the simple minded suburbanite

Free-Range Parenting

Why didn’t I think of that?

I imagine perfectly plump children pecking up the pinecones in my picket-fenced back yard.  Pecking and pooping.  Pecking and pooping.   Happily all day long.  Free-range parenting sounds pretty damn good to me!

“Devon Charles the Third!  Get out of the ivy!!!”  My perfectly pleasant p&p image is shattered.  This memory involves my pink-and-green neighbor.  Her son (real name not Devon Charles III, but his name is just as obnoxious, trust me!) was playing with my three boys in our back yard.  They had magnifying glasses and little cages in which they could examine and torture a whole host of insect species (educational play!).  She leapt up from her cushion-less wrought iron chair on my deck and began waving her hands and screaming, “Get out of the ivy!  Get out of the ivy!”  My God!  I thought, as I leapt up too, was the ivy alive?  Was it pulling our round-faced little boys down into some pre-historic, man eating pit!  Images of Land of the Lost that have scared me since childhood leapt to my mind. 

The kids froze!  I gasped.  For the sake of aristic embellishment, let’s say pee trickled down my then three-year-old’s leg.  We were all afraid to move.

“Pinky (not really Pinky, but I dont need to tell you that),” I said, “what’s wrong?” 

“There could be snakes in there.  There could be rats and yellow jackets and poison ivy.  You need to have all of that stuff removed.  IT’S NOT SAFE!”

Gee, I thought ivy was kind of pretty.

And that was the moment that I realized, I am not a helicoper parent.  I’m too lazy.  I’m too tired.  I just don’t really care all that much about bee stings, snakes and weeds.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my little boys. They where their helmets.  They do participate in some extra curricular activities.  I keep a loose eye on the goings-on in my backyard.  But here lies the difference…

They still ride their bikes in the street.  I don’t monitor their “progress” in sports and music other than, Did you have fun?  The obligatory, Have you practiced?  How did you feel when you…struck out? hit the ball? jammed out the whole song? Do you need my help?  And, as far as backyard politics, I will intervene in that I give my kids the words to use to solve a problem, but I don’t solve it for them or even show up unless someone is bloody, crying or quite obviously pinned up against a tree.  And I have one rule (outside of the other obvious ones like no hitting, no kicking ,and no peeing in the sandbox), “Everyone can play or nobody can play.”  And sometimes that means not everybody choses to play.  So be it.

So, when my sister-in-law sent me a recent Time Magazine article today from (November 30, 2009) called Can These Parents Be Saved?by Nancy Gillis, I of course did a quick little “Could this be me?’ analysis in my mind.  Does she think I am a helicopter parent that needs to be saved?  Ms. Gillis’ article is written in support of parents who don’t talk to the teachers every time Johnny brings home a B-. In support of parents who let their kids suffer the consequences when they make a mistake.  She calls this opposition “movement” of sorts, “free-range parenting, simplicity parenting, slow parenting.”  And I kind of like it.

I’m sure, compared to other parents, I helicopter.  My kids are not spending the night the home of a friend from school if I don’t know the parents.  I do encourage my children to try their best but also tell them that their best is not the same on every day and sometimes your best is laying on the couch because you need to.  I believe in instilling responsibility, honesty, trustworthiness, pride, and respect but I don’t, like one of my friends insists of her child, “Stevie, Stevie, look Mr. Jones in the eye.  Stevie, did you shake Mr. Jones’ hand?  Shake his hand, Stevie.  He asked you how you are, Stevie, ask Mr. Jones how he is today…keep looking him in the eye, Stevie.  Did I hear a ‘sir’ in there, Stevie.  Let go of Mr. Jones’ hand.”  Jees!  Mr. Jones is sorry he asked!!!

I don’t think I’m a helicopter parent and I’m not sure if my sister-in-law or anyone else thinks I am.  Or if maybe they think I do too little.  And if they do, if I worry about it too much maybe I’m helicoptering myself a little too much, because on any given day, I could be either, neither, or both.

I was raised in a very small rural town and my parents, as well as others, took a pretty hands off approach.  They were there for me when I needed them.  They kept an eye on most of the important stuff.  But there were lots of things that, in our generations eyes, perhaps they should have been a little more informed about.  I made mistakes, alot of them. I was in situations I shouldn’t have been in and am very lucky it all turned out well.  And, while I don’t neccessarily want my children exposed to all the things I was exposed to at an early age, I am certain my experiences made me who I am today, for better or worse.  When I went to college, I knew a world that many of my sorority sisters had never dreamed, at least until their first Rugby House kegger.  And mostly, most of us learn these lessons, though maybe in different ways.

And my boys will too.  My only hope is to strike a balance between “Mommy is my shadow” and “Where the hell is Mommy when I need her?”.  And the places in between are full of ivy.  They’re full of Mr. Jones, who, maybe we shouldn’t be shaking hands with.  And they’re also full of plenty of wonderful little discoveries about ourselves, our lives, and each other.

So be it.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hello, friend. I’m loving it. Mind if I share a link to your blog with my readers? 🙂

Comment by el-e-e

Would love it!!! Welcome to my world!

Comment by simpleminded suburbanite

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