Thoughts About Perfection (And Ritalin, Video Games & Fast Food)

Hi Readers! I’ve been thinking about a note I got the other day from a dad who’s trying to raise his daughter Free-Range. He wasn’t  sure he was doing it “right.”  While some folks called him crazy for taking his girl on globe-trotting, capital-A adventures, he said, the alternative appalled him: “Maybe I should join the ranks and become one of those less risky parents who lets the kids sit on the couch playing video games, feeds them fast food and pumps them full of Ritalin.”

What struck me is that…I am one of those parents! I have a kid who spends a lot of time on the couch playing video games or fiddling with his iPod. And another one who takes Ritalin. And I fed the whole family fast food chicken last week from a place so unrepentent it actually deep fries its biscuits! (Yum!) So am I the opposite of a Free-Range parent?

Please.  There’s a big range of Ranging, and the whole idea is to TRY to give our kids some freedom and responsibility. We want them to figure out who they are and what they like, and to grow up in the process. Free-Range Parents encourage their kids to play, to go outside, and to come up with their own ideas of what to do, rather than being scheduled and supervised all the time. (Or played with by us.) And we try not to freak out every time we let them do whatever it was that WE did as kids, whether that’s walking to school or spending the afternoon biking around the neighborhood.

But if you have a kid who likes fries, or Mario Brothers, or sometimes vegging out and NOT building a rocket or bird sanctuary, that doesn’t mean anyone’s a failure. It means you’re raising kids in the post-industrial age, and it’s not so easy to re-create 1975 again, or 1989, even.  They are part of this modern world, and they love their apps the same way we loved our Slinkies.

So, yes, aim to let them have adventures. Yes, let them get bored and cranky sometimes, so they have to figure out what to do next. Yes, insist on some unplugged time and open the back door as a hint, and even goose them into babysitting or taking steps toward responsibility and adulthood. I was thrilled over vacation when my kids got a cat-sitting job several subway stops away from us. Then there was a blizzard and I was a lot less thrilled. In fact, I was worried. But hey — that cat still needed to be fed! (Well, actually, this particular cat could have lived off its fat for several weeks and still doubled as a pillow, but my point is: They boys had signed up to feed her, so they braved the elements.) Afterward, I was proud and so were they! Nonetheless, post-cat there was definitely some significant  iPod time on the couch.

So don’t worry about being a perfect Free-Range Parent. Just worry about not helicoptering every single second and you’re on the way. Or so sez me. — Lenore