15 comments on “Free-Range Parenting?

  1. I agree with your post. I am guilty of doing a lot of parenting out of fear. I have to be rational and purposely allow my children to do things on their own. I think the key is to find balance. There are a few children in my neighborhood that roam the neighborhood for hours without any parental supervision. One girl that I had never met before ended up spending an entire afternoon playing at my home with my kids and her parents had no idea who we were or where she was, nor did they care. There are several kids in our neighborhood who’s parents find this acceptable and there is a HUGE difference in these children compared to kids who have more parental supervision. These kids that roam the neighborhood for hours while their parents have no clue where they are, have zero boundaries. These are the kids that come in without knocking, that go through my cupboards without asking, that go into my room and go through my drawers, etc. I think this line of balance comes from allowing children to do things on their own, but with boundaries. Allowing them to go to the park and play without mom hovering, but knowing where they are, and having rules that if they go anywhere else, they must come home and tell me. I have a friend who won’t allow her 9 year old to go ride bikes in the neighborhood with her friends, because the mother fears her daughter might get left out. I think balance and age appropriate freedom is the key.

  2. Wow, what a fantastic post! I was having this conversation with my sister recently. She’s a—what do they call it?–a “helicopter parent”. She won’t even allow her kids to play in their fenced-in backyard without constant supervision. She won’t allow them to run a few meters ahead of her to the park. Her rational argument is: “It’s better to be PROactive than to be REactive.”

    I wish you could publish this post in newspapers and magazines… and go on television. I agree with you entirely, and I’m not looking forward to dealing with other parents’ reprimands.

  3. We’re trying really, really hard to give the kids a longer leash because we feel the same way. They aren’t going to develop any confidence in themselves if they never feel like they can do anything on their own. But it’s hard. First, because all the “what if’s” are constantly going through your head. And second, there are always the other people questioning your parenting.

    I do think it gets easier the more you do it, though. That first time is a lot like ripping off the band aid.

  4. I liked the book “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker. I thought it was a rational approach to evaluating likely dangers vs. worrying too much about unlikely dangers. He debunks some of the safety myths such as “don’t talk to strangers” and “find a police officer if you’re lost.” And, he provides a great list of the things a child should know to keep him/herself safe. I thought it was a balanced and rational approach without fear mongering.

  5. I’ve had a hard time trying to get over my helicopter parenting. I realize I do it and I’m much better than I was. My twin boys were born 10 weeks early so I started it while they were still in their incubator.

    The whole preemie thing seems to have made my husband and I more apt to do this. I’m not sure I would have been able to leave my child on thd bench waiting for me. The what ifs would have made me unable to do so.

    Although I am guilty of this type if parenting at times I agree with you that it could be causing some harm.

  6. Parenting out of fear is definitely something that needs to be overcome. But as you stated, one must first evaluate the risks. Not all children are developmentally the same at every age. So what exactly is a parent afraid of and is that fear rational? Well, let’s take a closer look. When that lady exclaimed “There is a child, alone!” it is unfair for you to assume that her anxiety was caused by a child being alone. Clearly her concern was for what could have happened to the child. She has no way of knowing how capable and intelligent your little girl truly is. But by the same token, this woman, a complete stranger, was shaken to the core out of concern for your little girl. Her reaction may have been “judgmental” but that doesn’t make her concern invalid. Her reaction just shows that she did not have time to think the whole scenario though. She did not have the knowledge that you have about your daughter. All she saw was “a child, alone.”

    A child is not considered an adult until age 18. Until then, parents are legally responsible for their care. That means we are given eighteen years to train them to be responsible adults. It also means that we as parents have eighteen years to learn to let go. But even after they leave home, they are always our kids and we will love them no matter what (even if we don’t always agree with the choices they make.) And even though they are free to make their own choices, we always want them to know they can come to us with any concerns, or when they are in any kind of trouble. We want them to trust us. We want them to know that we are there for them. And everything we do for them, we do because we first loved them, not because of anything they have ever done to “earn” our love or approval.

    All you have to do is read Genesis to know that this is the exact parenting structure that God set in place. Adam and Eve were given everything and had only 1 rule to follow. God didn’t stand in front of the tree and guard it to make sure they didn’t eat from it. He left them to make their own choice. They knew the rule. They knew the consequence. But they ate from it anyway. And did God turn His back on them? No. But he didn’t eliminate the consequence either. Instead, just like any parent, He still wanted to protect His children and provide a way for them to overcome their wrong choice and achieve their greatest potential.

    Tell me what is wrong or irrational about God’s parenting? Because it seems to me that you are already putting it into practice.

    • If Adam and Eve only gained knowledge after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, how would they have been expected to ‘know’ it was wrong? That’s bad parenting if you ask me. It’s like punishing an infant before they learn right from wrong.

      • Hi Ali, They didn’t lack knowledge. They lacked the knowledge of evil. It’s hard for us to imagine, but let me see if I can give you a scenario that you can relate to. When a baby is born, it has no knowledge of pain. That doesn’t mean it can’t experience pain. It just hasn’t been intentionally faced with it yet (at least we hope not). As a parent we do everything to keep unnecessary pain from coming. When our kids are babies, it’s up to us to keep them out of harm’s way. But once they are old enough to make their own choices, all we can offer is advice. It’s up to them if they take it.

        God didn’t withhold knowledge from Adam and Eve. What he withheld was pain. Adam and Eve didn’t set out to disobey God’s advice. They were deceived. Take a look at the dialog that takes place in Genesis 3:1-4 . The serpent says: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” That’s not at all what God said. In fact, God said they could eat from ANY tree, except one which would cause death. Next the serpent says ““You will not certainly die. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

        So imagine this, as a parent, you give your kids freedom to make their own choices, but because you love them, you warn them against the one thing that will surely cause them pain. They have every intention of taking your advice, but then someone comes along and talks them into doing that one thing you warned them about. Once they make the choice to engage in that particular behavior, there’s not really much you can do about it, is there. You don’t stop loving them. But you also can’t protect them from the consequences. You would, however, do everything in your power to keep them from suffering any further.

        If your child tried drugs for example. And became addicted, and could not break free from it, wouldn’t you intervene and do everything in your power to help them? Surely you wouldn’t just forget about them and have another child, hoping the next one wont make the same mistake.

        It’s hard to see that this is what happens in the Bible because most of us never read the whole thing. And if we do, we get so caught up in the atrocities that we loose sight of the main storyline. Many people are only told about the birth of Jesus and His crucifixion. But the story of Jesus makes absolutely no sense at all if you don’t know the whole story from beginning to end. You can’t pick up a book, read only the middle, and maybe a few other chapters, and claim to understand the whole story. Likewise, you don’t need to read every page to know the plot. All you need is a good summary of the entire book.

        If you are interested, I read a short booklet the other day that does a pretty good job of making sense of the crucifixion within the context of the whole bible from Genesis to Revelation. The ebook version for Kindle is only $2.99. It is less than 100 pages long and barely takes an hour to read. You can also get Darwin’s Origin of the Species for Free for Kindle. :)

        The book is called “Surprised by Love: the unexpected rescue of God’s children” and the author is Elizabeth Talbot. Regardless of you beliefs, it’s a heartfelt book that I think any parent can relate to. At the very least, you will know the story line of the bible without having to read the whole thing. Not bad for $3. I’m excited to read Darwin’s Origin of the Species, because I strongly believe in understanding both sides of every issue. It may not seem like the two are related, but the way I see it is that one claims we are created, and the other claims we are evolved. So both are the story of US which makes them quite relevant to one another. Here’s the link. Enjoy! :)


  7. I struggle daily with this issue. I have been thinking about this post since I read. I remember walking home from the bus stop by myself when I was in first grade, but I just can’t bring myself to let my daughter do the same.

    I am working up to it I guess. To be honest, it is me that is concerned. I was late one day and found her already half way home. Her response to me was, “well, I knew there would be someone home to let me in!”

    In general though I am not a helicopter parent. I will give advice, provide guidelines, and rules that must be obeyed, but I believe in letting her make mistakes and suffer the consequences. Sometimes I am the reason for the consequence (she loses something or some privilege, sometime she just gets embarrassed.

    You did not make the wrong decision. I think as mother’s we need to quit second guessing ourselves (though I am very guilty of this) because we do know our children, what they can handle, and when they really need us to be right next to them.

    As for the comment above that said this has to do with god, I firmly disagree.

  8. I completely agree with you. I let my 4 and 6 year old run ahead to the park, ride ahead on their bikes, wait in the car while I run into the post office, etc. I give them very clear rules from the beginning (stay on the grass not the road, no climbing in the front seat/stay buckled) and then congratulate them for listening well. It teaches them self control and self reliance. Parenting with less fear echos my own philosophy of living without fear. You cannot live your life thinking someone is going to break into your house and murder you at any moment or that any person of a different race is about to snatch your purse. We do hear about every heinous crime that occurs anywhere in the U.S. but the odds are overwhelmingly in my favor that we do not need to own a gun for self-protection and that there is not likely going to be a kidnapper walking by my car the moment I leave my kids alone. We talk about safety but you need to give them the opportunity to practice it as well.

    And by the way, love, love, love your blog.

  9. I can only imagine you weren’t raised by a mother whom was molested at the age of 5 by her friends father, raised by a father whom at the age of 13 was forced to have sex with his mother or she would kill his puppy, or married to a man whom at the age of 5 was molested by his uncle.

    I also can only imagine you didn’t see the video of the guy grabbing the 7 year old girl that was in a toy aisle in a Walmart (video cameras and people there!!!). Thankfully she was 7 and was taught what to do. A four year old could not have defended herself from that man. Google it, it happened in Georgia last year.

    It’s one thing to give your child the opportunity to learn and grow and how to take care of themselves, and even my child was very bright and intelligent at four, but a four year old could have been grabbed by someone driving by. I’m thankful that lady came out and watched over her and I think you should rethink leaving your 4 year old alone for that amount of time. Some people don’t care if you see them grab your child on camera. Think about it…they can drive away fast, elude the police and take your child and do what they want with her by the time they bring that video footage up!

    Also, I find you and Christians have one thing alike here. Christians foolishly believe God will protect their children from these things as long as they are always praying over them. You seem to believe we should have FAITH in humanity. The wool has apparently, even as an atheist, been pulled over your eyes as to how kind and friendly and not harmful human beings can be. I’d rather be safe than sorry. I do not allow my child to be at a friends house unless I’ve known the mother and father for a very long time…I can spot the signs of children abused since I am surrounded by a family full of people (many others than I have mentioned) that have been molested. I know that a man can overpower my almost 6 year old (and she looks more like a 7 year old already) and I would never leave her alone for 4 minutes ANYWHERE. Not even in the car while I go in to purchase a drink from say a gas station.

    I’m sure I come off as a “helicopter” parent to you. Funny thing is my daughter is extremely independent and knows how to do many things, even beyond her years very well. She is extremely articulate and people are constantly surprised she is 5. Some of my family freaked out when she made her own “cooking show” video and made a salad cutting vegetables with a regular very sharp knife. Now THAT is ridiculous. That is controllable. That is watchable. That is trainable. She has been practicing using a knife for several years. She has the muscle capable to manipulate the knife in her hand and the stool to help her get to the right height to wield the knife at the correct angle to not hurt herself and has been instructed to always put the knife down after cutting. YOU can’t train a pedophile to stay away from your daughter nor does she have the muscles capable of fighting one off if one so chooses to grab her and shove her in a car and speed off with her.

    Hope this doesn’t sound all “crazy” but I almost had a heart attack reading this story…just like that sweet lady! Maybe she knows or was a victim as well. I implore you to use more caution with your sweet daughter next time.

    Here is a link for you of the Walmart incident: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/girl-fights-off-abductor-walmart-15545656

    Now it’s easy to say that the media makes a big deal out of these things and that things like this hardly ever happen, but would you still be saying that if it was your daughter this happened to?

  10. I completely agree with your post. And I have been working hard not to be overprotective. I grew up in a sheltered, strict home and as a result fell into some situations late in high school that forever changed me. I think if my parents had been more open and honest about the dangers of the world and how to handle them not just what they are, I might have know how or what to do. Before I met my fiance, I had a pretty cynical view of humanity but he helped me to see that you can have faith in humanity and that most people are good. I love reading your blog. I feel less alone in my atheism.

    • Hi Becca – thanks for reading. You are not alone. There really are a ton of atheist moms out there and I’m glad you’ve joined us. Before my husband and I were married we did a lot of traveling. We lived in Asia, Africa and Europe, and visited all kinds of places and met all kinds of people. I think the greatest lesson I learned from all of that was that people are good. There are always bad apples but for the most part, people want to help you. We all want the same thing – for our loved ones to be fed, safe and happy and to live our lives in the best way we can. :)

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