Free Range Kids?

The first thing I think of when I hear “free-range” is chicken.  But kids?  This term is new for me, but the idea behind it is not.  I’m kind of glad there’s a name for it…now I can just say “I’m a free-range parent” and leave it at that.  If you have no clue what I’m talking about(don’t worry; I was clueless until a few hours ago!), then check out this website.  It’s hosted by a woman named Lenore Skenazy who is a writer for the New York Sun.  Apparently she let her 4th grade son(nine year old) take a short subway ride alone.  When she wrote about it in an article, a huge debate began.  She now has a website to support her point of view.  The “mission statement”, as it were, is as follows:

At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail.

I think there are several key words in this that make this statement plausible.  Obviously she believes that there are some “musts” when it comes to safety.  You MUST wear use a car seat or your seatbelt in the car.  You MUST wear a helmet when you ride your bike or skate.  Those are almost no-brainers in this day and age.  But I also like how she clarifies that she’s talking about “school age children”.  Obviously, I’m not going to let my 20 month old wander around outside unattended.  My three year old either, for those of you who are worrying about Tucker!  But since the weather has been so nice, I havedecided that if I close the gate they can explore the backyard without me.  They’re both past the point of eating random things like rocks and flowers.  We don’t have a snake pit in the backyard.  And there are only a few ants, but I am pretty vigilant about watching those particular areas.  And the worst thing that’s happened so far is that Tucker fell down and scuffed up both of his knees.  He probably would have done that even if I’d been right there anyway.  I think it’s important to let them begin to see that they don’t need me all the time.  (Did I just say that?  Me, the girl who loves to be needed??)  

Tucker’s pretty good at this.  I don’t think I’ll ever have to worry too much about him.  If we lived in “the city”, he’d probably be taking the subway alone by 4th grade, too.  He’s independant like that.  But Emmie…she has her own ideas, and she’s very strong willed, butshe likes to know that there’s somebody there who’s “got her back”.  She is constantly looking over her shoulder to make sure I’m right behind her.  She still cries when I leave her at school or church.   But I want to, I hope to instill in her a sense of confidence and independence so that she’ll be able to function in this dog-eat-dog world.  I want her to be able to walk into a situation without having to have too much hand holding and coddling.  But at the same time, I still want to be needed and I still want to be there for her.  And I want her to call me like I call my mom, and I want to be able to talk to her like my mom talks to me.  There’s nothing quite like hearing your mom say, “You can do it.  I know you can.”  So that’s why, as I’ve heard my own mom say those very same words to me, I try to continue to say it to both of my kids.  My friend Kate talked about her 3 year old getting frustrated trying to put on her shoes.  “You can do it.  I know you can.”  And she did.  Tucker tried to do a new puzzle that was really hard and got annoyed because he was so close but couldn’t quite get it.  “You can do it.  I know you can.”  And he did.  Emmie was trying to “help” me cook lunch, and as much as I just wanted to move her out of the way and hurry up and finish…I said, “You can do it.  I know you can” as much to her as to myself, who was frustrated that we were moving so slowly.  So, see, in trying to make my kids a little “tougher” and a little more independent, I’ve taught myself a lesson!

But hang on one minute: before people go off getting mad at me and calling the Department of Child and Family Services on me for letting my children amble down a road of peril, I just want to clarify that I’m not saying that this way is the right way, the only way, the perfect way or the flawless way.  I’m not saying that it’s what we all should do.  And I’m not saying that it’s a good idea in all situations, even for me and my kids.  But I think there is a lot of value in being aware that being a so-called “helicopter parent” who hovers over their child’s every move in every moment may not always be in the best interest of your child.  I’m a big believer in “they’ve got to learn sometime” as long as you use common sense.  Obviously I’m not going let either of them learn how to use a knife yet…well, maybe a butter knife!  But seriously, I’d rather Tucker learn now that if he tries to climb *up* the slide(which I think is just fine, but Marshall doesn’t), it’ll probably hurt when someone slides down and kicks you in the stomach.  You can’t complain because you were the one climbing up the wrong way.  And what better time than now for Em to learn that sure, jumping down the stairs can be fun…but only if you remain upright.  If you fall, it’s going to hurt.  You probably shouldn’t do that again.  I’m not saying I’d let her jump  down 14 stairs, but one stair isn’t going to kill her.  I hope.

I have several parents who believe whole-heartedly in Attachment Parenting(AP), and that’s fine.  If that’s what works for you and your child(ren), then please please do it!  But it doesn’t work for me.  Maybe I’m too selfish! 🙂  I don’t want to share my bed or my nearly sacred “Mommy Time”.  And because of our current lifestyle, it’s impossible for me to schedule our day around my child’s “natural inner rhythms”, as is suggested in one of the AP principles.  You have to nap whenever you can in this house!  🙂  But there are other principles outlined on the AP website that I agree with, such as having a night-time routine, being consistent in discipline, and responding to your child with sensitivity.  Sometimes when I get frustrated with my kids over something that I view as “no big deal”, I have to back up and realize that it is a big deal…some of the time!  That’s where I and other AP enthusiasts begin to disagree.  If little Suzie is having a meltdown because you told her no for the 100th time, then sometimes I feel it’s ok to let her “cry it out”.  You have to stand your ground sometimes.  

I also understand the AP approach to co-sleeping.  I understand that I works for some people.  More power to ya!  I need my space, though!  And I never sleep well with a little rugrat squirming beside me.  Plus, especially when my kids were smaller, I couldn’t sleep if the kids were in my bed because I would worry about rolling over on them, or their little faces getting blocked by all the covers…SIDS scares me!

And my AP friends probably cringe when they hear me say that at bedtime, even when my kids were pretty tiny, we let them cry themselves to sleep.  Not for too long, and not if the screams escalated too much.  But I have to admit: there were times I turned off the monitor or walked outside a few minutes to recapture my sanity.  And, I’m not saying it’s because I let my kids cry it out…I’m probably just lucky…but my kids are great sleepers.  And sometimes they do wake up in the middle of the night, but often the put themselves right back to sleep, and I never know it.  If they were in my bed, we’d probably end up all being awake and talking about Thomas the Tank Engine, Diego or Minnie Mouse!  🙂

So I guess what I’m trying to say in all my ramblings is that I’m a free-rangeauthoritative, democratic ENFP with a dash of AP thrown in for good measure…I do love a good baby sling!   Click here to take a short little quiz to see what kind of parent you are.

No Responses to Free Range Kids?
  1. Kate
    May 2, 2008 | 8:45 pm

    I think you’re right where you should be. I just recently heard about free range parenting and thought that it sounded great. It was so funny because I was allowing Rae to crawl around the Family Y floor while Madeline was at swim lessons while some moms and I were praising this approach to parenting and was saying how some moms would probably not let their 10-month-old explore their surroundings anywhere other than a completely sanitized floor. Then I looked at Rae and she was getting ready to lick the ground. That’s where I drew the line and distracted her! 🙂 I think we all just need to use more common sense and to follow our gut instincts. I agree AP, but what I really agree with is that it’s important to create a strong bond between you and your children. How you get there isn’t as important and while things like co-sleeping, breastfeeding, babywearing, etc. help achieve this bond, they’re not the only way. Enough of my rambling! 🙂

  2. Kate
    May 2, 2008 | 8:48 pm

    p.s. Just took the quiz. I’m an ENFJ. 🙂

  3. Doug
    May 5, 2008 | 3:13 pm

    B–As a confirmed INFP, and as a recovering “sometimes too protective” father, I think this sounds fine. Eclectic parenting is what I’d call it; and so far it seems to be working well. Some of this, some of that; trying your best to select the best without going too far in any one direction. I’m very proud of Tucker and Emmie, and of the home you and Marshall have with them. I’m sure the new one on the way will find that they are blessed to be in a great family. Love always,


  4. Doug
    May 5, 2008 | 3:31 pm

    P.S.-INFP is my “Myer-Briggs” type, but it’s pretty close…