UPDATED! Can You Set The New York Times and Psychology Today Straight about Free-Range Parenting?

Readers — In today’s New York Times there’s an article about a new type of food product: a pouch parents can give their kids to suck, rather than making them go through all the rigamarole of, you know, eating food from a plate. Or even a bun. Or even chewing.

Putting aside my feelings about the product, I was shocked to read the inventor’s explanation for why a feeding tube…er, sorry, pouch…is suddenly necessary for kids:

Mr. Grimmer believes the pouch’s popularity can be attributed to the emergence of a new way of relating to our children. He calls it “free-range parenting.”

Parents, he explained, want to be as flexible as modern life demands. And when it comes to eating, that means doing away with structured mealtimes in favor of a less structured alternative that happens not at set times, but whenever a child is hungry.

What Mr. Grimmer is selling, he said, is a way to facilitate that: mobile food technology for the modern family. “It’s on-the-go snacking, on-the-go nourishment,” he said. “It moves with kids and puts the control in their hands.

The article goes on to talk about how kids are so structured that they have no TIME to eat a real meal, so this is a lovely “free-range” alternative. For his part, the reporter adds that he gave his daughter, under age 4, a pouch to suck after her gymnastics class, and another on the way to a party because somehow lunch got skipped.

I feel for the guy. His toddler is already so over-booked there’s no time to stop and eat  the carrots. But to think that is “Free-Range” is so, so, sooooo wrong my brain is turning into a  pouch of plum-spinach mush.

In fact, Free-Range Kids believes just the opposite: We are all for giving kids a chance to do things on their own — play, walk to school, spend an afternoon just drawing on the sidewalk — which in turn gives us parents a chance to do things on our own, too, including get out of the car. Maybe even make a meal. Or have the kids make a meal.

We have to stop this misconception of Free-Range as harried chauffeurs before it grows. Already a  Psychology Today blogger has written a piece about “The Perils of Free-Range Parenting,” which goes on and on about how SHE doesn’t believe kids should make their parents give them snacks instead of  meals. Moreover, SHE doesn’t think kids should be the ones to decide whether or not they’re going to sit in the car seat, or what time they go to bed.

Lady — neither do we!

“Free-Range” is not a (depleting, exhausting) lifestyle.  It’s just the conviction that kids today are safer and more competent than our culture tells us they are. That’s why we can give them  responsibility AND freedom — and not schlep and schedule up the wazoo, to the point where they have to suck their meals in between appointments. Can someone please drop these folks a line and tell them that? – L

For kids too busy to digest a Cheerio.

UPDATE!! Look at this lovely piece by the Pscyhology Today blogger, Dina Rose, realizing that Free-Range does NOT mean “Let kids do whatever they want while we cater to their every whine” parenting. Kudos for the correction, Dina, and welcome!! – L

Oh Thank You, I Could Never Have Figured This Out on My Own

Hi Readers — I just found this website: How to Write Letters to Camp. Apparently all you have to do is master five simple steps! The website features three different greetings you might consider to address your child: “Dear Michael.” “Hi Mikey!” “Hey Kiddo!”

Phew! I had no idea how to start a letter to my own kid! Now I do!

Here’s a sample letter the site gives:  “Yesterday the weather was sunny in the 80s.  Dad and I woke up at 7 and walked the dog.  Dad went off to work and got home at about 7.  Your grandparents came over (they look great and say hello by the way) and we all went to that new Italian restaurant on Main Street.  We enjoyed the shrimp scampi…”

We need this kind of instruction because otherwise…what?  We might accidentally write an INTERESTING letter?  Or is the problem that parents can’t possibly think of anything to say to their kids? We need someone TELLING us what is APPROPRIATE to say in a letter, and reminding us that we better do it RIGHT? God forbid, we write a less than supportive, chatty, funny DAILY note, and our kid never recovers from the shock and disappointment of a sub-par letter?

I know that this is an upbeat site just trying to spread a little cheer and I really don’t want to dump on it. The guy running it sounds delightful. But the fact that there are pages and pages of instructions on what to INCLUDE in a letter — jokes! questions! encouragement! — and how to FRAME a family anecdote and how to LET our kids KNOW WE CARE is one of the things that drives me crazy about our society today: The idea we need EXPERT ADVICE on simply being parents. The idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to “relate” to our kids. The idea that even the simplest of daily activities is now a major challenge that we shouldn’t attempt before consulting a reference site, and that once we’ve studied up, we must  work on perfecting the activity, lest we fall short and “cheat” our kids out of a teachable, incalculably valuable moment. (And don’t get me started on the fact that the blog also suggests we can add an “SAT word of the day.” No — do NOT get me started.)

Somehow, we have taken every aspect of parenting and pulled it apart into tiny sub-parenting particles to examine and refine and fret about. When, really folks: It’s a letter to camp. You get out a sheet of paper, you say hi, and you drop it in the mail. (You remember mail, right?) You can do it without an advanced degree. You can do it without inserting the best possible joke or story. You can even do it without this — an actual “fill in the blank” template for parents to write to kids, including my favorite line: “Whatever you did, we’re very, very proud of you for trying!”

Very VERY proud. Whatever gosh darn thing you did, we are bursting with parental pride.

But you know what, parents? I believe in YOU, too. Can you write a letter to your child at camp? Hey, Parent-o, yes you can! And I’m so very, very proud of you!  — L.

And they're off to camp! But do you know how to write them a letter?

Outrage of the Week: Today Show’s Crazy Halloween Advice

Readers — It is time to howl at the moon, or, better yet, NBC. Its Today Show “panel of experts” declared to the world the precise age at which parents can safely let their children start trick or treating without an older chaperon:


That’s right. Exactly the age when kids start thinking about whether they should be trick or treating at all. And the Today Show’s  rationale? Oh, it is priceless. In “gated communities,” one of the experts said, maybe kids as young as 10 could go out without an older person.  “But generally speaking you don’t want to go any earlier than 13 because people put on masks, they put on disguises, and there still are people who do bad things.”

Huh? The holiday is dangerous because of “masks” and “disguises”? Is this expert scared of the ghosts and goblins? Is she aware that these are NOT REAL? And that, “generally speaking” people do not automatically BECOME evil just because they have dressed up like vampires and witches?

Imagine if the Today Show guidelines had been in place when Charles Schulz wrote, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” The Peanuts gang would be inside at a “safe” party organized by grown-ups, with various adults warning them about eating too much candy, wearing loose costumes (these can make you trip!) and wearing tight costumes (these can cut off your air supply before you know it and God knows how many kids have died of tight-costumitis!), and everything else, including running, skipping, laughing (you could choke!) and wearing costumes that scare the other kids. Because nothing even the teensiest bit frightening should ever happen to kids at all. Even on Halloween.

The age that kids can really start trick or treating on their own, in my opinion? Well, considering the world has NOT dramatically changed in 20 years (except that crime has gone down), a good rule of thumb is: the same age as you did. Teach your kids to cross streets safely. Teach them never to go off with anyone. Teach them to save you some candy. (Not just the Mary Janes!) And put some reflective tape on their costumes. Why? Because, as you know, I believe in safety.

Just not that ghosts and goblins are out to get our kids. — Lenore

P.S. And yes, when I say, “Go out without a chaperon,” I am advocating groups of kids, not just one lonely skeleton.


Don't wait here, Linus! Come inside to our Super Safe & Fun Plastic Pumpkin Party!


Guest Post: How Did I Become Such a Worried Mom?

Hi Readers — Here’s a great post from Amy Wilson, whose book, “When Did I Get Like This? The Screamer, The Worrier, The Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, And Other Moms I Swore I’d Never Be” just came out this week. Congrats, Amy! You can follow her on Twitter (amywlsn), visit her blog, check her out on Facebook, or order her book. And in meantime: You can enjoy her article right now!

How Did This Happen? By Amy Wilson

I did not think that I would be a worrying mother.

I thought motherhood would be when I finally relaxed.

As the oldest of six kids– and one of 25 grandchildren — I started changing diapers and loading dishwashers before I could write my name in script. So I was pretty sure that motherhood would be second nature for me. And it was—or should I say, it could have been.

It was only when I listened too carefully to the “experts” that I lost my way.

I listened to the experts who told me that the doctors and nurses at the hospital were the enemy, out to sabotage my “better” childbirth unless I educated them on how to provide superior care.

I listened to the experts who told me that if I let anyone give my newborn a bottle, EVEN ONCE, I was doomed to fail as a nursing mother.

I listened to the experts who told me that gaining more than 35 pounds while pregnant was both risky and lazy, that my child should be walking by 12 months or else a specialist should be summoned, and that any television before two was dooming my toddler to a lifetime of pudding-brains.

I found every such absolute thrust upon today’s mothers impossible to achieve, and therefore spent a unreasonable portion of my early years as a mother feeling bad about myself, and worrying about how my children might suffer thanks to my sub-par parenting choices. I was a sucker for all the messages of self-doubt that mothers receive from every corner: advertising, the Internet, scary news stories, other mothers with a chip on their shoulders and something to prove.

Seven years and three children later, I know better. (Most of the time.)   Now I get mad when I see something out there designed to make mothers hysterical, only so our society can then make fun of those same mothers because they are hysterical. The New York Times printed a story two weeks ago saying that fat babies are on a “obesity trajectory that is hard to alter by the time they’re in kindergarten.” Nowhere in the article was there a voice of reason, saying that by “fat babies” they of course did not mean the typically delicious thigh rolls of an eight-month old.  Next month, however, there will probably be another article, snorting with derision at the crazy and destructive mothers who are rationing their perfectly healthy babies’ rice cereal so they won’t be fat.

I think mothers have to stand up to this fearmongering when we see it. We need to be honest with one another about the realities of our lives, and about how far they are from these silly standards.  Sometimes I think that laid-back mothering can only be earned by experience, and not learned. But if the more Free-Range among us can call out the scare tactics for the nonsense that they are, we might save some other mothers out there a whole lot of worrying—and help them have more fun along the way. — A.W.

The Babyproofing Industrial Complex

Hi Readers — Here’s a New York Times piece about a reporter’s adventures in babyproofing. She sort of laments the idea that parents hire pricey professional babyproofers as a way to feel “officially” safe.

I’d go a step further and say that in addition to safety, what parents are really hiring the babyproofers for  is insurance against guilt, should a household accident actually occur. In our blame-crazed culture, we know that no one believes in “accidents” or “fate” anymore. Anything bad that happens to a child is ALL THE PARENT’S FAULT. Hire a babyproofer and no it’s not. Whew! — Lenore

Experts agree: Do not store farm equipment in nursery. PHOTO: Darren Copley.