Guest Post: You Can’t Helicopter-Parent Three Kids

 Hi Folks! This guest post is by Laura Vanderkam, author of All the Money in the World:What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending, out today from Portfolio!

You Can’t Helicopter-Parent Three Kids by Laura Vanderkam

Having a baby changes everything. Having three in four and a half years? While that was common in the 1950s, when the average American woman had nearly four children, it’s a lot less common now. But hey, I like to be an overachiever. At least on the fertility front. Because, as I learned this fall after bringing my baby daughter home from the hospital, when it comes to raising kids, having three little ones will throw any perfectionist tendencies under the bus.

When I only had my oldest son, I fretted about using television as a babysitter. Now that I have three kids, I literally use it as a babysitter, parking my oldest two in front of a video while putting the baby to bed on nights I have all three on my own.  The kids are no longer at risk of being overscheduled. I decided not to sign my oldest up for indoor soccer this winter because I couldn’t bear to deal with the logistics of getting him to practice 20 minutes away on Wednesday afternoons. If he was an only child, I might worry about him being behind on his skills. As a mother of three, I’ve realized that starting one’s soccer career at age 4 has absolutely nothing to do with how you’ll turn out in life.

Trying to keep track of everyone in the house, I’ve started to see that one reason 1950s moms let their kids wander around all afternoon is that it was too hard to keep tabs on that many kids all the time. Smaller families make it possible to plan and monitor a child’s every move, and that possibility makes people think they should. If everyone had four small kids, leaving the three younger ones in the care of an 11-year-old while you ran a quick errand to the post office wouldn’t seem so nutty. Whatever can go wrong is probably not nearly as bad as what can go wrong with four small kids tromping across a parking lot.

And what can go right? Well, here’s the thing. When you have lots of little ones, more hands helps. So teaching an 11-year-old responsibility in small chunks sounds pretty smart. It’s a skill many 11-year-olds these days — who are left with sitters themselves — don’t pick up. As for the little ones, with less parental monitoring, you learn to be flexible. Yes, someone just put you in your brother’s pants. No, you might not get your favorite TV show or story tonight. But being resilient and having an internal locus of control — the belief that you are responsible for making your way in the world — is not a bad lesson to take away from childhood. It’s certainly better than thinking your mother should show up with you for a job interview. I can barely remember my own professional appointments these days, let alone someone else’s.

In short, you can’t helicopter parent three kids. True, I probably won’t let the kids wander around 1950s style. I’m actually not so sure about letting an 11-year-old babysit (even if I did at that age). But with three, I can see this: you just can’t follow each one around on the playground. So it goes — you can’t follow them around through life either. And it’s good to learn you can make the swings move on your own.

It's just horse-sense: Three kids = kids on their own!

91 Responses

  1. I have a 1950s style family, four kids including three in less than four years. I realised when I had my first that I ought to have a few more to spread my neurosis thin and not inflict it only on one. It worked. Too hard to endlessly fret over four kids, not that I didn’t try. 🙂 But that isn’t the main reason I had four, natch . . ..

    I have had a heads up about where it all leads, this helicoptering. This was sent by a friend. I doubt her friend intended to disable her son. Of She thouhgt she was keeping him safe.

    “My friend has a child who refuses to walk on grass. He can only walk on a smooth, paved path. He is only 5. I take him to the park and tell him to harden up. He also won’t play on a swing (too unstable), go on a seesaw (too rough), climb on a monkey bar (too high), go down a slide (too steep) or do just about anything because it’s all just too scary.”

    😦

  2. This is a great guest-post!

    My parents had a 1950s style family. When I was 10 – 11, I began watching my three younger sisters for an hour or so at a time. Mostly this was after school and only a couple times a month when my parents’ schedules collided, so-to-speak. I would get home and the babysitter would leave and I would be with the twins (then about 4) for about 40 minutes until my other sister (then 7) got home. We’d then all be home for around another 30 minutes until my mom got home. We all survived to tell about it, too. (And trust me, parents can worry all they want about predators, molesters, and other outside evils, but nothing, nothing, NOTHING is more dangerous than four sisters arguing! LOL)

    But, best of all, my mom took me shopping and I got to get a pair of Jordache Jeans (this was 1981) because I was so responsible. Haha. Those jeans were so awesome.

  3. having more kids definately helps you let go a bit. I have four and you really cant watch them all. It makes you grateful for others who will lend a helping hand or catch a child, the 3rd child at 5 years old is doing so much more than the first child at the same age ( olders to copy from, and olders to join playing with in the empty lot and watch out for her while I’m feeding a baby) as a stay at home mum I am with my kids 95% of the time, but I call us baby freerangers as I am definately a lot more relaxed than people with one kid! while still being around the kids. my 22 month old can scale the playground and do most things unaided while other parents follow along beside her scared…

  4. Amen!! As of this June I will have 5 kids under 5yrs old and I couldn’t agree more. People just don’t realize that sometimes it’s a physical impossibility to keep after them all…not that I would want to if I could. Nothing wrong with letting kids be kids. I can’t wait to see where all these young ones are about 25yrs from now when they’re out in the world on their own with zero coping skills.

  5. Yep, that third one changes everything. In fact, I found the adjustment to three a lot harder than the adjustment to four or five — at least by the time #4 and #5 came along, #1 and #2 were walking, talking, picking up after themselves, and even doing simple household chores. Heck, at the age of 6, #1 even jumped in and made lunch most days when I had morning sickness with #4. But #3 was born just shy of four years after #1, so, yeah.

  6. Love this! Also had 3 kids in 4 1/2 years – didn’t do as well as one friend who had 4 in 3 years, LOL!
    Am sure that my oldest son would have ended up as a ‘Little Emperor’ in true Chinese style if we hadn’t had his siblings. And that if I hadn’t had child no. 2, I wouldn’t have worked out so well that you really cannot protect your child from life, and that, for instance, no child will die of shame from running 400 metres behind their peers in an 800m race – as long as they finish the darn race! And that 3rd children are the easiest of the lot, LOL! Mine just followed the other two around, and incidentally has found school the easiest….nowhere near the input no. 1 got, and actually better marks….

    BTW Lenore, loved the picture – it brought back so many memories. For some crazy reason, one of our old neighbours (a single older gentleman living on his own, horror of horrors!) kept a Clydesdale in his 1/4 acre backyard, and many Saturday afternoons 4 or 5 of us would spend hours sitting on the poor, patient creature’s back while he ambled slowly around his ‘patch’. Must have had a lot of supplementary feed, but boy he was a beautiful horse!

  7. My three are more widely spaced (4 1/2 years between each) but I completely agree. The beautiful thing is that my 10 year old, who happens to be a very sensible guy, is wonderful with his baby brother. Recently I was having one of those moments where you feel yourself starting to lose it with frustration, and he whisked the baby away from me and started to bounce him and play with him which they both loved while I got myself reorganized. I love that my big guy has the feeling of capability and contribution to the wellbeing of the family.

    Just the other day I noticed all three of them playing happily together in one of the bedrooms, the first time the 10 and 5 year olds really included the 14 month old in their play. They didn’t want and didn’t need grownups horning in on their fun, and frankly we have enough to do.

  8. I just watched an episode of Lenore’s show about a mother with six kids who was a helicopter parent, so it is possible. Actually she was more like a prison warden…

  9. I have to laugh around this! As a teacher I find that I struggle more with the parents of the only children than any others. They definitely have too much time on their hands ;o)

    And move over helicopter parents, what about the lawnmower parents!

  10. My husband and I were quick to note that we were outnumbered with the birth of #3. My kids are all different sorts of personalities, and my youngest is definitely determined to keep up with the older two. I enjoy the added excuse to give my kids a lot of independence, not that I needed it, even for my relatively clingy middle child who still gets to do more things on his own than most his friends.

  11. I have four kids. My husband was working late last night, and I realized about 8 pm that I needed to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. The youngest was already in bed and asleep, the two middle kids were watching cartoons. I left my almost-twelve-year-old in charge, made the quick trip to the pharmacy, and returned ten minutes later to find things just fine at home. To me, the risk of something bad happening when they’re home in front of the tv is much lower than the risk of something bad happening when I’m trekking three preschoolers across a parking lot.

  12. I desperately wanted to have at least three children. When my oldest was 2, we started “trying”. As time went on and he remained an only child I became more obsessed over silly things. With only one kid it’s easy to over-think some of the details. Somehow I just knew parenting would have to be a little easier if I literally couldn’t focus on every single move my child made.

    Seven years later we got an amazing phone call and we were able to add another child to our family. 14 1/2 months after that, I gave birth. Whew. We had three kids.

    Now we’re a foster family and I’m chasing after a total of six kids. I do not know how anyone could helicopter parent six children. I can’t!! In fact, one of the hardest part of fostering is the fact that technically I’m not allowed to be as free-range as I want to be. However, I bend the rules where I can. 🙂

  13. Mine were 3 kids in 5 years. My only hope when I had number 3 was that he would be a late walker. That was because #2 was VERY active and I was having a hard time even catching him to come home from the park. (He does have some special needs, besides the activity.) So of course, #3 walked at 9 months (instead of 13 like the older two) and was running fast two weeks later.

    I did helicopter some because of #2 and his needs for movement, touching everything, trying to see how much stuff would bend until it broke (not what he intended, as he was always sad.) He would run away and not answer. He would run into the road (and still does at 10) without looking around. So, I usually went with places, because lets face it, most parents don’t have kids like this. (I know that because I worked at a large preschool while in college, and there was not a kid in those 200 who was like my son!)

    On the other hand, #1 and #3 got to do much more on their own, because, lets face it, my attention was on #2. Outside to play? Great! Just stay in the yard! Oh, you were climbing to the top of the tree? That high huh? (Gulp – glad I wasn’t watching!)

    But now, after reading Lenore, and vision therapy for #2 (who knew not seeing right could also have ADHD symptoms, and that therapy could cure it?), we are now at the point where when I have a weekly appointment with #3, I can drop off #1 and #2 at the library for an hour and not worry about what the kids are doing, or what will happen to them. (What does happen – they pick out way too many books to bring home.) It is SO nice to not feel that I have to bring everyone with me anymore.

  14. I only have two, but there are exactly two years between them. I was actually having this discussion not to long ago with a friend. She was petrified in a parking lot for a little boy whose mother was getting the baby either in or out of the car and had left him on his own right outside the car door. She was wondering how you deal with things like that with more than one. I told her, at least with me, you have to teach the older one to be a little more responsible, and that means you have to trust him a little more. My son knows where he can and can’t be, where it is safe for him to let loose a little and not necessarily listen so well. He understands that there are certain places that are dangerous and he is *for the most part* very cautious and aware, and listens excellently in those situations (for a four year old). I discovered very quickly if I didn’t give him a little more room to prove my trust would be well placed, I would never be able to leave the house.
    I took the leap at the begining of the winter and took the kids by myself to the indoor pool. My son is an excellent swimmer, so I told him there are rules and you CANNOT break them for any reason or we leave immediately. I can’t be in two places at once, and I have to stick closer to his little sister because she doesn’t swim yet. Also the lifeguard and his little whistle are my best friend! He gets one whistle (little boys forget that running is against the rules when they are excited) because everyone is human, but he knows the second time a lifeguard has to whistle at him and we’re out. It actually worked out in my favor because the lifeguard heard me tell him this, and when he didn’t want to leave when it was time and he was kicking up a fuss, the lifeguard blew his whistle at us for me 😉 Gotta love the solidarity! Anyway, I am more proud of my little man everyday, and if I didn’t let go of that fear that something might be lurking around every corner I would never be able to take my children anywhere without another adult, and I would never get to see my son make all the right decisions and be the responsible amazing little guy he is!

    PS after having two, I totally understand now how the “birth order personality” happens… LOL

  15. Amen, amen, and amen! Especially the part about home alone being safer than three preschoolers in a parking lot. I just had my fourth, my oldest is not quite six. I started out pretty free range, though, because I’m also the oldest of five. I’ve noticed my husband loosen up a lot, especially when it comes to things like eating stuff off the floor.

    The kids definitely have to learn responsibility, like when we were at the park yesterday. I watched the hovering parents help their kids up the ladders while mine just had to “stay out of the road and in sight of the playground”.

  16. I want to use this opportunity to quote one of the best comments ever from a couple days ago; one that got lost in the shuffle of over a hundred other comments, and that also went WAY over the head of a few of the more satire-impared.

    “…And after all, who said parenting was easy? Let’s call a spade a spade. Work sucks. Jobs, as a rule, are unpleasant. Parenting is a job. Therefore parenting is unpleasant. Get it now? Has the penny dropped? Or don’t you want a job? Are you some kind of welfare queen or something? What are you lazy? News flash: If you aren’t feeling like Being A Parent Is The Hardest Job In The World (yet another tenet of helicopter parenting) you are doing it wrong.”

    I think this comment applies here as well. Most people don’t have a large number of kids, but they have to work five times as hard with the ones they have, lest they be seen as “lazy.” I only have two kids, which is all I’ve ever wanted, but I’ve never been that ashamed of being “lazy” – meaning knowing my limitations and being protective of my sanity. Thank goodness that my lack of over-ambition has been nothing but positive for my kids, who are growing to be incredibly capable, independent and fearless.

  17. I’m expecting #8, this one and the last 6 have been born in the last 9 years, and yes, you definitely begin to realize along about #3 that they are very smart, capable, self-sufficient little creatures. One thing I find amusing is when people tell me “I don’t know how you do it”, they aren’t thinking outside of the helicopter box. My job is to work myself out of a job, teaching my children how to do what they need done, to do it well, and then let them practice! None of my children “parent” the others, but we all carry the load of housework/cooking/cleaning together, and it seems to me that we get in a lot more chummy “together time” than the helicopter parents who don’t let junior DO things!? I am also glad they are learning how to do “real life” while I am able to teach and instruct and help when necessary, rather than raise them in bubble wrap and then turn them loose, completely unprepared and inept 20 years from now.

  18. Love it, Cynthia! I took four young ones (3 under 5) to a dinosaur demo once. All around me were couples taking their time to explain every little detail about each dinosaur to their one preschooler. My ‘explanations’ consisted of ‘That’s a green one’ and ‘Don’t you dare get on it!’

    While I think it’s great to educate one’s offspring, I can tell you which group was having the most fun at that exhibition! (And for the record, they did manage to get through it without damaging either the dinosaurs or themselves….).

  19. I had an argument with a police officer about leaving kids in the car while running into the gas kiosk to pay. The police said it was not acceptable. I poined out the car was locked, I had the keys, and that a 2 year old and 5 year old were safer in the car than in the parking lot.

    I also find that parents who help their little kids on the playground end up putting the kids in dangerous situations. If the kid can’t climb it himself, then he isn’t ready to be on it.

  20. I have 8 kids and I LOVE IT!!! But, yeah, you cannot helicopter that many. I am sure I did some for #1 and #2. I never had a kid dip a hand in the toilet before #4 because I always knew where the kids were and what they were doing. (Part of that was living in big city tiny apartments– ie easy to keep track of dust it is so small) 4 kids pushed us out of the city and into a big house. My current 2 year old has a lot more freedom to just explore the house because well, it is just impossible to be a helicopter parent of so many. So well, I am glad I had so many awesome kids because I am sure I had amazing potential for helicoptoring. I relaxed. I know they are safe. I even let the 10 year old watch the 4, 6, and 7 year olds for 1/2 hour while I drive teenagers places. So far all of my kids are so much more capable then most of the other kids they pal around with. So not helicoptoring does make independent kiddos.

  21. I adopted my first two, so in a sense I had four in under two years. The oldest was five, though, when the fourth was born. She was ten when the seventh was born. 😉 No helicoptering for us!

    The funny thing is, I consider that one of the best parts of having a big family, but I’ve heard people use it as an argument against having more than a couple of kids. You can’t possibly watch them all, they say. As though allowing children independence and responsibility were a bad thing!

  22. That’s for sure — I had four in under five years! I agree agree agree and couldn’t agree anymore!

  23. About that sarcastic comments about “parenting being the hardest job”, well, I do love being with my kids and wouldn’t change it for the world.

    But….every day I have to tell them “GO OUTSIDE! If you don’t GO OUTSIDE you must be in your room, CLEANING.” It does get me time to myself, and it gets them out building structures and forts like the one in the other post, or climbing trees, or petting ducks and geese. (Yes, giant, pecky geese, the kind that make most people run in fear.)

    We have a neighbor friend who admits that her daughter (an only) is spoiled. And when mom admits it, you know it is big time spoiled. I don’t think that they have ever had a sitter for their 6 year old, never had a dinner out without her since she was born. Now, I have to admit that I am short on getting sitters, but I make a point that at least once a year, for our anniversary, that my husband and I get dinner alone. This other mom works very hard at keeping her daughter happy at all costs, to the expense of her own life and her marriage. If this keeps up, I fear for the future – this girl is going to be a terror and already is to some extent.

    My kids – they say they are bored – I tell them to clean their rooms. It is not MY job to keep them happy. They have to learn to do that on their own. They also have to function as part of our family, not as the sole reason for our family. Would it be different with only one? To some extent. We would have more ability to fly places to see family, go on vacation and such because 3 seats are a lot cheaper than 5. But would my oldest be spoiled – probably not – I knew before I had kids how I wanted to raise them (NOT like my brother was raising his, or some cousins were.)

  24. My son is 27 years old. A few months after he was born, I mentioned to a 40-something colleague Rex about my worries for my infant son. He counseled me not to worry and told me a little story to illustrate his point.

    With the first kid, if the pacifier falls on the floor the all-too-worried parents immediately grab it, and sterilize it in boiling water for a good while before returning the pacifier to the baby.

    With the second kid, if the pacifier falls on the floor the multi-tasking parents give it a good wash with hot soapy water before returning the pacifier to the baby.

    With the third kid, if the pacifier falls on the floor, the scurrying parents rinse it off in water at whatever temperature it comes out of the faucet before returning the pacifier to the baby.

    With the fourth kid, if the pacifier falls on the floor and the dog grabs it and plays with it for a bit, the frazzled and harried parents just shake off the pacifier and plop it back in the baby’s mouth.

    At the time I knew Rex, he had four healthy and active teenage kids, so I figured he really knew what he was talking about. And I listened to him.

  25. I had three in two years (1+twins) and I couldn’t agree more. Three is extremely difficult, but also freeing. There is just no way I can be over-scheduled or over-involved without losing my mind. Which is why my almost 5-year old made “colored bubbles” today by mixing nail polish and soap when she was playing upstairs unsupervised (and yes, I gave her polish remover to clean it up herself), and later rode her bike to the park by herself to meet a friend while I lagged behind with her little sisters. At the playground, I have to stand way back so I can keep an eye on all of them, and they know that mommy is not going to come to their rescue unless they really need it. As a result, they are more independent, and more TRUSTWORTHY, than most other kids their age.

  26. Great article but having a single child does not have to equal helicopter parenting. I have one, now 13 year old, boy. He has never been helicopter parented – I grew up in a family of four and a number of foster kids, I was determined to allow him the freedom and independence I enjoyed growing up. Just wish more of his friends parents, all with many more kids, would allow their children the same level of independence.

  27. I started out with triplets, so never had much chance to helicopter. I always had to stand back so I could watch them go three different directions at the park. But it was like baby boot camp, so 4, 5, and 6 (all singles) were much easier. Now that the triplets are 12, I have 3 babysitters, which is awesome because if one’s not looking, the other two are. I have no concept on having an only, but my kids are independent, helpful, and self-motivated.

  28. Am I the only one who’s slightly uneasy to read that toddler’s are being parked in front of the TV?

  29. I had twins when my oldest was 2 and just starting to climb monkey bars and such. He learned to do a lot on his own. Best rule ever, “if you can’t get there yourself you don’t go” Because I never knew if I would be able to catch him or get him down because of his younger brothers. And when my daughter followed her brothers 20 months later..they all learned independence. I think the only rule I enforce was when they went exploring they went with more than one and “stayed together”

  30. Great post. Great comments. My thoughts exactly. And “parking” toddlers in front of cartoons for a few minutes while you put baby to bed is OK; it doesn’t mean the same as leaving them indoors all day and letting them rot in front of a TV set.

  31. When #4 was born I joked that i knew at any given time where any 3 were. Now they are 19,18,14,12 and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. 🙂
    My twelve year old has a friend that still can’t cross our main road, (2 lanes, 25mph) in town to come visit.

  32. As an only child finding myself with two kids 20 months apart caused a mini-freak out. After the freak out passed I realized that I had to let go (I was already getting there but it accelerated the process). I love my mother and she was an awesome free-range parent but my go-to for advice is my grandmother. Four kids in five years and doing it mostly on her own because my grandfather traveled for work and was gone 75% or more of the time. Not only did she keep me in line when my first was an only but she reminds me that kids really are more capable than we think. Sometimes to our dismay (two year old figured out how to climb the fridge to get into the knives I stored up there) and often to our pleasure (same day, same two year old figured out how to button his own shirt). Although I have friends with kids similar in age watching them I realize I parent more like I have more kids, thanks to grandma.

    Sadly my MIL had three in four years and was a helicopter parent. Not as bad as today’s variety, but bad enough that I look at her sometimes and wonder if my husband and his siblings had any kind of normal kids things in their childhood. To her defense though, the middle kid has a genetic disorder that caused him to spend a lot of time in body casts. When a simple trip and fall really can lead to that kind of injury you get some slack on the over protectiveness. And she did make sure he grew up to be a fully independent and functioning adult. Now if I could just get her to understand that neither of my kids has the disorder life would be easy.

  33. I also had 3 kids in 4 1/2 years. They are now 9/7/5…and I totally agree with you! My 9 yr old walks my 5 year old to a before school program 3 days a week (we do live only 2 doors and one semi-busy street from school) by herself. she walks herself home from her afterschool activities. I think it is easier for me to give them more independence, because I often have no choice!

  34. “Am I the only one who’s slightly uneasy to read that toddler’s are being parked in front of the TV?”

    For the time it takes to put a baby to bed, occasionally?

    Not really. Not given the alternatives.

  35. My two kids are 16 months apart (we call our second our accidental adoption 😉 ). I was in a playgroup with kids my first son’s age. My older son was about a month and a half older than the next oldest kid, and also walked earlier than any of them at 11 months. I was the first of the lot to develop a second child. They used to look at me askance as I refused to rush over to fuss the second my oldest fell down, got dirty, or picked up something that might be unsavory. It wasn’t until they all started having second children that they started saying, “Wow. I see now why you do x.” I had the advantage of learning early that all you get from obsessing over their every move is tense and irritable moms with tense and irritable kids.

    Money and space prevent us from adopting more kids right now. But sometimes when my boys are getting into ‘we’re borrrred’ mode, I threaten to go find them twin two year old sisters. 🙂

  36. We’re expecting number 3 to show up any day now, which makes for 3 in under 4 years. After spending time around several large families in college before we got married, my husband and I decided that we wanted a large family as well. The children just seemed so much more well-adjusted than the average kid- helpful, kind, generally cheerful. I think they just never had the opportunity to believe that the world revolves around them.

  37. I joking say that once you have 3 kids, it doesn’t matter how many more you have. Once they outnumber you, you’ve lost.

    My 4th was born the beginning of my oldest’s 1st grade year. They ran wild and free, much to my father’s disgust. Now I’m proud mother of a Marine in active duty in Afghanistan, an 18 year old daughter currently considering making her 2 month visit to Uruguay permanent, a happy, outgoing 15 year old boy and a 13 year old I have a hard time keeping at home due to her social life. My father, on the other hand, said he was practically ashamed to be seen with his grandkids because he didn’t approve of their outgoing behavior, my kids decided then to not bother him with their presence. Who’s the one who lost out here?

  38. Thank you for saving me the trouble of writing this post. I’ve had an outline in draft for months. You can hover over one, it almost seems natural. You can hover over two, but you won’t do anything else. At three, the helicopter crashes.
    Cheers and good luck from a mom of 4 in 5 (the last were twins)

  39. The comments here remind me of one of my favorite (albeit quite dated) kids books, “The Country Bunny & the Little Gold Shoes”. Actually quite shocking that it was written in the late 1930s, if I remember correctly. In a nutshell, a little girl bunny has the goal of being an Easter Bunny. Everyone tells her she can’t, because she’s just a little girl. She ends up having 21 children, and everyone tells her she’s ridiculous and “country” for having so many babies. However, as the baby bunnies get older, she teaches them to take care of the house and farm. In the end (spoiler!), she reaches her goal of being an Easter Bunny because all of the skills she gained as a mom made her super-qualified, and because her children were so responsible she could leave them to take care of everything while she hopped around the world doing her Easter Bunny thing.

    I only have one kiddo right now, with another on the way, but I’m looking forward to teaching mine to be responsible and confident in their abilities.

  40. As for being parked in front of the TV: I was parked in front of the TV as far back as I can remember. When I was very small, it was “Sesame Street” and cartoons. I used to do my homework in front of the TV. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA and loved to read books and play outside just as much as I loved TV. What has it led to? A college-educated woman who loves to read and be in nature who also DVRs at least one show a night (and sometimes up to four in an evening). TV will not rot a kid’s brain or lead to them being couch potatoes who never read.

  41. “If you can’t get there yourself you don’t go.”

    I have the same rule! The problem is that other parents see the k IDs whining and break that rule without asking me, then walk away and leave me to deal with the fallout.

    Now my older adventurers are little parkour aficionados.

  42. Elayne, ooooh, I would be so upset with a parent who “helped” my kid up like that! I’ve already warned my older kids not to help the little ones up trees and such because, as I say, “If you can’t get up on your own, you won’t be able to get down.”

    IMO, it’s dangerous to boost kids up to places that are beyond their own reach. (And, of course, my kids have all learned to get up high on their own!)

  43. I have become almost anti-tv (for kids) helping to raise two kids who watch 40+ hours of tv a week while at their other home and I do see many of the problems associated with it – weight issues, over consumerism (what parents call the “I wants”), attitude (do you hear how kids on tv speak to one another), lack of desire to go outside, troubling grades and an overstimulation that creates kids who are bored if things aren’t rapidly moving. I do believe that tv can rot a kids brain – however, that’s from overuse. There is a big difference between watching a 30 minute program each night or a family movie on the weekend and watching tv from 3:30 – 9:00pm each weeknight and 9am – 11:00pm on weekends – that’s where the issues start IMHO. TV can be part of life, like candy and other treats, and alcohol for adults – it’s overuse of anything that creates issues.

    I keep telling my stepkids that if they grow up never having had a broken bone, a need for stitches, a black eye or any other sort of childhood injury I will wonder what kind of a childhood they had.

    I grew up as the oldest of 4 kids. We were allowed and encouraged to go outside and play from a young age. Heck, even when the neighbor kids were inside we could have a pretty mean game of hide and seek with just the four of us. We rode our bikes freely around the neighborhood and my parents never hovered. In fact, once I was about 10 I was taking my 3 siblings to the park and allowing my mom a little bit of peace at home for a little while. Yes, there were stitches here and there, a few broken bones and countless bruises and scrapes – but all four of us had an unbelievable childhood – one that included curling up in front of the TV every Saturday night for Hockey Night in Canada – full of a variety of memories.

  44. One other note before you think I am mean stepmomma – my hubby agree’s with me and the overuse of tv and lack of energy that was promoted by his ex wife is one of the reasons that they seperated. The kids are totally different at our house – it takes a few hours – but eventually they are running in and out of the house, making new friends and getting into adventures. We take them camping every summer too and it’s been such a great experience for them both – climbing tree’s and learning to use their imagination.

  45. Having children younger, having more of them, having a smaller house, and having less resources to go around all seem to foster a situation in which children must develop at or slightly beyond the capacity of their abilities and function more and more independently.

    The whole experience has inverted now: having children older, having less of them, having a larger house, and having more resources to go around all foster a situation in which children cannot develop at the capacity of their abilities and function more and more independently UNLESS the parents make a fairly grand effort to go against cultural norms of stifling and retarding them.

    People in the 1950s didn’t necessarily “wait to have kids” until “it was the right time,” meaning, “we’ve got to have a 3200 square foot house and be earning a combined $120,000 per year.” Remember hearing stories about the small apartment, the baby in the dresser drawer because there wasn’t a bassinet? Kids SHARING bedrooms? 7-or-8-year-old-kids spending most of the day supervising younger siblings while out and about in the neighbourhood?

    We think that more money, more stuff, more space, more enrichment programs and organized activities, more supervision means a better life for us and for our kids. I don’t see it that way. I see how having too much means a sort of death of the spirit: the more you have, the more you have to lose—in terms of stuff—hence the security systems, the guns, the paranoia. Everyone is out to get me and my stuff, which includes my kids.

    And the less you have, in terms of children, the more you have to lose: people guard over these kids as if they were their prized possession, which simply cannot be stolen or plundered in any way, so it has to be kept in a box and taken out only on special occasions lest it get tarnished.

    Ah, but kids, like gold, can survive a patina. Let them live. Let them make decisions, take responsibility, go out and have experiences that show them what they can do, what they are made of, what they must learn from, what they can apply later. Keeping them pristine and shiny is not raising them, it is coveting, and motivated by the most selfish fear of loss.

    How many helicopter parents, I wonder, have a spiritual practice that leads them to a place of peace and acceptance about their circumstances and the fate of themselves and their kids? Or are they worshipping at the altars of the shopping malls and Pottery Barn websites and CNN News broadcasts, and superstitiously sacrificing the joy and growth of their children’s lives with the hysterical prayer that “the kids will be OK, please let the kids be OK, if I lost the kids that would be the end of me, they have to be OK, I have to look OK to other parents, please let me look OK, just make it all OK…”

    In contrast, the prayers of run-of-the-mill, middle-class, Judeo-Christian parents of the post-war era sounded like this: “It’s in God’s hands” and “It’s God’s will.” I can’t bring myself to use that particular phrasing, so I say to myself: “I trust that all is well, and that everything happens for the highest good.” I know, that means I have to see it ALL as sacred, and, well, that’s now the focus of my life. After all, I’m raising four kids.

  46. As usual, Lenore, thanks for the message you so beautifully spread. You make counter-cultural a lot less lonely. And, from this mother of 5, the “under”-scheduled (fat chance every kid gets an activity besides what they create on their own) do survive… in fact, they thrive.

  47. As a mother of twins, I have noticed a clear divide in the multiples community. The parents I emulated and took advice from were those parents who had realized early on that, while planning ahead was an absolute necessity, any personal tendencies toward helicopter parenting needed to be set aside. Then there were those who doubled-down and helicoptered like heck. I always know when I’m dealing with a member of the second group, because that person will go on and on about how hard it is, how no one understands, etc. etc. etc. Honestly, while there are issues peculiar to multiples, at the end of the day it’s just two kids. And if you give them (and yourself) some room to breath, it can be a lot of fun.

  48. Christina – I see that trend with many parents. Some of them find it so hard and are so overwhelmed – while others love being parents and have kids who are so much better adjusted. I would much rather be part of the second group!

  49. really, all these comments and no one has responded to the first one to explain that the five year old who won’t walk on grass or go on see-saws probably has (possibly undiagnosed) special needs, and that if he does, it’s not because he has a “helicopter parent.” it sounds like he may be on the autism spectrum, or at least has sensory issues.

    i’m all for free-range parenting (that’s why i read this blog!) but the idea that you take a kid who has sensory issues to the playground and tell him to “toughen up” is absurd (and cruel). not to mention, i would be really disappointed if free-range parents decided to go back to the days when all special needs were considered to be the “fault” of the parents.

  50. Oh yeah. I’m a single mom of 2, no co-parent in the picture and limited family support. More than one parent has asked me ‘how do you do it?’ The answer is: “very imperfectly”. But you know, I’m good enough, and my kids are confident, good problem solvers and resilient. My grandma, mother of 11 children, told me “You aren’t really a mom until they outnumber you”… not sure if that is true, but strategy does change if you want to actually enjoy your kids.

  51. m, sensory issues are a possibility, but it’s an equal possibility that the kid was just trained by a mom who never let him do anything, to be afraid to do anything.

    In a world full of neurotypical kids with neurotic parents, it’s hard to say which possibility is more likely.

  52. Amen to this post!! We had 3 in 3 years. That was the tunnel of parenthood there; I went nowhere but the playgroup and pediatrician for about a year. That’s what it felt like, anyway. It was exhausting.
    Now we’ve got 6 and the oldest is 10. I get asked quite often how I do it; the answer is Delegate! I don’t have to carry my purse or the diaper bag; I don’t have to buckle everyone in. Just the baby car seat.
    It’s wonderful.

  53. Good for the author. I just have one thing to add though…what was good for us at their age, should be just as good for them. Otherwise, we are nothing but selfish hypocrites.

  54. Thanks pentamom, you took the words right out of my mouth. Unless the mother lets us know how she was towards him growing up, both scenarios are very possible.

  55. My first three were born each a year apart. Three kids under 3 years old. It’s definitely been an adventure and people were (and still are) always asking me “how I do it”. But really it isn’t as hard as they think when you teach your kids to do things on their own and be independent and responsible. Then you don’t have to do everything for them and things just kind of run along. Sure it was tough when all 3 were toddlers but that only lasted a few years.

    Now they are 11, 10 and 9. I also have an almost 6yo (in April) and a 1 1/2yo. Adding the last one wasn’t all that hard with 4 older kids to help with him (they were 10, 8 1/2, 7 1/2 and 4 when he was born). The older 3 are perfectly capable of changing diapers, making bottles (when he was on them) and watching him while I did stuff in another room. They also watch the 5yo so that we can go out alone (well, with the baby because he’s a bit much for them to watch for a long amount of time). But they take him for walks all over the neighborhood and take him outside to play.

    The older kids also know how to do laundry and clean the house so I don’t always have to do it and I’m teaching the 11yo to cook. They can also get their own food (sandwhiches, leftovers, stuff like that) so I don’t have to cook if I don’t feel like it.

    When people ask me “how I do it” they seem to think I try and monitor everything everyone does like people do with only children. That would never work with 5 kids. I’ve been telling people for years that I’m raising kids like I was raised. Back then I had my own life and my mother had her life. Sure they intersected sometimes but they didn’t depend on each other. My kids have their own lives, and I try to have mine.

  56. I always wonder how the completely anti-tv parents manage when they are home sick with a healthy kid! My toddler currently goes to a daycare where I work, so if I don’t go in, neither does he. The last time I was home sick, we spent most of the day on the big chair in front of the TV working through the collection of DVR’d Bob the Builder episodes while I dozed. That way at least I didn’t need to sit on the floor and try to participate in building with blocks, or read book after book about trucks, all day. 🙂

  57. I always wonder if completely anti-tv parents really are, or if it’s just something to say that gives them “points” in the parenting world…while secretly their children do watch Sesame Street and Disney DVDs, and Mom and Dad can’t wait for the next season of Mad Men!!

  58. Well, I have known some people who didn’t even own TV’s, so they probably really were. And we’re pretty anti-TV — anti-receiving anything on the TV over the air or through a cable, that is, except for the occasional sporting event or other really special event. We just really, truly, honestly don’t find anything we consider worthwhile to watch, with rare exceptions. But the DVD player gets a big workout.

  59. Hey Beth,

    We don’t have a TV in the house, but over the six years I’ve been in my home separate from the kids’ dad, I have shown the kids DVDs on my computer. The way we do it now is with a DVD player hooked up to a projector and speakers… that way, the screen time is a big event, not just part of the everyday scenery.

    When I was newly divorced with a 2 and 5 year old, I did not have a TV or put them in front of DVDs. I look back on those awful days of me being depressed and exhausted, the kids being wound up and wounded, bickering, screaming… what was I thinking, especially as I was trying to cook dinners? It didn’t even occur to me to put them in front of the screen.

    Weird, I know. I certainly wasn’t trying to win any awards, I just loathe broadcast TV in general. So anyway, there’s no TV here, but there’s computers, and youtube, and DVDs, but the usage of all of it is somewhat careful and conscious. When I look back on my dark days, though, I think it was unfortunate that I didn’t put them in front of a movie every afternoon, for all our sanities’ sake.

  60. This is a really great discussion. My six children are 31, 28, 24, 20, 18, and 16. I have gotten to hear lots of great stories about things they did while out and about as children, that I am really glad I didn’t hear at the time. They all helped with everything that needed to be done. I got to take naps and out to lunch with friends, and we all made it though. Now I have a daycare with nine children, and it is wonderful to encourage them and see them progress. And they help each other – getting diapers, drinks, snacks – and they are SO proud of themselves for being able to help. Children are so capable – my favorite things to teach parents are to say “You can do it” and “You are OK”.

  61. I raised my kids without a tv or computer in the house (until we got a computer when the oldest was 10 or so). If you’ve never had it, you don’t miss it. I’d lay on the couch sick and the kids would play in the living room and help me out. One particular bad case of the flu made me bed bound, but I really really needed to get a cashiers check from the bank down the block. I called the bank, told them what I needed and that I was sending my 5 year old down to pick it up. He came home, proudly carrying the check along with 4 suckers for him and his siblings.

    If you give them a chance, kids can be a huge help when you’re sick, you just have to let them know the circumstance.

  62. I am anti “pay for TV.” I am also anti commercials. So pretty much my kids watch PBS. For a while when my oldest was about 2-4, we got basic cable, and still, PBS and the weather channel were the most watched shows. (We found that some shows on Discover and one other station actually were all made together and we would see up to three shows on say, oil rigs in Norway and be thinking we had already seen it.)

    Now, when my kids were younger, they did like to watch TV. They pretended they were in Word World. I when I was pregnant with #3 I let #1 watch kid movies. Now the oldest is 12, the youngest 7. We haven’t watched TV in the morning in ages. Not because I won’t let them, but because they don’t want to. They would rather play before we start doing school work.

    All love the shows on PBS that are geared toward adults. Since they took off Reading Rainbow, there isn’t much that my kids want to watch most of the time, or that they haven’t seen before. My youngest son will cry if he misses “This Old House.” He can’t decide which he likes better: Star Wars Movies, or This Old House. I let him watch This Old House way more than the Star Wars movies.

  63. haha, love this! As a mother of a 25 month old, 10 month old and 14 weeks pregnant with baby 3 it makes sense to me 🙂 I did helicopter my first some. But once her sister came along…pssh forget it! I make sure they are safe and let them play as I get things done. No way could i spend all my time watching every move they make. I even put them in their bedroom to play sometimes with NO BABY MONITOR. Which is simply unheard of these days, most parents I know couldn’t imagine not having their video baby monitor so they can sit and watch everything their kids do. Me, I have other things I need to do during the day which is made easier by them being in their room out of the way for a bit. I know if my kids need something they will make enough noise to get my attention. I’m big into privacy and I feel my kids deserve some just as much as anyone else. I know I wouldn’t want to be watched every second of the day, sure would make me paranoid. I look forward to raising my kids with the freedom to go play and have fun without me hanging over their shoulder the whole time. Just like I was raised, as the youngest of 6.

  64. Sort of related and nowhere else to put it — I just read the article from the Twitter feed about parenting not requiring “grad school level science” and it is EXCELLENT. I often forget to look at the stuff in the feed so I thought I’d give it a shout out for those who don’t always check those things out.

  65. BINGO! I tell the moms at the playground, “As long as I can find two of them, I’m good.” One parent once actually got up and searched for the third and then returned to reassure me that she was ok. I thanked her kindly, but noticed that she didn’t do it again when I once again counted only two a few minutes later.

  66. Baby monitor? What’s that? I think I only used mine when gardening outside…once.

    Last weekend I visited some friends with 3 girls 2-6. They had and used the monitor for their oldest. They would listen at night, and yes, they had a wonderful moment when they heard her speak her first full sentence “Oops, I dropped the binky! Is mommy going to get it?” And yes, mommy did. It is cute, but….if she is old enough to talk in sentences, she can reach down and get that binky.

    I have never been a fan of the “cry it out” crowd. On the other hand, if the kid is not unhappy, there is nothing wrong with them being awake and me getting some more sleep. I think this family did realize that as well after the first.

  67. Ok, so there are people out there who really don’t watch any TV. Can I ask how you treat your friends/acquaintances who do? I personally have found through the years that there IS compelling TV programming, and much of it is available on DVD, yet me speaking of this in my small community is usually met with the nose-in-the-air “we never watch TV” as if I am a lesser breed of person and parent.

    And to be clear, I’m not talking about parking my kids in front of the TV (not even so I can take a shower!), nor having the TV on all day. I’m talking about making discerning choices, and actually sitting down (no multi-tasking) and watching the show.

  68. “Ok, so there are people out there who really don’t watch any TV. Can I ask how you treat your friends/acquaintances who do?”

    I’ve met those people, too, and they’re annoying. I don’t watch TV like other people don’t fish, not like other people don’t smoke, if you know what I mean. It’s an interest I don’t have, not a vice I’m trying to stamp out. If they talk about something I’ve never seen, I say, “Oh, I’ve never seen that,” and listen with interest (since they’re sharing something that interests them) while they tell me more.

    Besides, as I said, I/we do watch a lot of things on DVD, though they tend to be older or in a less-popular category (e.g. British productions of literature.)

  69. Beth,

    Okay, here comes a tome, so everyone else can skip this!

    It sounds to me like when you hear parents say, “Oh, well, we don’t have a TV,” you would really enjoy being seen as the loving, conscious, caring, and concerned parent that you are, and maybe that you find inspiration, connection, learning, and fun when you watch certain TV shows. I celebrate that having and watching TV is working for you and your family. There is nothing inherently “bad” or “wrong” with TV, only what works.

    Growing up in the 70s, my parents limited our TV viewing at home (we had three and a half channels on a very small set), and turned the sound down on the commercials when they came on. Once our “quota” of one hour of cartoons had been maxed out on Saturday morning, I would go to the neighbours’ house and watch hours of cable TV. My parents knew exactly what I was up to, but never chastised or guilted me about it.

    Eventually, though, I had a small set in my bedroom as a teenager. I watched late-night TV and really enjoyed that. Generally, the TV was a comfort, a living force in the dark, and gave a sense of security. I remember as a very small child feeling more secure as I went to sleep if I could hear people watching TV downstairs.

    Here are some of the things I noticed about myself as an adult when I had a TV:

    I stayed up later than I wanted to and got less sleep.

    I would sit down to watch “just a few minutes” while I did something with my hands, and end up watching two back-to-back movies from the 1940s, then look up and be furious with myself for losing half the day.

    I became exasperated, angry, depressed and anxious watching cable TV news.

    I felt indignant seeing the balance between show and advertising in a one-hour television show was tipping more and more toward advertising.

    I became exasperated, angry, depressed and anxious watching television commercials.

    On balance, the enrichment I was getting from the TV didn’t outweigh the ill effects it had on my sense of peace and well-being, so I opted out of it. It’s about me, my health, my well-being, not the rest of the world’s, so I certainly don’t preach to others about why they shouldn’t watch TV!

    With my kids, there were a few ideas I had as well:

    I wanted my kids to make their own fun whenever possible, and trust that they learn more from building a fort than they could from most television shows, even the “educational” ones. This is about creativity, resourcefulness, self-connection, well-being, and play.

    I wanted to have some peace around materialism in my home, and knew that as a child when I saw something on TV, whether it was food, drink, or product, I wanted it. I figured my kids would have less of that “hungry ghost” type longing in them if they just didn’t see commercials, and I would hear less whining about what they “had to have.” That’s about harmony. 🙂

    I felt sad and discouraged when I would go to a friend’s house and see the shows her daughter was watching on a kids channel (Disney channel?). They were shows aimed at elementary-aged girls featuring young teenagers, and the way the characters interacted with each other sounded horrible to me; I didn’t like the idea of my kids emulating their style of language and communication. This is about respect, growth, ease, peace, connection, and caring.

    I have a son who is stocky, and loves sports. I felt concern that if he could access television and spend time watching sports, he’d watch more and do less. This is about health and well-being. To support health I also don’t have a video game system, either. I do realize there are plenty of fit folks who play video games too… again, this is not about right and wrong, just what works for me.

    My new husband and I understand that our kids are getting plenty of TV at their other homes (all of our kids split their time between our place and the other parent’s equally). They reference products, funny commercials, and favourite characters from shows, just like I did as a child. They are likely getting a bit more cultural indoctrination than they would if they were with us all the time, and some of that shows up now, and some of it will inevitably show up later.

    I think one of the things I realize too is that TV when I was a kid in the 70s, especially basic TV, was less compelling, and commercials were more naive in their efforts to manipulate. I would get bored with it eventually and turn it off, and learned to see through the manipulation. I found as an adult that I couldn’t turn off cable TV. There was always something on I wanted to watch, and I also saw that things like MTV and commercials were getting more and more sophisticated in their marketing efforts.

    I acknowledge that TV viewing is a slippery slope for me, and my strategy to just not have one. This is about me getting myself closer to the values that I care about: ease, peace, connection, well-being. If others find all that with a TV set in their house, hallelujah!

  70. I’m sure it’s difficult to helicopter 4 young children. However, that’s not to say that only children have to be helicoptered or spoiled. Just because you CAN do something (drink too much alcohol, drive your car into a lake, check your FaceBook 2 million times a day) doesn’t mean you have to or are going to.

    I’m not going to have a lot of kids. I have a step-daughter, and I will have a baby. I will replace myself, but not contribute to the human overpopulation of the planet. But I still don’t helicopter my step-daughter, and I won’t helicopter my own child.

    CAN does not equal WILL.

  71. “And to be clear, I’m not talking about parking my kids in front of the TV (not even so I can take a shower!), nor having the TV on all day. I’m talking about making discerning choices, and actually sitting down (no multi-tasking) and watching the show.”

    Beth, you appear to not like it when others make value judgments on you for your TV watching, but you seem to do the same to others who do the things above.

    I did park my toddler in front of the TV for a half an hour while I got something done or relaxed. I needed 20 minutes of peace every once in awhile. There are days that the TV stays on half the day. Just kinda depends on our plans, the weather and our energy level. I rarely (ok, never) make discerning choices while watching tv. Truthfully, there is nothing on tv that I want to watch enough to actually remember when it’s on. I solely watch TV when I just need to veg for awhile so the most entertaining thing I find on is fine. That could be a documentary on Roosevelt in the hours following Pearl Harbor (it was very interesting) or an old Friends rerun. I almost always multitask while watching TV. Otherwise you have to actually watch the commercials.

    I’m not bothered since I generally just roll my eyes at the anti-tv crowd (those who are snobs about it, not those who simply don’t like it). If they want to make an inanimate object an object of moral superiority, let them. My view has always been that almost everything in life is fine in moderation and children need to be taught moderation. Completely removing TV (or juice, sweets and the myriad of other things that have become demonized in some parenting circles) doesn’t teach your children anything. They will be faced with these things and they have no idea how to relate to them in healthy ways. And, frankly, there is value in doing something simply because you enjoy it with no underlying motive, purpose, learning experience or value expected.

    As a result, we have one, and only one, firm TV rule – no tv in the bedroom ever. Everything else can be discussed and negotiated. And I have a bright, happy, well-adjusted, active child. She reads at above her grade level, has always had a long attention span and can entertain herself for long periods of time without TV. She enjoys a full range of activities, both active and sedentary. She’s watching tv now and later we’ll either go on a hike with friends or run errands then hit the pool. Life is about balance.

    My suggestion would be to stop discussing TV within your circle of friends. If they don’t watch the program, the conversation is of no interest to them and just gives them the opportunity that they appear to want to assert their moral superiority on the issue.

  72. Beth, concerning those who put their nose up in the air…I just wouldn’t talk TV with them. I know some people whom I cannot talk about our homeschooling with. I know others that I can. I would be mostly upset though if the TV people constantly brought up to me the perils of TV when in fact we don’t watch that much. I don’t like it when people evangelize religion to me, and I don’t like it when they do with other life choices that I have made. If my no TV friends did that often, I would tell them to knock it off. Otherwise, as I said, I would talk about other things, like something I heard on the radio or a book I read.

    My doctor (of all people) said that I should get cable because I am homeschooling my kids. He thought we should watch shows on the History Channel or Discovery or such. He felt I was doing my kids a disservice by NOT having access to the quality shows that they have.

    The thing is, we can get most of the best shows on cable from the library. PBS also runs shows that are very similar to some shows on cable. Many of the shows I can get for free online if I want, or can get through Netflicks if we ever subscribe again, which we may not. I tried to explain this all to him, but I could tell I wasn’t getting through. It really doesn’t matter to me what he thinks. I am the one educating my kids, not him. I expect him to help me to keep my kids healthy.

  73. Donna, I wasn’t making my point well…I did have my kids watch TV on occasion if I needed to take a shower, and/or other reasons. I pretended not to, and would never ever have wanted to admit that though….till right now. Look what happened above: someone admitted to it, and a few posts down, there was a “concern” expressed.

  74. Gee…parking your 4 kids around the TV all day sounds SO much more delightful than my son’s childhood of fun and valuable swimming lessons and Tae Kwon Do classes -both of which he loves!

    I remember being resentful as a child NOT being able to take stuff like ballet or swimming because my mom was always tied down at home with a new baby and it was hard for us to get out.

  75. Beth, you just have to ignore the “concern” and feel secure in your own choices. Are your kids happy and healthy? If they are not, then maybe you need to look at your choices, tv included. Otherwise, your choices are fine if they work for you and your family.

    I think much of the anti-tv is really anti-being the bad guy (aka parenting). The kids control the house and the parents don’t want to tell them to turn off the tv. The prime goal is to keep the children happy and avoid conflict. I’m always amazed that the justification of no-tv is that the kids would watch too much, never go outside to play and get obese. Sadly, this is, in fact, a result of having tv in many families. But it’s a parenting failure and not the fault of the tv itself. The tv actually comes with a handy little button called an on-off-switch that allows you to ensure than this doesn’t happen if you make the effort to stop it.

  76. I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s – the oldest of 4. Today with all of the entertaining things like TV, the Internet, video games, etc., there isn’t very much to do like there was years ago.

    Today in my neighborhood, the kids have been outside playing with no adults hanging around. I live in a big city but chose a small subdivision designed to accommodate all age groups and encourage outside activities.

    It is good to see that some people are finally waking up and realizing that not everything has to be planned or electronically interactive. I like this blog. 🙂

  77. Like many posters, I had my kids in quick succession- 3 in 4 years. While at a park with the baby in her carrier, pushing my toddler in her swing, my son did a faceplant into the wood chips and was screaming while I picked them off of him (how he got them up his nose…) An older woman who was walking her dog came over and said how lovely my family was. She also said, “I know you don’t realize this now, but you are so lucky. These are the best days of your life right now.” From then on, whenever chaos ensued, someone threw a tantrum and messes mounted, I would chant out loud, “I am sooo LUCKY!” and laugh to myself at the craziness.

    I have also found that now that my kids are older, autonomy in children is no longer in fashion. I’ve fielded comments from moms questioning what kind of parent I am to make my 8 yo do laundry, like I’m operating some type of suburban sweat shop. (For the record, wash days are Thursdays and Sundays. If she wants that sparkly shirt to wear again, well she’s on her own.) Somehow this same child is expected to put together Powerpoint presentations at school but the color-coded buttons of a washing machine are somehow too much.
    My canned response now- “She’s an amazing kid. I am so LUCKY.”

  78. “I remember being resentful as a child NOT being able to take stuff like ballet or swimming because my mom was always tied down at home with a new baby and it was hard for us to get out.”

    Well, hopefully when you grew up you realized another family member was more valuable than ballet or swimming, delightful as those things can be.

  79. Donna, I think you have a good point there about TV being a parenting failure, not a TV failure.

    My step sister would visit her mother in the summer with her brother. She ate what she wanted (oreos and ice cream, I heard.) She sat in front of the TV. She came home each fall way over weight at a time before “husky” sizes. The only pants that would fit her for school were old lady knit pants that my mom had to shorten.

    Fortunately, at my house, my mom made great meals, with lots of vegetables. We had a black and white TV that got three channels, and we all watched PBS in the evenings. Then it died. It was about a year before we got another, that one color, and it was in my parent’s room – which in the winter averaged about 30 degrees F. We watched about two shows (Dukes of Hazard and Cosmos,) and then we were too cold and went to bed with our electric blankets. It was much nicer to play board games and cards in the kitchen next to the wood stove.

    But, the end result was, between only a little TV and healthy meals, that my step sister got lots of exercise and usually lost about 10 – 20 pounds in a couple of months. Then she would get to go shopping for more fashionable clothing for school.

    Parenting certainly made a big difference. I know my step sister loved her mother and loved getting her way on everything, but in reality, her mom didn’t really parent. I guess that was part of the reason that she didn’t have custody at a time when women traditionally got custody.

  80. I think this is one of the smartest things I’ve read in a long time and I wholeheartedly agree! I have often thought to myself that nature works in ways we don’t understand for a reason. Having several children is good for parents and good for adults. We are preparing to have our third child (in 4+ years) this July. I am conscious of the fact that each of my children will get less attention because there will be three and they will be forced to do less activities and such because of time and financial constraints. I think these are all good things in the big picture.

    GREAT post.

  81. I guess my takeaway here is that someone can parent without being a helicopter. You don’t have to be hovering over every single movement of each of your kids to be considered a good parent. There are but 24 hours in a day and a limited number of body parts that can take care of all things at the same time for everyone. Kids can do with some responsibility (and life skills, not to mention) and some autonomy.

  82. Great article. I grew up the one of the oldest (I”m a twin) of your average Mormon family of seven kids. The youngest (also twins) are 18 now and so far we all seem pretty normal and self-sufficient. My parents were great parents that never neglected us, but not only was I occassionally keeping tabs on younger siblings at age 11, I was making some money watching neighbors’ kids. I DID NOT have a babysitter at age 11–I was doing it, along with most of my girlfriends.

  83. I’ve heard the “parenting is hard work” crud before, and all I have to say is that if it is, you’re doing it wrong. Parenting should be fun! It’s housework that I can’t stand.

  84. I’d get glares at the playground if I didn’t follow my youngest within inches. It was as if I was being the bad parent. Instead, she learned how far she could reach, how high she could swing, how far to follow big brother, when not to follow big brother, and more. Meanwhile, i sat and knitted while they played.

  85. @kids & TV.. my two grew up watching the History Channel, Discovery Channel, home & cooking channels, various other channels like that. I recall we were all watching a program on the 9 months of pregnancy, and it started off from the very beginning (think sperm & egg, only in their own spaces); and it ended with the birth of the child. Our 7 year old’s only remark on that show was “wow that must hurt”. They’d watch the occasional cartoon, but they didn’t have control of the remote – I or my husband did – and they thought his financial shows really sucked.

    I only had two, and after the 2nd, we decided 2 was enough – now that I’m unable to have any more, I really wish we had just kept on having kids – so kudos to ya’ll that have a whole handful.

  86. I have five children. The first four were in four years. The next one came a few years later. Right now, my oldest is almost nine. My two older boys (almost 9 and 7) help me with cooking, cleaning and taking care of the baby. They can change a diaper, give him a bottle, and feed him his baby food. They stir the soup/sauce/whatever on the stove. They know how to make pancakes by themselves without my help. They can sweep and mop floors, clean bathrooms and vacuum without me helping at all. This came about by necessity, with this many young children and my husband often gone because he works long hours and six days a week.

    My kids were all crawling early, walking early, etc. because they wanted to keep up with their siblings. I noticed that the moms who hold their kids on their lap and follow them around closely at the playground often have more issues with separation anxiety and the kids being bored. In fact, it’s the most annoying thing when we go to playgroup and my friend’s kids won’t leave her lap (they are 5 and 4) and whine at her the whole time. We can’t get any decent conversation done and that’s the whole point of our playgroup–for the moms to talk while the kids run and play. It’s because she won’t let them do anything on their own and she’s always super stressed out too–you’d get that way with four kids who aren’t allowed to do anything on their own and she does it all for them!

  87. Two thoughts–

    –Yesterday eve had a light dinner at a local chain restaurant. A table over a tired, but pleasant mom and dad had seated their four kids (or was it five??). They looked like an older two year old to maybe an eight or nine year old…

    I was tickled to see that the mom didn’t freak out every time the two/three year old ran off from the table to put yet another napkin in the garbage. Now, I know it’s not safe for kids to run around restaurants, but in this one there are no servers/waiters, and it was late, so other than me and this group the place was pretty quiet.

    But what struck me was that each time the little one ran gleefully off, her parents COULDN”T SEE her! Yowsa! They simply sat, attending to the others, ate, chatted, looked very tired, and awaited her return (which was speedy).

    –Other thought–

    I was at a lab today for a blood test, something I have to do from time to time. I was chatting with the woman who ‘gets me in the computer’, someone I’ve gotten to know a bit. Somehow we got to talking about her neighbor, a woman with five–FIVE–kids. In the course of talking about her, the lab employee said to me, “I envy her; she DOESN”T WORK.

    What she meant of course is that this person is not employed at a paying job outside the home.

    Maybe just a slip of the tongue, but I didn’t hear it that way. Felt like more of the old ‘mommy wars’, and 2012!

    –I agree; I think the old ‘over-parenting’ micro-managing style of parenting arises out of many factors, but one important one is increasingly small families. And, oddly, I sometimes think that having more and more two-income families somehow contributes: when we aren’t around our own neighborhoods much, we don’t know them, and what we don’t know becomes all the more scary.

  88. I raised my oldest son as a single father after his mother passed away, and I suppose I did a fair share of ‘helicoptering’ with him.
    My second wife and I had twins, and that crashed my helicopter.
    Today, I am the proud father of eight, ranging from ages 24 to 3, with four teenagers in high school. My (now third) wife and I parent free-range out of necessity. I am absolutely terrified for my children, but they are all self-sufficient and mature and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
    People always look at me like I’m crazy when I don’t demand to meet every boy my oldest daughter goes on a date with, or when I let my deaf son walk around the city by himself. But I just tell them, “well, we’re not gonna be around forever!”

  89. […] becoming a helicopter parent until now. Because, as a post in one of my favorite parenting blogs, Free Range Kids, says, having multiple kids close together in age “will throw any perfectionist tendencies […]

  90. Four kids here, 11, 9, 7, 4. All of them can stay home alone for short bursts except 4yo, but she can stay when eldest is home too. Same rules for walking down to the local shop, all except 4yo, except when with 11 or 9. They’re all pretty awesome, independant kids. A lot borne from necessity with numbers but works great for us!

  91. Small point of contention–eleven years old is not a “small child.” I was beginning to shave my legs and wear a bra at that age, and I also volunteered in the kindergarten classroom at school. Other than that, I agree with everything you said. 🙂

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