You Can Be Free-Range and Choose NOT to Trust Your Kid in a Particular Situation

Hi Folks! I liked this letter because it reminds us that Free-Range Kids is not dogmatic and not silly. We don’t say you MUST trust your child in every situation or you are a lily-livered ninny. We don’t reject thinking things over, or even erring on the side of caution. All we DO reject is knee-jerk “worst-first thinking” — immediately assuming the worst in all situations. – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: Parenting Free-Range children does not mean throwing all caution to the wind.  While reading through some people’s stories and comments I have commonly seen the inner struggle of  “should I or should I not?” in trying to determine what is best for their children.  I consider myself a Free-Range Parent even though my kids are young.  I do not let mainstream media or exaggerated emails govern the raising of my kids in a state of fear.  However, I was met with a Free-Range struggle last week at the park.

My son and daughter were happily playing soccer with another set of boys, with a total range of age from 3-5.  Out of nowhere the dad of the boys appeared and started playing with the four of them.  I watched from my bench as everyone was having a great time.  I was thankful for this dad entertaining my kids, even though he did not speak English (I’m an ex-pat American living in Europe) and my kids were a little confused regarding his instructions.  I did notice he seemed to be slapping my daughter on her skirted rear end quite a bit.  At first it was a “good job” sort of thing but still I just didn’t like it, cultural differences or not.

My son ran up to me and said he had to go to the bathroom.  The bathroom at the park was a good 5-minute walk away and not that clean.  So here I was presented with a choice:  I could leave my 4-year-old daughter with this man I have just met so she can continue playing, and trust that he will look after her.  Or deal with the “I don’t want to go” tantrum and take her with me.

My first instinct was to take her with me.  But a voice crept up, “Shouldn’t you trust this man you have never met before in your life?  Isn’t that what being Free-Range is all about?  Aren’t you giving into senseless worry, if you fear leaving her with a stranger?  What would Lenore think?”

I ultimately decided, no, leaving my 4-year-old daughter with a man I don’t know is not being Free-Range.  It is taking an unnecessary risk, especially when I live in a country that is notorious for abuse.  Lenore would want my little girl safe.  Her time to be truly “Free-Range” will come soon enough.  As for now, my role is to teach her how to be safe and ready for the world ahead of her.”

I write this in case any other parent who believes in Free-Range philosophies gets struck in this sort of conundrum — the ” I feel like I shouldn’t but maybe Free-Range says I should!” spiral. It is important to believe in your kids and yourself, but don’t throw all instincts out the window.  I have faith in people and society but I don’t consider myself blind to it all either. – A Mom Abroad

“I Allowed My Children to Put Themselves at Risk of Injury”

Hi Folks — I can see myself being just as hamstrung as this mom, who describes herself as a married mother of four who lives on five acres near Harrisonburg, VA, where she homeschools the kids, gardens, bakes, blogs, and reads. On the one hand: childhood independence! On the other hand…yiiiiiiiikes! — L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: Recently, I wrote a post about the 16-foot high clubhouse that my 12-year-old son built. He and his siblings worked on it for two days before it blew over.

One of my commenters asked me what I thought I was doing, putting my children at risk for serious injury. How could I? she wanted to know.

This question stings, but it also rings true. It stings because it questions my judgment — something I do on a regular basis — and because it implies that I don’t care about my children as much as I should. And it rings true because it touches on the wisps of anxiety and fear I experienced while I was watching the fort go up. I even called my husband at work a couple times to ask him if it was really okay. (He didn’t have a firm answer, either.)

Playing it safe is such a balancing act. On one hand, my son was getting an immense amount of satisfaction from working hard and creating something. On the other hand, there was a chance that someone might fall and break a leg which would be miserable. I’m constantly holding the two perspectives, weighing them against each other. (And I really do picture it as though my hands are physically holding the options, safety versus risk.)

Often, I hedge my bets with the former option — the one with all the dangerous risks — because playful and productive creativity rocks. I don’t want to deprive my children of the deep-seated joy that comes from making something with their own hands just because there’s a possibility that someone might get hurt. Actually, that perspective has its own dangerous side effects, such as lowered self-esteem, fear, anxiety, etc. I think I’d rather have the broken leg.

Hoping I didn’t just jinx myself! — Jennifer, who thanks this blog for the message it’s working to get across.