Free Range Parenting: a few words.

The topic at my inaugural PTA meeting was the car line in front of Nathaniel Morton Elementary School. A topic that I find very interesting since it is my driveway that is usually blocked by the endless row of cars that never move. The initiative is to keep the cars moving up so that the kids can get out and into school quickly, freeing up the line. I wondered out loud (possible mistake number one) why parents weren’t letting the kids out down the street towards my house. One mom guffawed at this preposterous notion of forcing her child to walk up to the doors a total of 50 feet. “Excuse me but I did not feel comfortable letting my child out to walk all the way up Lincoln Street from the dental office because God only knows what could happen.”

News to me that I live in a bad neighborhood! I mean, the dental office!

The mom next to me commented “I’m afraid of allowing my child to play in the yard alone in front of my house.” I held my breath as I looked at her, because if I took a breath something really crazy was going to come out of my mouth. I said “Oh my God, really?” Oops.

Is this what we have become? Parents so crippled by fear that we can’t even allow our children to play anywhere out of our sight? Or in this woman’s case- in her sight but outside? How is all of this anxiety affecting our children? These same parents who are terrified that someone may take their child while walking on the sidewalk of Lincoln Street are also the ones sitting in the driver’s seat on their phones not even interacting with the kids trapped in the back seat. It’s unreal to watch.

So….let me get this straight- it’s ok for you to trap the kids in the back seat, not talk to them or pay any attention to them instead of allowing them to get out and play in front of the school with the other kids? There are plenty of adults and other parents, myself included who watch them before the doors open at 8:50. The kids need to get their energy out, why not let them? They NEED to get away from us for a hot minute. It’s ok, it’s normal and HEALTHY.

In case you were wondering,  I am speaking 100% from my own experience parenting. This does not end well. Being anxious that something could happen for that brief split second we don’t have eyes on them affects them. They know that Something Bad may happen to them. They know that YOU, the one they trust with their lives, are concerned that something may happen to them. They live in this possible reality throughout their educational life until they graduate from high school. After graduation, the expectation is for them to leave home and be successful in college, including being on their own.

How can we expect children to magically be able to be on their own at 18 when we never gave them the chance until that moment to do so? I am not exaggerating. I talk with parents throughout the various activities and I cannot believe the percentage of parents who cannot get out of their kids’ asses. I just heard about a parent that is suing the school that didn’t accept her son onto the junior varsity soccer team. 

Life is hard. I have to prep my kids for it. I give my kids sharp knives when they ask me to cut an apple. I let them figure it out with bandaids in hand just in case. On days that I have to be in Hingham before 9:30 AM, I tell them that I have to be at work on time so I am relying on them to go through the doors when they open. They do every single time I ask. I let them go in the backyard, where there are no cameras, and play by themselves. I trust them to make the right decision. It’s amazing what happens to their self confidence when you do this.

Am I crazy? 

Here’s my reason: because when I gave in to that fear and was up my oldest daughter’s ass, she never learned how to deal with the stress and anxiety life can bring. I made my issues her issues. I tried to handle it for her since I didn’t want her to suffer like I did. Today, she struggles and maybe my parenting didn’t bring it on, but I sure as hell know that it didn’t help it.

We had Chinese food this past Sunday night for my birthday dinner. Addie opened her fortune cookie and read “Courage grows from suffering.” She looked at me and her dad. “I don’t want to suffer.” Who does, I thought. But the reality is that suffering in some form allows the soul to grow. Experiencing fear and walking through it teaches an invaluable lesson and isn’t that what parenting is all about? It’s my job to raise my children to be highly functional adults who are good people. I take that very seriously, which is why I learned from my mistakes and embrace what I like to call “Free Range Parenting.”

Yes, I will allow Addie to ride her bike without me on the street. Yes, my girls can play in the backyard and the front yard while I am in the kitchen doing dishes. I refuse to allow fear to change how I instill values onto my children. People say to me “It’s the how the world is today.” Is it? Does it have to be this way? What if the harm we are doing to our kids is worse than what we fear will happen? I refuse to believe that I have to accept that the world is this awful place that may take my child away from me when I am not looking. Maybe this thinking is made possible because I do have a child that could be taken from me even while I am looking. Having a child with a chronic illness changes priorities. I don’t worry about unseen demons as much as I worry about her not having a life that was lived the best way possible. I know in my gut that I am doing everything I can to enrich and ensure my girls are enjoying the best life. I know Chris feels that way too.

We only get one shot with these kids. We live with this reality every day. I’d rather make my best effort and not allow fear to make decisions for me, the cost of my children’s development is more important.