How Does A Free-Range Parent Deal with an Ex Who Isn’t?

Hi Free-Rangers: Do we have some advice for this fellow? If so, let’s share it! — L

Dear FRK: I have embraced Free Range parenting.  Unfortunately my ex-wife and mother of our four children is afraid to let our 8-year-old out of her sight, and plays the “What if?” game: “What if he is attacked by space aliens who want to steal his bike and bully him on the way home from school in our upper-middleclass neighborhood where there is hardly any crime, let alone violent crime, but it COULD happen?”

It’d be great if there was a “tools to use when your ex-spouse is a helicopter parent” resource.

Unlike a two-parent household, where neither would seriously consider involving the courts, my ex-spouse thinks nothing of getting a judge to decree that an act of Free-Range parenting puts our children in imminent danger.  My ex-wife believes an impersonal judicial system knows how to parent our children better than we do!  She actually argued in court that we shouldn’t let our 13-year-old daughter walk to junior high school because it was “too dangerous.”  The walk is less than one mile and the only busy road has a traffic light with crosswalk and crossing guard.  How is that dangerous for a teenager?!?

My current issue is that our son, the 8-year-old,  wants to ride his bike to school from my house, which is about .8 miles (per Google Maps) away.   He already knows how to get there and back — we’ve been practicing, and he leads the way.  She is convinced bad things will happen.  I think his desire to do this is a sign of maturity and independence, and the ride would be a source of daily exercise.

How do others deal with an ex-spouse who is anti-Free Range? — Anon.

Readers — I do get this question a lot. I haven’t dealt with divorce court and have zero expertise. Any insights, either on the legal side or on the coming-to-a-compromise side, would be welcome! — L.

46 Responses

  1. First things first: If she has been able to convince a judge that allowing a 13 year old to go to school alone, don’t try it. Free ranging is important, but not more important than losing a custody battle. Know which fights to pick.

    My ideas:
    1) Throw statistics and show that going to school either by bike or walking is less dangerous than you driving them there. There is no such thing as absolute safety, so if she wants to play the what if game, it would make sense to choose the most safe option available. Sure, something could happen while your son bikes to school, but it could happen if he is driven there in a car or schoolbus too.
    2) Let mom go along a couple of times so she can see how responsible son is handling himself.

  2. I don’t have any legal advice (since I’m not a lawyer), and I admit I don’t know the background history on the situation. However, would Mom be willing to compromise on a few things? For example, would she be willing to let the eight-year-old ride his bike in exchange for something else that she may prefer (provided it’s reasonable of course)?

    And I have to echo Ben’s advice above: choose your battles. Free-range is important but not as important as losing custody of your kids. Even if the kids can’t walk/ride their bikes to school alone, there are always other free-range ideas you can practice.

  3. I’m a pretty free-range parent but I’d have to say that an 8-mile bike ride is a bit too far for an 8 year old. My son rides about 2 miles each way every day to school and back. I wouldn’t be comfortable with much more than 4-5 miles for that age. Not so much the “danger” involved but that it is physically a long bike ride after a long day at school.
    I agree also with the above posters that maintaining custody should come before free-range parenting. It’s awfully hard to be a free-range parent if you have very little visitation.

  4. Sadly if the courts have decided, there’s not much you can do besides go along with it. (Even if there are appeals in family court, it can’t be cheap.) Find other ways to give the kids freedom.

    If it isn’t that far yet, I’d arm myself with statistics about the neighborhood and route to school (number of intersections with crosswalks/lights, sidewalks, lanes of traffic along route, etc). Heck, get a police officer or public official willing to sign something confirming the safety of that route.

    Possibility: If the kids have friends who live nearby, try to negotiate something where they can walk to school with friends. Maybe it’s only a couple times per week or only in the months when it’s fully light out before the kid leaves the house or something like that. Get the ex to agree (in writing if necessary) with the compromise before attempting to impliment it.

  5. Liz: You missed the decimal point. Point eight miles, as in less than one mile.

  6. Oy that’s tough. My suggestion would be to 1. Start with smaller things than walking a mile. I can’t think of a particular example, but the sort if things Lenore usually suggests for nervous parents who are totally new to free range. And then 2: discuss new freedoms (tiny steps at a time) with ex wife before you actually do it, so she feels like she has some control over the kids’ “safety.”

    I don’t know I this is really a good idea, it might give the false impression that she has more say than she should over how you parent. It also depends a lot on how willing she is (and you are for that matter) to communicate, and how amicable a seperation you had.

    On the bright side, I’d point out that even if you are unable to gain ground on particulars, your kids will be ok. You are probably giving them independence in lots of smaller less tangibly “dangerous” ways and my impression of kids in joint custody situations is that they are somewhat immune to helicoptering. If you can, make your kids aware that you agree that they are ready to do the things they want to do but WITHOUT blaming Mom. In this case an easy scape goat of “law” is available, and your kids are probably old enough to have a talk about percieved dangers verses real dangers, and how societies percieved dangers can make you seem like an unfit parent if you don’t bow to them.

    Good luck.

  7. My sister went through this exact same thing with her ex (just so the pronouns don’t get confusing, I will say right here that her ex is also a woman).

    In short, they share joint custody of their son (just turned 10). A couple of years ago, her ex brought her to court to sue for full custody because of a bunch of non-issues like you are speaking of. Basically, my sister is the more free range of the two. The judge had them go to a mediator who was firmly in my sister’s court. The mediator tried to convince the ex that my sister’s actions were not reckless.

    They maintained joint custody, but did change the schedule so that the two parents saw each other less often (instead of picking up their ds at each others’ houses they pick him up at school).

    One of the issues the ex brought up was my sister letting their then 8 year old ds walk to school by himself. They live in an apartment building literally across the street from the school. My sister would watch her ds go to school from her balcony. Her ex did not like this arrangement because if her ds got abducted while crossing the street, my sister would not be able to prevent it because she was up on the balcony.

    It is a sad fact for helicopter parents that one of the by products of divorce is you have to hand off your child to someone else who is not going to do everything your way.

  8. If it were me, I’d probably just explain to the kid that his mother is a little overprotective and gets worried very easily about things she doesn’t really need to worry about because she loves him and then I’d tell him that if he wants to ride his bike to school alone he just has to promise not to tell Mom. At 8 years old he should be able to keep a secret. Though I wouldn’t suggest telling him to lie. If the ex is the type who will ask him directly if Dad has been letting him ride to school alone then this might not be a good course of action.

  9. Since your wife is overly litigious, I would recommend sitting with a lawyer and asking his advice. All the common sense advice in the world can go out the window in the funhouse world of the courts. And all you need is that one cranky judge …

  10. @impassionedplatypi — i have to say that I strongly disagree with your idea of “just don’t tell mom”. Having parents that aren’t together, and have different rules, is enough for the kids to deal with. Asking the kids to keep secrets from the other parent is just plain wrong, and unhealthy.

    I do, however, agree with the idea (if Mom can’t be won over to the idea of biking) of explaining to the son that mom worries too much because she loves him. I think if the son sees it that way, he’ll also start working on mom!

    And, being completely redundant of everyone else…. don’t lose what custody you have! Even a little bit of free range at Dad’s house is better than none.

  11. i agree with the ‘pick your battles’ approach. my ex is an entire helicopter patrol and i have just stopped fighting those battles and content myself with encouraging my children’s independence in other ways.
    as a divorced parent, you probably know that one of the worst things you can do TO YOUR KIDS is to trash the other parent in front of them [no matter how much they might deserve it].
    so, remember that there are many ways to promote independent behavior in your children, and a fight [esp. lawsuit] is a huge waste of your time and money. much better to spend that time and money enjoying your children [as much as possible], or even helping yourself.
    good luck!

  12. “one of the worst things you can do TO YOUR KIDS is to trash the other parent in front of them [no matter how much they might deserve it”

    Within limits, I disagree with this. This is taken as unquestionable gospel in our society, a cultural derivative of the corresponding Commandment to honor father and mother.

    Well, I’m sorry – people (including parents) are imperfect, some of them are STUNNINGLY imperfect, and sometimes the most honorable thing you or your kids can do with respect to mother or father is to oppose their obvious lack of good judgment. It doesn’t need to take the form of “trashing” another parent out of anger or spite, but I do not recommend holding back in those times when you disagree with your ex-spouses’s warped idealogy. All that would do would be to teach kids to sweep conflict under the existential rug – and that practice is at the root of much mental illness and not one I recommend that you teach or model as a behavior.

    How do you stimulate critical thinking and objectivity in a child if by some social edict you must remain zip-lipped about your ex-spouse’s neurosis?? Come on – an older child crossing a street AT a red light WITH a crossing guard to get to a school which is immediately VISIBLE from the home is NOT an activity that incorporates a magnitude of risk sufficient to prompt a change in the behavior of rational people. That’s not an opinion – it’s a statistical fact. Even if you cannot allow your child to cross the street in such a circumstance for fear of legal reprisal from the ex-spouse, the child should know the absolute score, even if it makes the neurotic parent “look bad” to the child. They SHOULD look bad to the child – because in this instance, they ARE. Don’t suppress the truth about it – suppression of truth is the scenario that would REALLY harm the child.

  13. I think, though, there is a difference between trashing the other parent, and being honest about differences, or even significant flaws, that the person has. Not being in this situation myself, but just thinking on how human relationships work generally, I think it’s probably a good rule to avoid saying negative things as much as possible, but to be willing to “break” that rule when it’s really necessary. I’d think the temptation to use the other person’s negatives to make yourself into the “good parent” would be so great, it would be like playing with fire to indulge it more than necessary.

    So I agree that it shouldn’t be “gospel” that you never criticize the ex in front of the kids, but I think that criticism should pretty much be a “need to know” basis, and where it’s necessary to be objectively honest, and should be softened as much as possible (your Dad and I just have different opinions on this) where it’s not a matter of the kid’s mental health or safety. Unless the person is doing something clearly and demonstrably wrong, it IS still a difference of opinion, and every difference of opinion should NOT be made into a basis for the child “judging” one parent as superior or inferior to the other.

    And a parent who has helicopter-age views on parenting is not necessarily neurotic — neurosis is a mental illness. Maybe he or she is just overexposed to the common thinking of our generation, and just needs to be educated, to be given a chance to become comfortable with it, and perhaps above all, NOT to have it made into a good-parent/bad-parent thing so that he has the space to consider it on its own merits.

  14. to alison: i think in some way you misunderstood what i said.

    speaking to your children about issues, and proper way to act, and all the craziness of our [or any] society is good. attacking your ex-spouse when talking to your children is just not good. it tears them apart.

    don’t believe me, but please ask an adult child of divorced parents what they felt like when one of their parents was trashing the other.
    or look in just about any book on divorced parenting …

    my experience has been the less time you spend continuing those battles the better for everyone.

  15. As long as your ex- chooses to use the court system to handle her personal issues, you can’t win. The courts will always side with the mother in a “who is the better parent” battle — regardless of the circumstances — and the father will always lose. The only strategy that works is to not play. Sorry. You can’t be a divorced Free Range father. This is experience talking.

  16. I think the first thing you should do is try to communicate and compromise with the ex. If that’s not possible, I’d say see if you can’t get some actual legal advice. Dig around to figure out if there’s a real law against letting an 8yo & 13yo walk to school (I’m sure you’ll find there is not). Get educated on what the real dangers are (Lenore has some great resource links on her site here) and what the benefit of letting them walk/ride to school woulf be. If you decide to proceed (I wouldn’t recommend it if it means the possibility of losing custody) and the ex takes you to court, get a lawyer. Don’t fight the battle alone in court.

  17. I’d buy her Lenore’s book and not let her know you bought it for her.

    Then I’d follow much of the advice here:
    1) Get a lawyer and see what you can and can’t do about giving your children independence.

    2) Give your kids as much of a free-range experience at your house as they can get without compromising the few things the mom has already harped on.

    3) Don’t trash the mom in front of the kids, but do let them know (provided you get into that conversation in the first place) why you guys do have differences.

    So long as you are fair and balanced with your kids, they’ll recognize which of you is the fair and balanced one. They may even go through phases that they think you’re the bad guy… that’s when you keep being the exact same way and they will discover what the truth is.

    Best of luck.

  18. “Her ex did not like this arrangement because if her ds got abducted while crossing the street, my sister would not be able to prevent it because she was up on the balcony.”

    I just never lose my amazement at the fact that we’re not making all of this up — that people actually SAY stuff like this.

    So you have some nefarious person who is willing to abduct a child in full view of a school and an apartment building with balconies, but somehow the presence of a mother on the ground is going to stop that? Let’s hope it’s a small, lightly built abductor, or else a woman well-trained in hand to hand fighting, then!

    It’s not JUST that the scenarios are paranoid, it’s that they’re not even plausible! And this kind of thing is SO common!

  19. Haha, I missed the decimal point too at first. Less than a mile is definitely reasonable for an 8-year-old.

    I think you’re going to have to err on the side of caution, since there could be a threat of legal action involved. And I think you can explain it to your kids without sounding like you’re bad-mouthing their mother. Say that parents usually disagree on what’s best for their children, and most of the time they’re able to talk about it and compromise. But since you and their mother aren’t on good terms, you aren’t able to compromise, and therefore can’t always agree on the rules. You’ll have to drive them for now, and hopefully you and their mother can talk about it better in the future.

    Whatever you do, DO NOT let them do it anyway and just promise not to tell Mom. a) That is promoting lying. Hardly a life skill you want your child to learn. b) I was friends with a girl whose divorced parents did this to her- bought her things and took her places, teaching her to lie to the other parent about where they were and how much the gift cost, etc. It has strained her relationship with both parents.

    Not to mention that, in the very unlikely event that something were to happen on the way to school- even something small like a scraped knee- your ex would more than likely overreact and take higher legal action than she would have without an injury.

  20. @ Nicola, I agree with your three pieces of advice, particularly #3. (I also completely agree with Pentamom above as well).

    As the adult child of divorced parents, I can honestly say that trashing the other parent is NOT the way to go at all. My mother spent much of her time trashing my dad to us kids during and after their divorce. It set up a system where we kids felt forced to choose between them. To his credit, my father never gave in to these games, but God help us if my mother thought one of us was “siding with Dad.” I was older when they divorced so was able to more rationally sort out what was happening, but my siblings were much younger. It took years to undo the damage my mother caused.

    The situation here is mostly about a difference in opinion on how to parent. If the other parent (Mom in this case) is being overly criticized, it’s only going to cause resentment and a desire to NOT work together on being parents. And that of course is counterproductive to the situation.

    Hopefully Dad can come to some sort of compromise with Mom. But even if he can’t, no parenting idea is worth losing your children or your relationship with them.

  21. “don’t believe me, but please ask an adult child of divorced parents what they felt like when one of their parents was trashing the other.”

    \js – funny you should ask – I AM a child of divorced parents, and I CAN tell you how I felt when Parent A described to me in very strong terms the shortcomings of Parent B: I felt like it was a tremendous relief!! I felt like Parent A was justified in reaching those conclusions, and I thanked God that someone besides me had the perception to see it and the guts to call a spade a spade because, as a child, I would have gone bat-sh*t crazy with confusion and self-doubt if I’d been the only one to see it.

  22. As the adult child of divorced parents, I had a mixed experience. Mom refused to trash dad, and dad did trash mom.

    Dad expressed his anger and distrust of mom, and came out looking like a jerk, because she didn’t deserve to be talked about in that way. Mom let dad’s actions stand for themselves and encouraged me to make my own conclusions about those actions.

    Asking your child how s/he feels when the other parent does something unreasonable is one thing. Calling that other parent names is not OK. Even if you and all of your friends think that the other parent has earned the name (for example crazy b!*ch), it’s just not OK to share that with your child. When you call your ex a name, to the child, you are calling their parent that name.

  23. My daughter is 8 yrs old and every time I let her do something her dad thinks I’m crazy, but he defers to my judgment when I stand up for her. In my case the 8 yr old is my only child, but she is his oldest of 4 daughters, and he tends to forget that she’s not a really little kid either. I even had to remind him a few months ago that she’s a big girl and can use a sharp knife to cut her own food, and that she has been for a few years now… just b/c you don’t trust your 5 and 3 yr old’s to do the same doesn’t mean you don’t allow the 8 yr old to.

    He needed to be reminded that you can’t make the oldest wait until she’s 14 to do anything you don’t want your youngest to do yet…

  24. I have to agree with most of the other posters. If your ex freely uses the courts to deal with minor parenting issues then you clearly don’t have an amicable separation, and she may well be looking to build her case for altering the custody and access status quo in her favor at some point.

    Given the responses that Lenore has had in the media to free range parenting, it’s probably safe to say that it hasn’t found widespread acceptance yet, and might well be frowned upon in a court of law (just think of all those ridiculous examples of overzealous police officers and busybodies we’ve been reading about on this blog — that seems to be how much of the world thinks these days).

    In my experience (both as a former family lawyer, many years ago, and as the wife of a man who went through the Divorce from Hell), courts tend to defer to mothers in matters involving the kids and if she successfully paints you as some sort of hands off, careless or reckless parent (and she may allege it, whether it’s true or not) , you could lose what you already have.

    Don’t just take the advice here, though (and I don’t want to be taken as giving you legal advice either). You should talk to your lawyer about all of this — he or she will have dealt with your file in some detail and will have a better sense of the dynamics at play and current trends in family law.

  25. My ex is in many ways very helicopter-y. We’ve been divorced since our daughter was five; she’s now twelve, and she’s become a very independent little person.

    My advice for this dad is really just to echo others’ advice. Pick your battles. If the ex has completely forbidden something, whether through the court or directly to the child, it’s probably best to drop that specific issue.

    But saying that the child can’t do one thing doesn’t mean he can’t do everything. If she says “the eight year old can’t ride his bike to school” then I think it’s okay to tell him “You can’t do this because your mother says she won’t allow it.” But that’s not to say he can’t explore some other way to be independent and responsible. Can he camp alone in the backyard, or for a solo hike on a short nearby hiking trail? Maybe he can ride his bike to the grocery store on Saturday, or to the library. Maybe he can plan, cook, and serve a meal by himself.

    Patience is important, too. Maybe he can’t ride alone at age eight, but when he’s nine or ten maybe it’ll be okay.

    Kids have to adapt to the weirdnesses of divorce, and they do a remarkable job. Over the years, my daughter has found it very apparent that the rules are different at our different houses. Further, she’s found that it’s to her benefit not to give detailed reports about the things she does. She doesn’t lie, but she doesn’t necessarily report every whitewater raft trip in great detail. “We went on a river in Tennessee” is a different story than “Class five rapids are awesome!” And she’s learned that, if she tells a story about a caving trip, she should emphasize the helmets worn and safety plans followed.

    When she decided last winter to learn to ride the unicycle, do you think she asked her father for permission? Um, no. She arrived at his house for spring break all full of stories about how she’d been on one wheel for months with no injuries worse than a scraped hand. The unicycle project is certainly not something he’d have allowed at the beginning, but finding out that she’d been successful, and was not only uninjured but pretty pleased with herself, there wasn’t much he could do about it.

    So pick your battles. Be patient. Understand that the kids’ mother may lay down the law about some specific issues but that she can’t completely control they way they approach their lives. It’ll be okay.

  26. Hm, for some reason my first attempt never made it…

    When talking to the court, I’d try to appeal to the community standard. If your kids would be the only ones walking/riding to school, then it will be a tough battle, and I’d let someone else break the Freerange ground. If it’s pretty common, then it should be difficult for your ex to convince the judge that it’s all that dangerous, since other parents seem to be assessing it as reasonable.

    That is, aim for ‘less helicopter’ and worry about ‘free range’ later.

  27. I’m the dad in this blog post. Thank you all for your kind words and suggestions. I want to add/clarify a few things.

    My ex is not litigious since she ran out of money. Her attorney argued in court that our 13 year old should not be allowed to walk to junior high school, but it was really a ploy to try to get more child support. They were trying to get “bookend” times around school hours and claim that all the time they’re in school is really her parenting time. I don’t think my ex understood what her attorney was doing. I think she bought in to the lies.

    She has been much more cooperative in the last year or so, but still has strong helicopter tendencies. Facts and logic cannot trump her feelings. She feels I’m trying to “prove I’m right and she’s wrong”; for her, it’s about her – not about what’s best for the kids.

    The kids worship mom. What she says is gospel. It takes a herculean effort to get them to begrudgingly agree to go along with my wishes. She is their best friend, not a parent. If anything, their roles are reversed. She lets them make the decisions, says it’s what they want, and therefore the right thing to do. Parenting by committee, where she gets a minority vote.

    I try not to say anything negative about her in their presence. But I do remind them that I’m the dad, and I do what I do because I believe my responsibility is to to help them become mature, responsible, capable, and independent. I don’t parent based on what gives them immediate gratification. I tell them ” you may be angry and rebellious towards me, and that’s OK; in fact, if you feel no rebelliousness towards a parent, they probably aren’t doing a very good job of parenting.”

    I fought for, and got, >almostis< the compromise. My original request was that he ride to and from school and that he be home alone for 40 minutes to an hour until his older sisters get home from school. My compromise was he can ride his bike home and my ex's parents can watch him at my house until his sisters get home. That's a one hour round trip to watch someone for 40 minutes, when he would be perfectly fine home alone for that brief period of time. But whatever, choose which battles to fight, and so on. She still wants him to ride to school with friends, which is fine with me if they're available, but I'm not going to stop him from riding to school if they're not.

    Thanks again to all who commented. It's good to know I'm not out of line in my expectations.

  28. Liz, doesn’t the article say POINT 8 miles, as in under a mile???

  29. Crud, some of my lengthy comment got cut off. I was saying I got almost 50 percent parenting time in 2008, three years after we separated. Initially we were 80/20, and that was a huge mistake on my part.

  30. I disagree with the courts always taking the mother’s side. I know several single fathers for one. For another the courts allowed my X-Husband, who even had DUIs and Possession charges on his record to take primary physical custody simply because I did not have personal transportation.

    I had never had anything more serious than a traffic ticket on my record. I had a job. They still gave our son to him. Until he finally snapped and beat our kid I could not get a lawyer to take my concerns seriously.

    That being said, maybe your x-wife would be more easy going if you sat her down and showed her the actual statistics. Explain that you understand she feels nervous when they are out of her sight and she does not want to lose them. Do not make her feel like a nut job. Or even let on that you think she is one. It is counter productive.

  31. “one of the by products of divorce is you have to hand off your child to someone else who is not going to do everything your way.”

    She’s your child’s mother. Undermining her authority undermines YOUR authority too. Part of free range is that you need your children to trust you when you say x or y is too dangerous. If you undercut her authority by telling your child he can do something she has forbidden, you’ll only get into a situation where the child trust neither of your judgment.

    I have to say this is your life. It’s part of divorce. Next time you get married, marry someone who agrees with you on these types of things. And then try and stay married. It’s a heck of a lot easier to negotiate things with someone who loves you. Or at least doesn’t feel the need to pay someone else to help her win an argument.

  32. I struggled with this issue too but from the opposite viewpoint. I felt that my (mentally and physically abusive) ex-husband was endangering the children and being that I try to do “free-range” parenting it was difficult for me to process. It’s as if something is missing in his concept of safety. He’ll have the children play with blow torches (starting when they were ages 2, 5, and 7), use his power tools such as the drill with a needle sharp 8 inch drill bit, melt down lead and make sand castings with the lead (wearing no hand or face protection), take the tiny children caving/spelunking by himself in a place where they can easily get trapped right after he had a heart attack scare and ended up in the ER. I told the judge all this and begged for help to protect my children when I wasn’t with them. All of the court officials were shocked but since none of those things were clearly against the law they did nothing. It is as if there is some mental logic my ex-husband is missing. But the court wouldn’t require a psychological evaluation or counseling, even after my ex-husband went berserk with a chain saw when the kids were around.

    One of the reasons why I stayed married for so long was to protect the children from him but it just got worse. So now when I let them be with him I can only pray like crazy for their safety and breathe deep. He’s taking them to Boston this weekend and they’ll ride boats with him in the harbor. I’ve been working really hard to train them to be very careful and responsible because their dad is so scatter-brained and clueless that he likely won’t be paying attention to them when they’re on the boat. My kids are pretty good on subway trains and at platforms so I’m not as worried about that.

    On the other hand I let my daughters (now ages 8 and 9) play alone in the shallow stream and ride their bikes 1 1/2 miles to school alone and yesterday at the lake (where there were 2 lifeguards and lots of other people) took my eyes off my kids so I could read a book.

  33. PS One of the reasons why I fell in love with him and married him was because he was so fun and unconventional. He called himself a “happy scientist” (instead of a mad scientist) and does lots of fun activities with the kids (which I appreciate) but I still worry because he’s mentally unstable. The DSS worker thought he might be on the autism spectrum but my ex wouldn’t seek help. Thankfully (or not) his children adore him.

    PPS When I was on Long Island this past weekend there was a very pregnant woman whose daughter was stuck in the shopping cart. The woman couldn’t pull her out because of her pregnant belly. So I, a complete stranger, offered to help because I remember how hard it was pulling a child out of a shopping cart when I was pregnant. I told her I had 3 kids who were in the car right next to me and that I was a child care provider. She let me help her and did not seem worried at all. That was nice. People need a friendly caring community around them.
    (Okay, enough rambling! Back to my day. Thanks for your blog, Lenore!)

  34. Anon,

    Good to hear you have a compromise going. I know from personal experience it is not always easy handling the child raising with an ex.

    Good Job getting something done!

  35. @crystalbue – I’m no legal expert, but in my opinion the things you described really DO put the children in imminent danger! I don’t feel it’s anti free-range to prohibit young children from playing with a blow torch at your ex-husband’s home. I even used the example of “I’m not going to make you juggle knives” to try to explain to my kids the difference between doing something that they find frightening (at first) but which I KNOW is safe, and doing something that is inherently dangerous.

    Long story short, maybe you SHOULD go to the courts over this one! This is a time that a parent needs to be told you CANNOT do these things or you’ll lose your time with your kids.

  36. Also check out what other rulings your local family court has given. Some judges like to exercise control, a judge in Utah demanded that a mother continue to raise her children in the Mormon faith or she would lose custody, and if you have one like that then maybe you want to stear clear of the system and work it out with your ex.
    Again it depends on your situation. When my parents divorced my mom basically wne out of her way to make life miserable for my dad and was always fighting for custody.
    You might just have to be free range when your son is with you and maybe ride your bikes together.

  37. On the topic of how many miles it is appropriate for a kid to ride:

    After reading “How children lost the right to Roam in 4 generations”, I went and mapped the routes I took as a kid.

    I took my first “long ride” I was 10, my friend and I rode to Dairy Queen. I remember it to this day- we were SO proud that we went so far. We got there, called home, then ate a burger and shake! It was 4.2 miles each way. Some heavy traffic,mostly back side streets in suburbia. This wasn’t an every day event (maybe once a week or so), but daily rides of a few miles were common even earlier.

    When I was in 7th grade on, my bike rides were often up to 6 or 7 miles each way, often on busy suburban roads. This continued until I got a car and expanded my “area” to include the entire metro zone (Cleveland and suburbs).

    I was a lazy kid, I only rode so much because my Mom refused to drive me around and I was determined to go see friends. My friends parents were the same. I was in great shape!

    I rarely got in a car, in fact, that was my parents biggest terror! I was allowed to bike, walk, bus to just about anywhere I could get to, but NO CARS- I was NOT allowed in ANY friends cars AT ALL until I could drive one. It was one of my parents strictest rules. At 16 (after 3 years of intense lessons) I got my own car to ensure I wouldn’t drive with anyone else. I was also restricted which parents I could get in cars with.
    Parents pick and choose what is important I guess! I think this was smart and plan to do the same thing.

    I have no idea what I would do if I left my husband and he turned helicopter. Men are often at a disadvantage in these types of fights, making it even harder to do it.

  38. My suggestion is to find an “expert” with a few degrees that agrees with you. Tell them your story, get them on your side- they are out there!!! Collect all the documentation you can showing your suggestions and parenting style is safe, and go on the offensive. If you wait for her to react to the things you do, she will always be in the power position and you will always be scrambling to defend yourself- not good! Get the courts or whomever needed (CPS?) to approve what you want FIRST. A pain- yes. But it shows how much you care and is likely to head off an defensive measures that come after wards.

    Don’t give in, pick your battles and fight smart. A good offense is your best defense, it’s been said!

  39. My children walked to school every day. It was about 3 blocks.

    When I was little like most of my generation, I walked to school too.

    Although statistically children aren’t abducted any more than they ever have been, it just SEEMS like they are because of the coverage by the media.

    Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt t be careful. Is it possible for the 8-year old to ride with another child to school? That should set the mother’s mind at ease.

    And even if it doesn’t, isn’t the dad allowed to make decisions on his own time when the children are on his custody time?

    Dad’s tend to coddle their children less anyway and this strikes a good balance as most mother’s tend to be more protective of their children.

  40. “And even if it doesn’t, isn’t the dad allowed to make decisions on his own time when the children are on his custody time? ”

    He should be, but the mom can make a lot of trouble by trying to make an “endangerment” issue of it. In that case, all but the most wacky judges would probably agree that it’s not endangerment, but to get to that point you have to go through a legal battle, which is a time-consuming, stressful, expensive headache. Part of the problem here is that things have gotten to the point where it’s close enough to being credible to enough people that letting an 8 year old bike a mile during the busiest (read, safest because of people being around and generally at their most alert) time of day is endangerment, so the overprotective parent has some leverage.

  41. IOW, 30 years ago, this would have been a crazy parent. Now, the identical behavior could be a semi-normal parent as defined by the norms of society. This kind of think will continue to crop up until Free Range hits a critical mass and the norms shift. Which probably WILL happen — the cultural pendulum is always at work.

  42. I was in a similar situation. I am the free range parent, my ex is the helicopter. I have full custody, he has visitation. He took me to court suing for full custody and in the papers put, “She makes the kids stay outside after school and they can only go inside to go to the bathroom.” This suit cost me over $5,000 and it never actually went to court. I kept custody because he dropped the case after the attorney appointed to my children said there was absolutely no reason for the case in the first place. I guess all I can suggest is lots of communication between you and your ex spouse. My ex and I now talk and I have asked him to tell me if he is uncomfortable with anything I do. It seems to help him that I actually listen to his concerns and talk with him about it, rather than just making my own decision and telling him to deal with it. I believe you could find smaller ways to give them some freedom while the Mom gets comfortable. You may even buy her a copy of the Free-Range kids book and start talking with her about why you think it is important and ask her to help you come up with ideas of how you can implement it in your kids lives. Don’t come from a position of making her wrong, enter into the conversation with compassion and openness to finding new smaller ways for your kids to be free range while the Mom gets comfortable with it.

  43. If you ex-wife isn’t comfortable with his biking right now, have him walk – it’s better for him, but takes longer. Ask her, when she will be comfortable with him biking. If she says 12, decide on 10 or 11 as a compromise.
    I don’t think you are unreasonable, I just think it is reasonable to take his mothers wishes into consideration.
    And good luck to you all 🙂

    @ Crystalblue: It’s a small comfort, but if the kids inherited you ex’es intelligence and scientific mind they are probably very aware of his shortcomings and the possible dangers in sailing etc. Accidents can happen and not be fatal. Kids can fall of a boat and not drown, if they wear a lifevest. The can burn themselves on not yet quite cold lead and survive that (and learn from it). With that missing element in your husbands psychology (and I believe you on that, I’m married to a bright guy somewhat like that) HE still managed to survive to his current age. All the things he does with the kids – that’s a good thing. He loves them. He takes time for them. He wants to share his world. By all means warn them of upcoming dangers and trust that their intelligence will provide the rest.

  44. I don’t know if this is more about safety or if it’s more about control. Chances are good that your ex wouldn’t be satisfied with your parenting no matter how you chose to raise your kids. If you were stricter than her, I have a funny feeling she’d be in court telling them how controlling you are or some other nonsense.

    I guess I’d see if I could make a case that she’s basically using the court system to air personal laundry.

  45. There’s an article from London about a school that wants to prohibit kids from bicycling to school on their own, even though they’ve been doing so without any problems so far.

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