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Challenge: Finding Your Voice as a Parent


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What in the world is a free-range child anyway? My child is not a darn chicken, he was not farm-raised, he is not antibiotic-free, and he sure isn’t friendly with a man named Jim Purdue. So, why in the heck would I be a free-range parent? I wouldn’t be, I’m not, and I’ll never be.

Please be sure to hear this through. I am not knocking those parents that are free-range parents. I do not believe in any way that I am a better (or worse) parent than they are. I am 100% a full believer in parents raising their children in whatever way that they want to parent; not how I believe they should, how others tell them they should, or how experts say they should.

Still, I believe in my parenting choices, and I believe in each of us having the right to make our own. This article is only meant to share my view on the topic, while still encouraging much respect for those views which are different than my own.

Okay, so let’s get into this. Let’s begin with the definition of free-range parenting and free-range children.

According to WebMD, free-range parenting is the practical opposite of helicopter parenting. Whereas helicopter parents are described as overbearing, over-schedulers, and on-top-of-you; free-range parents are much more lenient. The WebMD article, titled “Free-Range Parenting: It’s a new, hands-off approach to raising kids. Should you give it a try?” written by Lisa Zamosky, cites a separate article written in the New York Sun by Columnist Lenore Skenazy, who describes free-range parenting as being based on the notion “that we can give our children the same kind of freedom we had [as kids] without going nuts with worry”. Skenazy (and I would assume others who support this notion as well) believe that “when you let children out, all the good things happen — the self-confidence, happiness, and self-sufficiency that come from letting our kids do some things on their own”.

So, if free-range parenting is this awesome and growth-provoking, then why in the heck am I not all for it? I will tell you why, or at least I’ll try to adequately explain my thoughts on it.

Let’s begin with a small and easy example of free-range parenting vs. helicopter parenting that Zamosky shares in her piece:

Your child wants to take the elevator while you take the stairs to an upstairs location, or vice versa.

Is this okay? Do you allow this?

A helicopter parent would say “hell no” because that would mean your child would be out of your sight, and that is a no-no in the world of helicopter parenting. Alternatively, the free-range parent would say “of course”, because not only will this be a fun little adventure for your child, but through it the child will also learn some independence and gain some self-sufficiency.

Now — what would you do here? What would you decide is right? Would your answer remain the same regardless of your child’s age? What about their gender? Would you take into account their general behavior, and tendency to “do the right thing”?

This is tough, but I will give you my honest answer as to what I would do, and it’s the same as what I typically do — make my children take the same route as me. I like to have my six-year-old, almost four-year-old and of course my toddler next to me within my reach, or at minimum my line of view.

Skenazy would think I am being ridiculous. It is clear from her site, Free Range Kids, that she believes I am making a mistake. Skenazy believes that it is possible to raise “safe and self-reliant children, without going nuts with worry”. Skenazy further suggests that we should fight “the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape”.

While her contention may seem critical and condescending, it is not overly off-base. In all honesty, I do fear creeps and am anxious about my children being kidnapped. Germs don’t freak me out too much, and I don’t stress over grades or worry about flashers; however, I do fear my children experiencing failure and try to prevent it. I do worry about snatchers but not about bugs, and even though I hope that my children never encounter bullies, I am fully aware that an eventual interaction with one is inevitable. I definitely am concerned with how random men view my daughters, and I have also yet to let my children attend a sleepover. But, “the peril of the non-organic grape,” has never and will never cause me worry in the least.

The thing is that most of the time, despite the fact that Skenazy says I shouldn’t be “going nuts with worry,” I constantly am. Maybe such anxious energy is more specific to me and my nature and personality, but I do believe there are plenty of other mothers (and maybe fathers) with me on this. On the daily, I literally worry about all of the following (and my worries are not limited to only these): Are my children eating enough? Are they developing well? Am I making too many mistakes? What if they make a mistake? What if they are sad? What if they get hurt? What if someone tries to take them? Am I teaching them necessary life skills?

Author Clemins Wergin, of the New York Times article, “The Case for Free-Range Parenting”, makes a point about the topic that I think is worth noting when debating it. Wergin states that “It is hard for parents to balance the desire to protect their children against the desire to make them more self-reliant. And every one of us has to decide for himself what level of risk he is ready to accept.” Do you hear what Wergin is saying? YOU GET TO PARENT YOUR CHILD. Not me, not the general public — just you.

But not really, as in the case of the Meitiv family. According to Charlotte Alter’s Time article, “‘Free Range Parenting’ Too Often Leads to Child Neglect Investigations, Report Finds,” the Meitiv case is an example of the debate playing out in the courtroom. In the Meitiv case, two “Maryland parents were charged with child neglect for allowing their two children, aged 10 and 6, to walk home from a local park during the day”. The article notes that “the Meitiv’s were ultimately cleared in June, but their case has become a touchstone in the debate over what counts as a reasonable parenting decision, and what is child neglect.”

Listen, overall I can understand and give some credence to the idea that kids can’t grow unless they are allowed to visit what some, like Jerome Shultz, author of the HuffPost article, “Free-Range Parenting Debate Misses A Critical Point”, have termed the “frontier of their competence”. However, I do believe that it is absolutely possible for even helicopter parents to seek and find, or even create “safe” opportunities for competence testing.

What do I mean by this? What I am saying is that I, in my own right, believe that unfortunately our world is a dangerous place, but also a wondrous place. And because of that, I am encouraging my children to experience this world; but until they reach an appropriate age (which every parent must set for themselves), they will be encouraged to do so with me next to them, near them, or at minimum within eye-sight of them.

I think there has to be a balance. Yes, that word — ugh — that word that keeps coming up when we talk about absolutely anything — BALANCE. We must maintain a balance between involvement and smothering, and between control and guidance.

A Parents article, titled “What Is Helicopter Parenting?” by Kate Bayless, quotes Carolyn Daitch, a Ph.D., who says “helicopter parenting” refers to “a style of parents who are over-focused on their children”. I don’t take offense to that. I don’t take offense to being a “helicopter parent”. I am not embarrassed (in the least) by the fact that I am hyper-focused on my children; any day of the week I would be a proponent of being hyper-focused. Well, that is unless we could find that almighty balance between being free-range and helicopter — man, wouldn’t that be something.

Until then, I have accepted the notion that we are both screwing up parenthood. Yep, you and me — the helicopter parent and the free-range parent. But, guess what else we are doing? We are both nailing parenthood, too. Yep, you and me — the helicopter parent and the free-range parent.

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