Letter: I Was Abused as a Child and I am a Free-Range Mom

Hi Folks — Just got this stirring letter from a mom named Cathy. She was responding to a comment on the Free-Range For or Against forum by another mom, Heather, whose father was an abuser. Heather believes that an adult who doesn’t want to constantly supervise his/her kids is not only putting them in  danger, but has “issues” and needs psychological help.  – L.

@ Heather-I am so sorry for the pain and trauma and immense fear you obviously still carry around with you. I hope you are in treatment.

I am a survivor of physical abuse at the hands of my bio parents, sexual abuse at the hands of a very trusted religious leader, and rape by 3 different men during my teens and young adulthood. It took me years of treatment to be able to let go of my paranoia that everyone was out to hurt me. Becoming a mother brought back those fears some, especially since I am the mother of 2, soon to be 3, little girls!

Thankfully, my therapy worked and unlike many survivors I do not live in fear for my kids. I am watchful, yes. I am careful about who i trust them with. But i certainly don’t fear every stranger on the street or every man who might smile at my kids. In my years of treatment and using online forums I have only once or twice come across someone who was sexually abused or raped by someone they didn’t know. The idea that strangers are dangerous is what is silly. the number of people hurt by strangers is very low.

I will give my kids freedom to play and be confident to be out without me by their side 24/7 because it’s what is best for them. Because truth is even if I try to smother them with my presence and “protect” them 24/7…it can still happen. My own (adoptive) parents were pretty overprotective of me. But that didn’t protect me. Fact is, you can’t stop bad things from happening by living in fear and paranoia of all the “what ifs” ….and i refuse to put my kids in a bubble and destroy their childhood because something *might* happen. I will teach them to be safe, teach them to trust me and come to me if anyone ever makes them uncomfortable or does anything improper. The biggest problem with children being sexually abused is that parents never want to believe it, the kids fear they won’t be believed and often aren’t… because it’s very very rarely some random old man at the park wanting to luck out with some kid they’ve never seen before. That old man is gonna go for the easier target of his grandkids, not waste time hoping to catch a kid alone at the park.

I hope very much my girls never have to experience anything like I have. I will do my best to make sure that never happens. but I will not do that by making them grow up in fear of being alone. I will teach them to be safe, not keep them oblivious and wrongfully think I can be there 24/7 to protect them. It’s impossible to be there all the time. We’ve gotta teach them to be confident, free, and knowledgeable and able to protect themselves. – Cathy

56 Responses

  1. I just don’t know about this type of parenting. I could never let my little girl ride by herself on her bike. Even to the park that is just two blocks away. I mean she is only 16m old, but even at a much older age I don’t know if I would be okay with that. Too many crazy people in this world.

  2. I was going to add this comment to the For and Against page, but apparently my computer can’t handle the number of comments there!

    Anyway, Heather thinks that pedophiles must love this site and cautions us to stop putting dates/times of when children might be unsupervised.

    Heather, you give predators/pedophiles WAY too much credit. This site is popular with people all over the world, and this parenting philosophy is also popular with people all over the world. Are you really saying that a predator will know exactly which parks are being used specifically for Take Your Child to the Park….day? Wouldn’t it be easier for them to hang around a park in their own city or neighborhood, and not bother with trying to track kids through a website?

  3. @paigebaker1, you need to read more and try to get outside the reality that exists only in your own head. There aren’t any more crazy people in the world now than there ever were, and crime today (against both children AND adults) is at 1960’s levels. Stifling your daughter and making her believe throughout her childhood that she is only safe if Mommy is RIGHT THERE is not setting her up for a very self-reliant adulthood.

  4. Cathy is nothing short of a hero. She’s not only overcome her fears, but also has the courage to ensure that they aren’t passed down to her own children. Amazing story.

  5. There are crazy people in this world but they don’t run my life. When I was a free range kid in NYC in the 1970’s bad things did happen. Not as horrible as in Cathy’s letter but I could have done without the time an adult man cornered me and showed me his penis against my will. I got over it. I would have gotten over these incidents a lot faster if I had been empowered to talk about them instead of feeling shame about the time an adult man lifted my skirt and patted my rear. I had 2 or 3 incidents of this type since I rode the subways alone with my sister (we were 8 and 10). There is a middle ground between my mom ignoring me and helicopter parenting and that is free range parenting. You teach your kids how to advocate for themselves and let them live their lives. I was not damaged forever because of these incidents. Just confused because no one ever talked to me sensibly about them.

  6. We have to keep in mind our overall goal as parents: to create capable adults. Unless you plan on living with your child throughout his or her life (and outliving her), there will come a time when she has to manage unsupervised. All over the world and throughout time, parents have done this by gradually increasing the amount of time they let their children out of sight and the distance they let them go, from leaving your baby alone in the next room for two minutes up to giving your teenager the car keys for a date night.

    I was sexually abused (by a trusted adult, not a stranger) and the best defense I am giving my daughters against that is raising them to be confident and in charge of their bodies, not fearful and dependent on me.

  7. Thank you, Cathy. Your kids are lucky to have you.

  8. I may be one of the rare people who was grabbed by a stranger out of my front yard. When I was 7 or 8 an older teenager asked me to show him how to get into the timber near our rural home. He forced me down, tried to get my clothes off and took off his pants. I kicked and screamed and was I guess more trouble than he was expecting. My sisters had already run to either tell on me or rescue me and I got away unharmed. When I told my parents my dad went after the guy and it was never mentioned again. Even after that my sisters and I were allowed to disappear all day long on our bikes and were left at school with the leering janitor after practices or meetings.

    I am was a free range kid and am doing my best in the face of the 21st century to be a free range parent. The only thing I would change is the part about “never mentioning it again.” I hope my kids are more comfortable talking about their bodies with me than I was with my mom.

  9. Another abuse-surviving Free-Range parent here! I was sexually abused by 4 boys, all of which were well known by myself and my family. Hiding your kids isn’t the answer. And I’m not going to let a past trauma make me all paranoid and over-protective of my kids. They deserve the freedom to grow up as independant people, playing and interacting with the world as a whole, which certainly includes both friends and strangers. Putting your kids in a bubble isn’t healthy, for their mental/physical health *or* for the parent. If I let myself be terrified of all the bad things that *might* happen to my kids if I let them out of my sight them I give far more power and control to the evil of this world. They stole enough from me in the past. The evil people out in the world don’t get my present or my future, and they sure as heck don’t get my kid’s present or future!
    I strongly urge you to read this post about what we *can* do to help our kids in reference to sexual abuse. I really hope that as many parents as possible hear the message contained within: http://www.evolutionaryparenting.com/guest-post-a-monster-or-a-monstrous-act/

  10. Amazing story – thanks to Cathy for sharing. I was also sexually abused multiple times throughout my childhood, by a stepfather, mom’s boyfriends, random strangers (sometimes in the very presence of people I knew). And my daughter is 12, the age at which the most “serious” abuse occurred. And STILL, I refuse to be a helicopter parent, to smother her to the point that she doubts her own good judgment, to build a castle tower and lock her in. What I have done is teach her that she can tell me absolutely anything about absolutely anyone and she will be believed, and I’ve told her about my own past so that she’ll know that it’s not just talk when I tell her what to watch out for. That’s the one thing I never had growing up – an adult I could trust, who trusted me. Who HEARD me.

    paigebaker1, far be it from me to tell someone else how to parent, but I can say with absolute certainty that you are not doing your daughter any favors.

  11. “They stole enough from me in the past. The evil people out in the world don’t get my present or my future, and they sure as heck don’t get my kid’s present or future!”

    @Jespren, THIS. Thank you. Sums it up beautifully!

  12. I think the shame with helicoptering isn’t necessarily that the parents are there. Its the fact they give the strong impression that the child is not able to do things by themselves. Being there is good but constantly micromanaging your child is not. Free Range is not about letting your child do things they are not able to do safely, its about teaching them how to do it safely and when they are mature enough let them.

    Our kids are all different with different capabilities. I trust my 5 yr old outside in the backyard by herself and I’m willing to let her go next door by herself to play with the neighbor kids. My son is 3 and has Autism. The diagnosis means he’s not ready to play in the backyard by himself as he seems unable to listen to specific safety rules. I know this and adjust my parenting as needed for him.

  13. I can say that when my step-son was 8 he used to cry violently when I was out of his sight for just 40-60 seconds. We would go into the woods in our city (nature loving Minneapolis) and maybe I was behind a tree or something, he would scream and freak out. He was very insecure. Now, after a few years of encouraging him and helping him make decisions, he runs away from me in the woods freely. He has more self-confidence and is also better at figuring things out for himself. I’ve seen inner growth in him that would not have been possible without encouraging him that he doesn’t need me by his side every minute of the day.

  14. […] Hi Folks Just got this stirring letter from a mom named Cathy. She was responding to a comment on the Free-Range For or Against forum by another mom, Heather, whose father was an abuser. Heather believes that an adult who doesnt want to constantly supervise his/her kids is not only putting them in  danger, but … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  15. […] Hi Folks Just got this stirring letter from a mom named Cathy. She was responding to a comment on the Free-Range For or Against forum by another mom, Heather, whose father was an abuser. Heather believes that an adult who doesnt want to constantly supervise his/her kids is not only putting them in  danger, but … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  16. […] Hi Folks Just got this stirring letter from a mom named Cathy. She was responding to a comment on the Free-Range For or Against forum by another mom, Heather, whose father was an abuser. Heather believes that an adult who doesnt want to constantly supervise his/her kids is not only putting them in  danger, but … Read more: https://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ […]

  17. I grew up with an over-protective mother. She believed that only she could make the important decisions in my life. I was given a lot of freedom during the day in our neighbourhood. I played in the street, but was home much earlier than other kids. I was home more or less alone during school days from the age of 8. My brother would wake me up and go to school. I would get ready and make it to school on time mostly. I was to come straight home and not answer the phone or door after school and mom was home an hour or so later. She hated it but it was the only option we had.

    Problem was I still had that rule at 16 and 17. I had to be home right after school. No hanging out with friends at the mall. I could go out on weekends, but had to be home by 9pm, unless I was at the movies, then I was to be picked up at the theater. She made all the important decisions in my life.

    This didn’t keep me safe. My brother was the trusted athourity being 6 yrs older than me. What no one knew was that he was also my first abuser. Because I didn’t get a lot of real life experience with people my own age, I didn’t know how to handle boys. Especially older boys that spent way too much time paying attention to a 13 yr old. I married the man my mother picked out to be my boyfriend when I was 17. She aproved of him and expected me to marry him. At 33 I came home to tell my parents that I was leaving him as he was abusive.

    Even at the time my parents were telling me what I had to do. Telling me I needed to get a job as I’d been a stay at home mom for 8 years. Asking me if I knew what I was getting myself into, questioning how bad it really was. They put so much pressure on my I almost caved into their suggestion I move in with them. But I knew if I did, I would no longer be parenting my own children, they would, I’d not be a mom, I’d be another child.

    It’s been two years since I separated. I have done therapy and feel so much stronger for it. I have made my own life decisions, some of them my parents have openly disliked. But they are MY decisions. If I had been given the chance to make choices and learn to trust my own instincts things would have been much different.

  18. Wow, so many inspiring stories here. Thank you so much for sharing your stories. You are amazing.

  19. I was also sexually abused as a child – despite having an extremely over-protective parent – and although the abuse was mild and not violent, it may still sound strange to say that in comparison to a lot of my other experiences growing up – the sexual abuse wasn’t that big a deal. I got over it more easily than I did many other things.
    My Dad tried to shelter me from everything in the world, but despite his best efforts – stuff happened – by people he never would have suspected.
    What I want to ‘shelter’ my kids from – much more than the possibility of experiencing abuse – is the amount of fear and anxiety I am still plagued with from years of being told about how unsafe the world is. My Dad thought he could protect me by informing me of all of the many potential killers in the world – people, and otherwise – but all he really succeeded in doing was creating a mantra in my head that kept me in constant fear of random and irrational horrific events. I’d like to mention also that the warnings my Dad gave me were ALWAYS rational – vehicles are dangerous, bike with a helmet, etc. – but the message was very much that ‘anything can happen’ and when I would hear a news story about a little girl being murdered, I would automatically tell myself that it, also, could happen to me. (Not untrue, but certainly not worth panicking about every night for years). I was damaged much more by my Dad’s over-protectiveness, as loving and well-meaning as it was, than I ever was by abuse. I love my Dad dearly, and don’t blame him for a second – but I am desperate to not let my kids live in fear like I did – and still do.
    I plan to follow this site to help me learn how to be a free-range parent – because I don’t think it will come to me naturally, but I think it’s what is best for my kids.

  20. I am yet another mom who suffered sexual abuse as a child and believes in free range parenting.

    Being free range was a joy in my life. Furthermore, I had a friend that was helicoptered in the ways publicly advocated as the ‘right’ way to parent a kid ‘these days’ to keep them ‘safe from predators.’ She suffered (and still suffers) far more harm from that parenting, than I ever did from being molested.

    What’s more the knowledge I got from being free range gave me everything I used to out-wit my uncle. My street smarts, prevented rape, and made me an unappealing target (he never tried again).

    None of that is to say everything worked out, or that I would raise my daughter exactly the same.

    My parents taught me “stranger danger,” a disaster on several levels that I have no intention of repeating. First “stranger danger” crippled my understanding of basic daily interactions, and made simple things like asking a store clerk for help, a terror inducing event. Furthermore, since the flip side of ‘dangerous strangers’ in that training is the ‘trusted adult.’ I confidently ignored several heart pounding warning signs in my uncle’s actions leading up to the assault. My street sense knew better, but I clung to my uncle because I was taught that a “trusted adult” would keep me “safe.”

    Then there is the issue of the unspeakable horror. The hushed tones the drama, the myriad ways in which our culture speaks of sexual assault like a fate worse than death. I hid it all because I feared being forever labeled a victim. In the space of years and silence, my sister was solicited, escaped and kept quiet. Turns out my uncle had been acting out sexually since he was a child. Everyone kept quiet because it was ‘unspeakable.’ Lord knows how many victims he had. But the worst part of ‘being a victim’ is that silence cuts you off from the things you need to know to heal. The space of silence is where thoughts assault you from within, and being victimized, becomes being a victim (i.e. freak).

  21. Cathy, I salute you. You are inspiring and awesome!

  22. Great post

  23. Thank you for your inspiring story, Cathy, but I have one a little different to share.
    My first wife died soon after our son was born, and unfortunately, I feel I was far too overprotective of him. I was the classic ‘helicopter parent’ until I met my second wife and she gave birth to our twins, one boy and one girl.
    My second wife and I divorced when our twins were young, and she married again when they were eleven. We had joint custody of the twins up to that point, so they were spending half their time at their mother’s house with her new husband.
    I knew my daughter didn’t like her new stepfather, but nothing she said about him raised any red flags. My son had always been sort of a loner, so I wasn’t concerned about him speaking less.
    When the twins were fourteen and freshmen in high school, I came home and found that my son had slit his wrists. It all came out in the hospital, the physical and sexual abuse he suffered at his stepfather’s hand. I was in shock. I had no idea-neither did my daughter, who had been in the same house when it all happened.
    My son is still healing. He’s been in and out of the hospital with various emotional issues, all stemming from this abuse. It hasn’t been easy and there were times where I thought I still might lose him, but he continues to surprise me with his determination and unwillingness to give up. My twins are now seventeen and getting ready for their senior year of high school.
    When this all began, I recieved a lot of support from the parents of my children’s friends, which I was grateful for. But ever since day one, I was constantly asked, “You didn’t know ANYTHING? How could you not know?” His twin sister didn’t even know, and she’s his closest friend. I try my hardest to talk to my children and be a part of their lives, but if he never said anything, how could I have known? I was told that there was something wrong with my son, if he never said anything. I don’t blame him for not telling me. Not in the slightest.
    And finally, people are shocked that I *still* parent Free-Range. Well, of course I do. Partly out of necessity, (one in college, four in high school, two in middle school, and one in preschool. Try and helicopter THAT.) and partly because I trust my kids. Could something happen to them? Of course. Would they always tell me if something was happening? Maybe. But my kids are smart. They know they don’t need me to be safe. I let them know they can come to me if things are too tough to handle alone. I made the mistake of not doing that before, and it almost cost my family my son.
    But to finally silence them, I ask: “Would have being extremely overprotective of my son prevented the abuse?” No. What could have stopped it was if my son had confided in someone what was going on, but since he didn’t trust me enough to do that, it just went on until it got to be too much for him.
    Helicopter parents, in their efforts to protect their children, are doing the exact opposite. They destroy any trust their child might have with them and smack down any independance their child may have. They create the kind of child that is more likely to be abused and will no doubt have problems accomplishing things on their own. I believe this is the biggest mistake a parent can make.

  24. So I’m new here, but am I to understand that the basic premise for this site is that bad things will probably happen to your kids but that you should just teach them to deal with the abuse and other stuff rather than trying to prevent it by supervising? (Please nobody yell at me. I’m pregnant with my first and was recommended to this site by a friend and I’m just trying to get a handle on it.) 🙂 I agree you can’t supervise kids 24/7 until they are adults, but my parents supervised me pretty well. (Of course we lived in the country so it’s not like we could just ride our bike to the park anyways.) And we did play outside alone but my mom could always peek through the kitchen window and see us. When we were older in our teens and could drive we had certain safety rules like always going somewhere with a friend or sibling instead of alone because there is safety in numbers. I don’t feel like I turned out that bad, LOL. I have a great relationship with my parents and I’m self sufficient and able to do things on my own just fine. My parent trained me to be self sufficient and purposefully taught me how to do everything an adult needs to learn. (maybe the issue isn’t supervision so much as it babying kids into their teen years instead of teaching and expecting them to responsible?) But they did keep a pretty close eye and had strict rules. Right now my husband and I are renting a little house in the suburbs but we do have a goal of a nice little place in the country, so it hopefully won’t be that much of an issue like it is for most. I admit I do wish we lived in a place we could let the kids roam free like in the olden days, but from the comments on here, it sounds like a lot of bad things do and are happening. I never had any bad experiences with anything like that as a kid and I’d love it if my kids could grow up without baggage like that, as well. Does everyone on here really just let them go at 7 or 8 and not worry about it? Is there any middle ground that people have success with? I really would like to know so I can work these things out for myself. Thanks! 🙂

  25. Jen, no the lesson is NOT bad things are going to happen and you have to teach them to deal with it. It’s that monitoring your kids at all times doesn’t protect them from every possible danger. If you spend more time reading this site you will see that the emphasis is to teach your kids what your parents taught you- how to be self sufficient, use common sense, and to use facts (not the untrue “it’s more dangerous now than when we grew up” mantra) and your child’s abilities to guide your parenting decisions. Yes, it’s unfortunate that bad things do happen. It’s truly a tragedy. But if your child is ready at age 8 to play at the neighborhood park without you, letting them do so isn’t dooming them to a horrible crime. Knowing that crimes against children committed by strangers in public places are incredibly rare gives you a foundation of knowledge, rather than misinformed fear, to base that decision on. Every one here parents their child differently because every child, family and situation is different. The thing we have in common is that we refuse to let unfounded fears and public paranoia make parenting decisions for us. From the sounds of your comment on babying kids into their teen years you’ll find a lot in common with many of us. Welcome and congratulations.

  26. Jen, the philosophy here is not that bad things probably will happen to your kids but ignore them anyway. The philosophy is that while bad things happen in the world, they are no where near the level the media makes them out to be and teaching your kids how to handle them is better than constantly sheltering them.

  27. This is not about kids running loose with no rules…. We have “strict” rules at our house, far stricter than most households we know of. The difference is that we arrive at those rules based on consensus and they apply to everyone in the house.

    My kids are 11 and 14.

    The TV goes off at 9PM. For everyone. Wifi shuts off at 10PM. I asked my kids if we should change the TV rules now that they’re older; they said “No, we like it.”

    It’s also about trust and communication; when our kids come to us with a problem we don’t lash out at them and tell them they’re stupid; usually they know they did something dumb and feel bad about it anyway and they really don’t need mom & dad dumping on them about it too.

    We trust our kids and we also make them live with the consequences of their mistakes (up to a point; once the lesson is learned there’s no point in prolonging suffering.)

    At this point, when we travel (which we do a lot) we tell our kids what they need and they pack it. As in: “You’re flying to Europe for 3 weeks to see your grandparents. Weather is like here but it rains more. You have one suitcase each. Go pack.” And they did, and they did not forget anything. And we never checked what they took with them, other than to make sure they had both sets of passports and other documentation.

    Of course we travel a lot, and my kids know how to pack. A big part of this is showing your kids how to do stuff, teaching them, working it out with them, and then trusting them to do the right thing. I really don’t care what they bring with them as long as they have the basics. You never set your kids up for failure; you set them up for success.

    Mind you they don’t always like it; my daughter (the older one) sometimes tells me: “I wish you’d just tell me what to do and carry all my stuff for me like my friend’s mom.” To which I usually say “Not a chance”.

    On the other hand, both my kids have had a hard time with some of their teachers, getting failing grades for some assignments that were blatantly unfair. In all cases, we ask them if they want us to call their teachers. Usually they tell us “no, I’ll take care of it” – and they do. I have no idea how; their grades improve and they are happy. I don’t ask. Only once did my son ask us to call his math teacher.

    So we don’t do anything for our kids that they don’t want us to do. We don’t chaperone their dances, we don’t interfere in their personal lives. But they also know that doing drugs, smoking, or hanging out with the wrong crowd is not an option. It’s literally not an option – we’ve never had to talk about consequences because the consequences of that sort of lifestyle become quickly obvious, and it’s much better to point out that those kids become failures than to argue with your kids…..

  28. @Father of 8 – gosh I feel for you, and especially your son. But I am honestly not sure that trust comes into it for teenage boys . A close relative of mine was abused as a teenager, and he just quit playing something he was very good at. He never said a thing about it to anyone for at least 20 years, and he had a good relationship with his parents. According to him it was more a shame thing. (i.e. he didn’t want anyone at all to know). He was just lucky in that he was able to get away from the abuser, who was a community leader rather than a step-parent, so he did not suffer in anywhere the same way your son has. He determined not to say anything to anyone about the abuse, which apparently is common for boys, and the fact that his father was capable of violence when pushed and possibly would have killed the perpetrator made very little difference to his decision to keep silent – i.e. it was something he decided for himself .

    All the very best to you all.

  29. Cathy- thank you for your bravery.

  30. What are the lessons of this site – a good question. I think, first, the lesson is that bad things are incredibly rare. The second is, our current culture is completely screwed up when it comes to thinking about even the rare things that do happen. That is, kidnapping and sexual abuse are (blessedly) rare events, but they can happen. However, keeping your kids from talking to random store clerks and preventing them from playing in the park won’t protect your kids from the older cousin, the uncle, or the trusted family friend — people who are (sadly) a much greater threat than a true stranger. And forbidding your kids from having friends of any kind is not going to help, either — lonely kids are much more vulnerable. So teaching your kids to TALK to you about everything, to trust their instincts, and pay attention to their surrounding and their friends, this is the best way to keep them safe and strong. Also love them. Every child deserves a wonderful childhood full of fun and adventure, a childhood that allows them to actually grow up.

  31. “I hope very much my girls never have to experience anything like I have. I will do my best to make sure that never happens. but I will not do that by making them grow up in fear of being alone.” I so admire you Cathy for what you are saying here.

  32. @paigebaker1: When my son was an infant and early toddler, I could not fathom the idea that one day, he might ride to the park by himself. The very idea that my little boy would be independent was almost shocking to me. However, now he is 3. He is thrilled that we allow him to ride his bike up and down the sidewalk in front of the house. Before he leaves, I ask him “Where don’t you go?” and he proudly responds “The alley and the road”. Then he zooms up and down the sidewalk, while either my husband and I keep an eye out. I do worry – he is only 3, after all – but I’m far more concerned about cars than I am about predators. The sheer joy and pride on his face is something I treasure. But I would not have been able to envision this day when he was 16 mos. old.

    @Jen: I just wanted to agree with what some other folks have said. Free-range parenting isn’t about abdicating all responsibility for your children. What I like about the philosophy is its inherent belief that the world is not a bad, evil, dangerous place. Are there bad people in the world? Yes, of course there are. But they are not the norm. I really want my son to grow up with loving parents, with limits and expectations, with trust and responsibilities. And I firmly believe that raising him in a free range manner (i.e., supporting him, not controlling him) is a wonderful way to encourage strength of character. Of course, it is difficult to imagine any child being strong and independent when they are in utero 🙂 If you find this philosophy works for you, that’s great. And welcome!

  33. A clarification: my son rides his bike in front of the house, not to the park by himself. But I can imagine the day that he will be excited to head to the park with his friends 🙂

  34. Cathy, thank you so much for sharing your story. You are one brave woman and your girls are blessed on so many levels. They couldn’t wish for a stronger role model!

    And I think your story also highlights one of the key diffferences between when we were growing up and now. When I grew up there was still a definite stigma attached to any sort of sexual abuse or harassment. It just wasn’t discussed at all. I actually cannot remember hearing any talk about any form of child abuse until I was well into my 20s. I think all those cases of abuse by priests and other ‘trusted people’ that happened in the 80s only coming to light now is a good example of that attitude back then too.

    But now it is a topic that can be openly discussed. Even though we all know that that in turn can lead to distorted ideas about the prevalence and the nature of abuse. But it does make it easier for parents to talk to their kids about such things and teach them the skills they will need to protect themselves. It has resulted in some great advice to support this job being publicly available too.

    My parents would’ve never spent a thought on making sure that I would report inappropriate sexual behaviour to them. And I didn’t. I feel confident that I am equipping my daughter with much better tools to deal with these types of situations. I sometimes find it quite disturbing that a 7yo even knows what a child molester is. It feels kind of wrong. But then I see how this knowledge does not make her fearful or even worried. She feels empowered because she is confident that she knows what to do in case she ever meets one. And she also knows that they are only a tiny number of people and that the vast majority of people would never dream of harming a child.

    Now I am not saying that there isn’t a tiny chance that it could happen to her despite all my efforts. Sometimes no form of protection is going to stop it unfortunately. But at least I know that I would hear about it and will be able to take action.

  35. I too had experiences of older males doing inappropriate sexual things to me when I was growing up “free range.” If anything, my experience proved to me that these things (at least to the extent they happened to me) don’t destroy a girl. So if anything, my having experienced this first-hand may make me more open to the free-range philosophy.

    Of course I don’t want my girls to have some of the experiences I had. But I know it is very likely that someone is going to try something someday – most likely someone they know – so my goal is to teach them how to get out of a situation and what to do if it does happen. I don’t want them to be ashamed for years as I was. I hope they won’t feel afraid to say “no” and leave. I hope they will come to me if they have any strange feelings or doubts. Most of all, I hope that they go in with a strong foundation of self-worth that cannot be easily shaken at the core. I believe that a free range childhood contributes to that inner strength.

  36. Cathy, thank you for your post. It is inspiring how you have turned a horrible childhood experience into something positive.

    @Jen, Free range does not mean totally neglecting your children, like a lot of people seem to think. It means giving your child developmentally-appropriate levels of independence. For example, a 2-year-old obviously does not have the maturity to walk to a local park or ride a public bus by himself. But a 10-year-old does, especially if we have given him ever-increasing amounts of independence along the way. We give our kids the tools to handle their increasing independence so that they will feel confident the first time they walk to the park or ride on public transportation by themselves.

    Free range also means not giving in to the prevailing fears of horrible things happening to a child. We free-rangers understand that stereotypical kidnappings by strangers are very rare and that is why they are on the news. Our kids will be perfectly safe walking in town or on the bus by themselves. We also realize that we are raising adults and not children. While it would be nice if our kids could stay cute and little forever, it just doesn’t happen (I tried putting lots of books on my son’s head, but he still keeps on growing!). We can’t shelter our kids for 18 years by keeping them glued to our sides, then set them loose without any life skills or street smarts when they go off to college.

  37. @Jespren, thank you so much for posting that blog link! A very valuable resource that should be mandatory reading for all parents.

  38. Thank you for posting this and Cathy your kids have got an amazing mamma! Beautifully worded message.

  39. My heart and prayers go to all of you… I’m amazed at your strength, cold-headedness and warm hearts that don’t give in to spite and fear.
    @Jen: no, FRK isn’t about shrugging at our children’s distress. It starts with placing our attention on real-life threats, and preparing our kids for them. I’d be wasting my time if I teach my children to beware the black mamba snake, beacuse the chance of stumbling onto one in Madrid is astronomically small (same with Jack the Ripper, BTW). Instead, I place my precautions in the right place: traffic, electricity, sunburns, spoiled food, stray dogs…
    And then, I protect my children from those threats accordingly to their age and abilities, not by sheltering and micromanaging them, but by teaching them what to expect and how to react. Mostly, they will be the ones to try on their own when they are ready for it.

  40. Well put, Lola! And here in Australia poisonous snakes and spiders are one of the first dangers you start teaching your kids about when they are little. And it doesn’t matter if you are right next to them when they meet a brown snake. If they panic instead of freeze, they’ll most likely get bitten. But I haven’t found it necessary to warn my daughter about how dangerous black bears are as yet. 🙂

  41. The snakes/black bears comments make me laugh. It’s all about perceived danger. We backpack a lot; that means we are out in the backcountry, often days away from the nearest trailhead, where cell phones don’t work. We have bears (mostly black) and mountain lions here. Both pose a danger but manageable.

    I am often asked if I “carry” in the backcountry. (For those of you outside the US, that’s doublespeak for carrying a loaded handgun.) The reasons given are typically 1) criminal assault, 2) wildlife attacks.

    The media really, really hype any sort of criminal attack in the backcountry. We had a couple shot here at a remote campground. First violent death in something 50 years in the woods, but the media blew it up out of all proportion. I’m safer in the backcountry than on my doorstep; no criminal is going to lie in wait on a dusty mountain trail a day’s hike from the nearest road. It’s slim pickings if you only see 1 person a day, and that person is typically very self sufficient and physically fit.

    As for animal attacks, there have only been something like 3 recorded deaths ever from mountain lions in this state. Yet when a jogger was attacked 1,500 miles away the local media covered it like it was the biggest thing since the Kennedy assassination. People are unreasonably afraid of mountain lions – yet when I tell them that one of our local parks is in the hunting range of 3 mountain lions they refuse to believe it, since their perception is that mountain lions are dangerous, therefore they cannot hunt in such a safe place.

    So it is with sexual predators. Yes, they’re everywhere. But that’s only because we’ve made even trivial events into “sexual predation” – and by doing that, we’ve eliminated any value a registry might have had. For example: An acquantance is now registered as a “sexual predator” because someone saw him change his pants in his car. Meanwhile, a woman down the street beat her 16 year old to death over the course of many years, and none of the current laws helped that child.

  42. I was telling a very level-headed friend of mine about FRK, and how the world really isn’t more dangerous than it was when we were kids. She said “Oh, I think it is.” I gave her some statistics about falling crime rates, the role of the media etc. And she said that despite all that, it just seems more dangerous. And I think that perceived danger is a big part of that. If your parents were careful about giving you age-appropriate information and you experienced childhood as a safe place, then simply growing into an adult awareness of what happens in the world is going to make you feel as though the world is more dangerous than when you were a kid. It isn’t, of course, but you just didn’t know everything that went on in the world when you were a kid. As an adult, particularly one with children, I think you just perceive the world differently.

  43. A while back, when I admitted to some online friends that I let my child walk home alone from school, someone tried to convince me that there are child molesters lurking on every street corner by posting a link to a website with up to date reports on attempted child abductions. I looked at it and my first reaction was unease because there were so many recent entries on there. Until I had a closer look and realised that in the vast majority of cases the kids just walked away, without any violence of any kind occurring. The ones that did unfortunately result in abduction and sexual assault featured multiple times in the list with reports from different sources. Some of these also happened when the children where near their parents or even in their own home. It did take me a while to analyse these reports and take them for what they were. Knowing that they were reports for the whole of Australia with a population of 20mil. I left the website with the feeling that all is well in the world if most kids still seem to have the common sense to back away from anyone offering them lollies for getting in their car!
    This is my favourite entry:
    “Suspicious behaviour, Lakes Creek
    April 18, 2012, 1:22 pm – QLd Police

    Police are investigating an incident on Lakes Creek Road at Lakes Creek (east Rockhampton) yesterday morning.

    Around 8.30am a man in a small red vehicle has stopped and approached a 7-year-old girl who was on her bicycle.

    After confronting the girl the man has got back into his vehicle and fled the scene.

    Queensland Police would like to remind parents/guardians to speak with their children about the importance of personal safety when interacting with strangers.”

    I keep wondering what the girl did when he “confronted” her to make him “flee” the scene! Girl power!
    Anywho, this is the website: http://www.australianmissingpersonsregister.com/Abductions.htm

  44. You know, that’s another thing I don’t get. All that supposedly technical pseudo-language. I wouldn’t let my kids “interact with strangers”, but I’m perfectly okay with them talking to people they meet on the street.
    (Just yesterday a guy in a building site let my 5yo press some buttons on the huge crane controls, lifting a ton of bricks, and he was so gleeful he told everyone he passed what he just did. How can you take that away from a 5 yo? C’mon!)

  45. @ paigebaker–When my kids were that young, I wasn’t ready to even think about letting them be “free range”. I don’t think I was a helicopter parent but until my oldest was about six or seven, I wasn’t going to let them roam the neighborhood alone or any of that. I walked my oldest child to and from the bus stop through the second grade, but he wanted me to. At the beginning of this school year, starting the third grade, he decided to let me try sending him to the bus alone (I was more worried that he’d miss the bus by dawdling than something happening to him) and he decided he liked the freedom and never wanted me to walk him again. At that point, I started letting him play outside with the neighborhood kids and it has just trickled down. Now we have a great community and there are lots of kids, and many of us with kids the same ages, and all of them are outside playing every day that it’s nice. We moms get together and know each other and we all watch out for each other’s kids. But none of stand outside hovering. Case in point–I was ten feet away when my 9-year-old crashed his bike on Saturday (at take your kids to the park day–I let them ride over alone and play for 45 minutes before I joined the older ones with the younger ones) and he broke two of his teeth and got seriously scraped up. Could I have prevented that from happening? Not unless I didn’t let him ever ride a bike. He was wearing his helmet, something I’ve always been very strict about, even when his friends don’t wear theirs. And thank goodness that he was wearing it. But my being there couldn’t have prevented it, and it probably still would have happened had I not been there.

    So even if you don’t understand the concept, you might someday realize your child is capable of much more than most adults give them credit for. I didn’t really know that until my oldest was about seven, and once I started grasping the concept, it has trickled down to the younger ones.

  46. I fell off my bike (even with training wheels) when I was five, but I didn’t stop riding.

    I scraped up my leg pretty badly while Rollerblading when I was ten, but I didn’t stop Rollerblading.

    I got sexually assaulted (and almost raped) when I was at a bar when I was nineteen, but I didn’t start barricading myself inside the moment the sun went down.

    I got tendonitis from playing too much clarinet in university (music major), but I didn’t stop playing.

    I sustained a handful of injuries in yoga and Body Balance classes throughout my early-mid 20’s, but I didn’t stop exercising.

    I fell down the stairs and broke my foot last August, but I didn’t stop taking the stairs.

    Bottom line: Living life has risks, but the alternative carries the much greater risk of becoming a fearful hermit. That’s why, if and when I have a child, I plan on raising my child free-range–not total neglect, but age-appropriate risks, and if something goes wrong (like a shiner on the soccer field, for example), that doesn’t mean I’ll throw the towel in and start helicoptering, it’ll just be a lesson in resilience–for both myself and my child.

  47. Stranger abductions are rare. Out of 800,000 missing children nationwide, about 150 a year are kidnapped or killed by strangers, according to the National Criminal Information Center database. http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_20684128/suspect-sierra-lamar-case-was-watched-constantly-weeks?source=most_viewed

    This is from a newspaper article about an apparent stranger abduction in CA. The odds are low. The odds are much better that one would be abducted by someone that the child or parent knows.

  48. Don’t know if you’re interested in this link:


    So, there’s this woman who’s been going around topless in NYC for no other reason than because she can. Totally legal for the last two decades. Go us!

    People don’t generally do this, not even at the park or beach, but women totally can. Again – go us! So she’s been going around topless to educate other women as to the fact that this is an option (men don’t walk around topless much either) and recently she was stopped by the cops around a playground for several minutes (until they realized they had nothing they could detain her over) because “Some people might think it’s endangering the children”.

    Which people? Apparently, not the cops themselves. Just a nebulous group of some people. Endangering them how? Not sure. Some people didn’t bother to inform the rest of us.

    Now, we might all argue the propriety of walking around topless in NYC. But endangering children? Dude, very small children eat out of those things! Half of all children will have them when they get older, and most of the other half will SEE them when they get older! Endangering them? When she’s not even talking to the kids? Seriously?

  49. It’s almost a year now since I discovered Free Range Kids. My husband & I read the book just before we took our then-4.5 year old to Disneyland. We had a wonderful time, largely because of Free Range Kids.
    1) We assessed the threat: How likely is it that someone can/does kidnap children from Disneyland? If it happened, it would be all over the news (which has never happened, now has it?), there are cameras everywhere in the darn park, and it is a mile from the rides to the front gate. And really, what child kidnapper is going to fork over $69 A DAY on the CHANCE that there might be a kid to abduct. Ok, that one had us laughing.
    2) We assessed our child. She’s not a “runner,” one of those kids who will run away at first chance & never look back. Nope. She likes to stay pretty close. Always has. She’s highly verbal and can talk & reason like kids far older.
    3) We assessed ourselves: What would our ideal day at Disneyland be with her? Holding her hand tightly, all day, “because she might get lost” – OMG NO! So we sat together & thought through what guidelines we planned to give her about the day. About if she can’t see us, we can’t see her. About what Disney employee nametags look like if she gets separated from us (the most likely scenario). About placing my cell number on a piece of tape inside her skort in case that happens. We consciously chose not to take “just in case” photos.

    As we entered the park, we introduced her to a security guard, pointed out the name tag, and told her to find someone wearing one of those if perhaps we got separated. (She showed him the tape with my cell # on it immediately!) And we let her run ahead of us much of the day. When navigating some bunches of crowds, we sometimes reminded her to be sure she could see us.
    We laughed.
    We rode rides.
    We had fun.

    And I know in my heart that it would have been a very different trip if we had not found Free Range Kids the week before.

    A few months later, her preschool teacher offered a special program for those kids who were going off to kindergarten and who had demonstrated the necessary skills. It was called Tumbleweeds, and these kids rode public transportation & walked all over our city, to parks and fire stations and the zoo, with only a few chaperones. And they felt enormously proud of themselves.

    And in September, upon registering her for kindergarten, several parents of these children asked me how I could let my daughter (gasp) RIDE THE BUS TO SCHOOL? But ride it she does, very successfully.

  50. Cathy’s story and the stories of many commenters here should be an inspiration to parents considering being more Free Range.

    Other than a link from my name when I comment, I rarely mention what I do. But this topic relates directly to it, so I hope those of you who left comments and others will visit my website and learn how I might be able to help you. I teach a simple process called EFT, short for Emotional Freedom Techniques, that can erase the trauma associated with all sorts of abuse. And it works fast. This is a non-medical process you can learn and use for yourself and your family. You can relieve your traumatic feelings for good.

    You can get more relief in an hour or two of EFT than you got during YEARS of traditional counseling or medication. In fact, sometimes it works in minutes. Take a look at my videos page. There are some links there to a woman talking about how this process relieved the trauma of victims of the genocide in Rwanda. I call any process that can do that powerful. My website is: EFTisland.com, but the primary EFT website – EFTuniverse.com has hundreds of testimonials – listed in the drop-down menu under Resources. Hope you’ll check it out.

  51. Cathy’s story is really wonderful.

    Not having experienced anything so devastating as Cathy has, SusanOR’s comment really hit me more personally. For every Cathy, and there are way too many, there are dozens of Susans. I might have been one also, had I discovered FRK earlier. I was never too helicopterish because my husband always discouraged it, but I’d drunk the cultural Kool-Aid and so the pull was always in that direction. It warms my heart to think of both the children of abuse victims who have a chance at a normal, non-overprotected life, and the more run of the mill families where people are simply getting the idea that thinking through issues is wiser than going for the most protective (often emotionally easiest even if less convenient or pleasurable) path.

  52. Emily. just to add to your point, my daughter fell out of bed and broke her arm when she was four. I still let her sleep in a bed.

  53. Thank you all for your kind words and for sharing. I know without the FRK website I might still be completely terrified of letting my kids do things on their own. Granted they still need me a lot being 2 yrs and 1 yr old(third due in a few months) but this site has me (and my husband, who is a corrections officer and knows his job will make him want to be more overprotective than he might like) looking at parenthood and the future in a new light. One not clouded by the sensationalist media or made up fears and scenarios my head might be able to come up with and frighten me into treating my kids like 2 yr olds forever. I won’t do that. And i love the community of posters here being able to share and hopefully help others learn that it’s okay to give kids freedom!

  54. Uly- Recently, walking across a well-traveled (pedestrian as well as car) bridge in Vermont, where I live, I passed a topless woman going in the opposite direction- I just tried to make cheerful eye contact and go on my way. In Vermont, I know, being naked in public is legal so long as you aren’t doing the actual disrobing in public (not sure if that’s the exact rule in NY?).

  55. I think the rule in NYC is just that toplessness doesn’t constitute nudity. After all, what’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose, and it makes more sense to say “topless isn’t naked” than to say “showing nipples is fine if you’re a guy, a small child, or a breastfeeding mother whose child has just pulled off at the worst moment possible, but otherwise not okay”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: