial parent or total stranger. A phone call is enough to do it. The caller doesn’t even have to identify themselves. It is a pure judgement call on the part of CPS and like any good government drone, their first thought is to always cover their ass. The problem with there being either no laws or vague laws is that it is hard for YOU to prove your innocence. Once CPS is involved you are GUILTY until proven innocent.

    Once they open a case against you, there is no part of your life that they cannot intrude upon. They can show up unannounced at 2 AM and demand to look through your house without a warrant. They can look through your cupboards, refrigerator and closets. They can require the removal of any alcoholic beverages or firearms from your house. They can require the removal of anyone living in your house (usually the male parent). They can require medical and psychological examinations of your children. They can require alcohol and drug testing of both parents or any other adult who has CONTACT with your children.
    They can do this all without a warrant. You are not forced to submit to this, you are coerced into compliance with the threat of the removal of your children from your custody.

    As I said, I had a long talk with my lawyer about what they can and cannot do. The worst part is that if the allegations against you are proven false, you have no recourse against them. CPS probably has more unrestricted power, without accountabilty than any other government agency. You want to avoid contact with them at all costs. It doesn’t matter if the written law is on your side. The law doesn’t count, their judgement is the law. Even if you go to court and the descision is in your favor, they are not legally required to return your children to your custody. They probably will, but, you will be subject to visitation and inspection requirements for as long as they see fit.

  108. J. Collins, I do believe the story you have told explains a lot of “helecopter parenting.” It is all well and good to tell us to be free range, but when we live with the threat of having our children taken from us if we cross some ever-shifting line in the sand, it is not so easily done. It is easy for parents to become helicopters in such a climate.

    Yet I hear these conflicting stories – the extreme difficulty of getting kids out of abusive situations, and the danger of CPS stomping on you even if you aren’t doing anything wrong. Which are true? A little of both?

  109. I was a “free range kid”. Mind you there was no name for it back then (I’m 39 now). My parents domesticized me and my siblings at a very early age. Because both parents worked full-time jobs, it was up to me and my sister (1 year older) to watch over our little brother while our parents were still at work. We went to school and back by ourselves, at times made dinner for ourselves, did dishes, laundry, and cleaned the house. Don’t get me wrong, in hind sight, these weren’t abuse. I’m actually very thankful that our parents taught us these things early. Dang, my cousins would call me up when we were in our 20s, and ask me how to do laundry. We played till the lights came on, at times even long after, we rode public transit to downtown at 10 years old and back. We learned to be street smart and self-sufficient in all the things we did. I don’t think those times were any different than now. Just back then, child abductions, molestations, gangs, drugs, etc… were just not so public news as it is now. Now, parents react and teach things to their children based on fear, rather than trust and common sense. It’s really not that hard; just think of when you were a teen (or younger), we were all rebellious one way or the other because of restrictions set upon by our parents. Doesn’t that sound very familiar with kids these days? Now, what did you wish your parents’ did to make life easier for you? Why wouldn’t you compromise to do something for your own kids.

    In our case, we didn’t have a curfew, we never really got grounded (we did but it never stuck), our parent’s taught right and wrong, and let us learn for ourselves what happens when we chose wrong. But was always there for us when we messed up. Boy did we learn quick. In time, we learned that because we had very little restriction, we didn’t feel the need to rebel, and abuse the privilege and trust given to us by our parents. I know that I will be raising my kids the same way. Shielding them isn’t protecting them. Preparing them with knowledge, understanding and trust protects them. It’s hard enough being a teen, they don’t need it at home either. Home should be the haven that they look to go to, and parents are the people they should have the most trust in. At least these days, technology has made it easier for kids to protect themselves when they are on their own. But it doesn’t mean we should be constantly on their case.

  110. If anyone has to ever explain your parenting (in terms of raising your children as “free range kids”), just say…”my kids are happy, healthy, and no more about the world and how to deal with things than most kids, even older than they are”. “We have trust, and open communication, that I don’t need to “spy” on my children because THEY tell me what they’ve been up to…good or bad.” “Do you know what your kids are doing right now? Are they happy with the fearful restrictions you give them?” Then let them dwell on that and walk away.

    If you know your doing right by your kids, don’t let others keep you from continuing to do so. Remember, it’s not about YOU. It’s about the kids. Your fears, shouldn’t be theirs.

  111. Sky,
    All that I know for sure is what I have seen. I do know that CPS in my area picks and chooses when it will get involved. A man that I worked with had been granted custody of his two daughters by the Court. The problem was that he didn’t know where his ex-wife had taken them. When I met him this had been going on for two years. The funny part was that the State was garnishing his wages for child support, because he had stopped paying support when he was granted custody. His lawyer petitioned the Department of Public Welfare to give him the address where they were mailing the child support payments. Welfare refused because when they seperated she got a restraining order against him on the advice of her lawyer. His lawyer tried to get CPS to take the children from the mother, but they didn’t want to get involved. To make a long story short. He found out where his daughters were and took them. His Sister flew in from out of state to take the girls to her place in Nevada. The next day CPS was in the office at work wanting to know where the girls were. He tossed them a certified copy of the custody papers and told them to talk to his lawyer. He had put in his two weeks notice and left for Nevada when it was up. A few weeks later he sent me a plane ticket to come out for his wedding (he married his lawyer).

  112. Wow. Two tall tales in a row.

  113. Our neighbor called social services on us after noticing that one of our 2-year-old twins had a black eye (from flinging herself down during a temper tantrum…)

    Social services found no evidence of abuse, but they did inform us that their guidelines are that kids should not be allowed to play outside unsupervised until they are at least seven years old…

    That makes me so sad! And that was said with the knowledge that we have a six-foot privacy fence around our back yard! After some discussion, my husband and I have chosen to ignore that “guideline.”

  114. LindaLou,
    You are free to believe what you choose. I have documentation that would confirm both stories, but, I am not going to post it for the same reason I chose not to file a complaint against CPS.

    My objective in posting here is to call attention to the broad powers that CPS has and how little accountability they have in their use.

  115. JCollins, even if your story is absolutely true – and I don’t know one way or another, I don’t even know you! – the fact is that “CPS” is not one broad-reaching organization like the Army or the Illuminati. It’s a bunch of small, local groups with local budgets, local policies and (no doubt) local politics.

    Saying “CPS does this!” is like saying “Cops do this!” It might be true where you are, but unless you are where we are it doesn’t have any relevance to our lives.

    As far as your own story goes, the events may be true but your explanation (CPS picks and chooses) may be faulty. It might as easily be that your friend found the unhelpful members of CPS and his ex-wife managed to get in touch with the one with the vendetta against dad or something.

  116. Wow LindaLou,
    You clearly feel very strongly that you are right…
    However I believe as a parent following the free range phillosphy to raise my child that free range is up to the parents ideas on how child ranging should take place. Also as little as 20 years ago it was considered normal for children to walk to school /park / bus stop with other children from an early age. I walked with my sister and our next door neighbour when I was 5 to the bus stop fifteen mins away from our home. The neighour was about 10, my sister was seven. All the other kids in the street walked there unaided as well little kids with other kids etc. WE WERE TOTELLY FINE.

  117. It’s bad enough when strangers and even friends bother you about your free range parenting. What is worse is when your own pastor (in my case an imam) doesn’t support you. I totally understand where you are coming from. I am Muslim, and (before I moved to Oregon last week), I was in a Muslim playgroup/home school group. Some of the moms were against my ‘free range’ parenting. Some of my really good friends would try to lecture me regarding my ‘unusual’ parenting style. I would smile and say, “We’ll have to agree to disagree about this one.” I’d leave it at that. I definitely would have been more annoyed if the imam of my masjid (mosque) would have a talk with me like how your pastor did. Shouldn’t men of faith have faith??? They say it is because they care. Yes, I believe they do, but I don’t think it is fair to neglect the freedoms God gave to children such as walking to school.

    I totally know first hand how you feel. My own personal story was on this website three months ago when someone called the cops on my children because I let my kids play outside in my gated community. I admire the fact you still allow your kids to walk to school. The cops also threatened to call CPS if they got more calls. I wasn’t scared of CPS because I know someone who is a social worker, and they said you have to do something really bad before CPS considers taking your kids away. However, I was offended that the cop threatened me with CPS.

    You’re a great mom! I admire you for standing up!!! I think you should get info from CPS yourself regarding what is legal/illegal regarding your kids walking to school. Then go to your pastor, and tell him what you are doing is completely legal. Maybe you can tell him throughout religious history children did many things at a young age. I hope to hear an update from you soon!

  118. I would suggest leaving the chruch and all its high minded morals behind. You seem to be very inteligent, why not let your kids grow up without relgion destoring their curious minds and free spirits?

    Asif Ghayoor

  119. Not sure what you shoudl do, but I just moved to the UK and you sound like the kind of free range thinking mom I would hang out with! Your play group church isn’t in southwest London by any chance, is it?

  120. makes me glad we don’t go to church

  121. I don’t understand why so many people are pushing so hard for this mom to leave her church. I’m not particularly religious myself, but I think that if someone cares enough to be involved in their church, they are probably not going to just up and leave it over a little spat. Being a member of any small community means sometimes having to explain yourself even though it seems silly and offensive. Chances are this is not an irreparable situation.

    Kudos to those who suggested ways to better educate the pastor/community members on the free-range parenting style. Just as there isn’t a child abductor around every corner, there isn’t a malicious or unwilling-to-learn spirit in every “helpful suggestion”.

  122. I’m glad you’re raising your kids to be independent – they don’t need to be overseen by a parent all the time.

    Now it’s your turn to be independent, and stop worrying about what a pastor – a representative of some invisible monster in the sky – cares about how you raise your kids.

    Maybe you or your kids will be independent enough not to need church at some point – or maybe you will – but you don’t need to care what they think about your child-rearing. Sounds like you’re doing a perfectly good job without their help.

  123. Writing an article for the community newsletter, if there is one, sounds like a good bet. From the encounter with the pastor, I’d be scared to switch churches for fear he’d take that as evidence of guilt!

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