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Category Archives: free range parenting

Letting Kids Fly, But Not By Helicopter

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Ahh, vacation.  It’s my first day back from a weekend trip to visit family, and I already need another vacation.  Not because of the family, we had a fantastic time, but because I came back from a Saturday and Sunday away to a shitstorm of work to do.  I digrmyess, however.  Every year, my step mother’s sister throws an annual weekend up at her house.  Since my dad married into the family, they also include me, my husband and kids.  The weekend is filled with laughter, days spent at the lake, and lots of food and beer.  It’s always a fun weekend.  This year, I think we had 16 or more.

Saturday, while lounging at the lake, watching the kids play in the swimming areas and in the sand, I got into a conversation with my…let me see if I get this right….step cousin’s wife.  We were talking about our kids, and how they are growing up so fast, the usual.  She lives in Brooklyn NY, and she overheard her son tell me how excited he was for school this year because at his school, the kids are allowed to leave the school and go out for lunch unattended.  I was completely fascinated by this revelation, and his mom (I’ll refer to her as E) filled me me.  Apparently, starting in 4th grade, the kids are allowed to leave the school building and can go for lunch.  Completely unattended.  In Brooklyn.  I was a bit amazed that the school, never mind the parents, would ever go for such an idea.  I live in relatively small town suburbia, and parents here are CRAZY intense.  Helicopter parenting is mostly the norm, if not encouraged.  Parents direct every aspect of their children’s lives, friends, interests and activities.  Kids are placed into a LOT of activities because the general thought is that they must be active ALL the time.  They must be kept busy.  I have friends who have their kids in about 6 activities a week.  It looks exhausting, not only for the kids, but for the parents who have to drive to (and most attend) as well.  The idea that this school in NY would allow kids as young as 10 to just leave the building mid day and roam to a local restaurant unattended was something I struggled to fathom, but I was intrigued.

For those of you who follow my blog, you may remember I wrote a while back about how I was trying to let me kids have more freedoms, more independence, and promote a sense of self responsibility and good decision making skills.  It went swimmingly, until we had a falter when my daughter forgot to communicate she was going to a friend’s a few houses down and I couldn’t find her.  After that we had to place new rules and explain the communication process.  Things have been going really well, except that it got so hot the kids haven’t really wanted to venture outside too much, never mind riding bikes etc.  Hopefully, we will work on things more in the fall.

As we talked, E explained that the school allows the kids to leave, unattended for lunch, mostly due to a problem with overcrowding in the school.  There really isn’t enough room in the cafeteria.  She said the kids have a radius that they can go to, about 2-3 blocks, and their are crossing guards at the intersections (and to make sure the kids don’t go outside of the “zone”.  On those blocks, there are a bunch of restaurants the kids can choose from, they bring their own money, and buy lunch.  I thought about how this would fly where I live and giggled, because it never would.  After hearing the layout of their school’s plan, it seemed like quite a good one.  The kids have choice, are given responsibility, there are crossing guards to keep them in the general vicinity, and frankly, it was a great way to keep local businesses afloat.  E explained also that the principal is a very strong leader, explains the process to the kids very clearly, and they are fully aware that one misstep means they lose the privilege.  They haven’t had any issues, because the kids take the privilege so seriously, they don’t want to lose it.  Also, with the volume of people in the area, parents feel that the kids are far safer than wandering in the suburbs.

I explained to her my realization earlier in the year that there were so many things I knew how to do at a young age that my children have never learned, simply because they have never had to learn it.  Road safety, because I am always there to walk them across the road, for example.  All those little things, that really are big things, because I am always there to do it for them.  She said she had had the exact same realization, and it really bothered her.  The interesting thing was that with one of us living in the city, and one in the suburbs, we each had a different set of skills we realized we had never taught our kids because we’d always been there to do it for them. Also, the kids needed different skills based on their location.  For my kids, bike riding was more important, but for her kids, there wasn’t much of a good place for her kids to ride.  For her kids, navigating their neighborhood during rush hour was more important than for my kids, who don’t see a lot of traffic in our area.

Both of us have decided a change is in order, and we are working to give our kids more flexibility, responsibility, and more LIFE skills they can do without us.  While the skill sets may be different based on where we live and the needs that arrive from that, the mentality is the same. Our parents let us learn the hard way, on our own quite a bit, and it taught us good, solid lessons.  We weren’t hovered over and coddled.  We were treated as little people who had to learn to live in a complicated world.  I see moms on social media claiming their kids are never out of their sight, that they do EVERYTHING for their kids, and that they keep their kids in activities and busy every minute of the day.  Know what that tells me?  Those kids likely won’t be able to entertain themselves if someone isn’t telling them how.  Those kids will miss many an important life lesson.  Independence and self discovery is important!  If someone does everything for you, how do you learn to do it yourself?

I recalled the conversation I had with the police officer who came that day my daughter left for her friend’s without telling me where she was going.  I was honestly really, really frightened and questioned my decision to let her do more on her own. (And trust, there were the people who had to make nasty comments about what happened, but you know what? 0 craps given.)  The officer told me that I was doing a GOOD thing.  That kids should be outside playing.  He also said that one thing he runs into all the time are kids of helicopter parents.  He said these parents hover over their child’s every move, thinking they are doing the right thing.  He said that he sees the end result of that, where if a parent goes to the store and runs 10 minutes late back, the kids (old enough to stay home themselves) the kids freak out because they don’t know how to cope for a few moments outside of expectation when the parents aren’t there.  He sees a lot of kids without some basic life skills, because they have never been taught them or had to learn them.  When I recounted this to E she thought it was really interesting, and we discussed how true this probably is.

Statistically, we are at a time of lower crime, but more ways to communicate it.  Our kids in some ways are probably safer than we were when we were younger.  Yet parents are more protective and are helicoptering.  I have seen parents call their grown children out of work.  I have seen parents doing laundry for grown children.  How did we get here, where we are so focused on our children that we have stifled them?

One of the greatest feelings I had as a kid was the feeling of being trusted with responsibility.  I felt so grown up, and appreciative of any new independence, that I worked hard to keep the privilege.  As a kid, I flew overseas by myself!  I traveled 3000+ miles myself, with some oversite from the airline.  I arrived, got my bags, and found my ride.  I navigated airports like a pro.  When I traveled with my parents, they had me tell them where to go, what our next steps were, etc.  In time, I learned my way around our frequented airports, knew how to travel responsibly, and became comfortable that I could manage travelling on my own.  If I got separated from my parents, I knew I had a plan to stay safe and find help.  I knew road safety on my bike. I knew how to speak to adults, how to navigate my corner of the world, and even another area of the world.  I walked comfortably across town at 12 years old in a town overseas.  It saddens me that after being pushed to hover over my kids, I have neglected to teach them some life skills, not for not wanting to, but for not thinking of them.  Why? Because I handled everything for them.  The more I talk to people, the more I notice parents having the same revelations.  This year, I am going to teach my kids the process of navigating an airport and how to travel safely.  Time to let them fly, just not by helicopter parenting.

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When The Chickie Wanders

The other day, I wrote about our adventures with trying out more of the “free range parenting”.  That post is here: Let Them Be Chickens.  I’ve found it’s been super successful in teaching my children responsibility, street smarts, etc.  That being said, we hThe daad a wrench thrown in the process this past weekend, so in the interest of being open, I’m going to share it.  I’ve already been attacked for it, chastised, etc, but if I cared about any of that, I’d have different kids because I’d be raising them based off of everyone else’s opinions and not my own.  That’s not how this whole parenting thing works.

So this weekend, my daughter asks to go outside to play.  I was in my office doing something for work, so I said sure, and that would watch her out the window.  I watched her grab her scooter, her helmet, and start going up and down the sidewalk.  Up and down, up and down.  She came to ask me if she could go to a neighbor’s, and I told her no, not today.  I watched her scooter, do some gymnastics in the yard, then hope back on the scooter.  After a few minutes, I realized that I hadn’t seen her ride by.  I called her name, but got no answer.  I yelled louder.  No response. I went outside….and she was nowhere to be seen.

Utter panic set in.  I called for my son to check the house and the back yard. I went to the neighbor’s and asked if she was there.  She wasn’t.  I checked at another neighbor’s, and she wasn’t there either.  The neighbors called other neighbors, and within minutes, a group of people banded together to look.  I didn’t even hesitate…I called the police and my husband.

Now this was scary.  Worst case, had someone grabbed her?  That being said, her scooter was nowhere to be found.  My husband pulled in, along with the police, and I showed them pictures, gave a description.  My husband walked the street and saw her scooter in a neighbor’s driveway.  She was in their yard playing with a friend from school.  I don’t know the family, so I hadn’t thought to look there.  She was crying when she realized what had happened, how worried we were, and that the police were there.

Once she was home, she went inside the house, and the police officer asked to speak to me.

Some of what he said:

“Don’t be afraid to let them outside to play.
“What you are doing is correct.  If you helicopter over them, they will not learn to be self sufficient.  We see kids all the time that if their parent is 10 minutes late they become paralyzed with fear, because their parents haven’t taught them to be ok by themselves for a few minutes”
“It’s important to have a plan.  You have one, she just needs reinforcing on the plan.”
“The days of people driving by and snatching a kid off the street are pretty much long gone.”
“I know you’re freaking out right now, because things went awry, that you’re a bad mom.  You’re doing good. ”

So today, it has been an inside day.  My daughter learned a harsh lesson about being responsible and following the plan.  My standard of “You will get privileges as long as you are responsible with them” is in effect, so she will need to earn back her chance to go back outside to play with the neighborhood kids.  She apologized unprompted and explained that she had done the wrong thing in not communicating to me what happened.

Out of this scary situation, came some really positive things.

  • I have amazing neighbors.  Within moments, keys were grabbed, cars mobilized, and other neighbors called in to help look for my daughter.
  • I reached out to the neighbor who has the house where she was, and we have planned to schedule a playdate and to communicate if the kids are playing together.
  • I saw the very best of our police department.  They got here in moments, asked me quick questions, and banded together.  Once she was found, they talked me of the proverbial ledge and reminded me that we have to raise kids to be productive members of society.  They joked with me, each other, and when it was done, they gave me a thumbs up for how I handled it and left.  Super kind, and super efficient.  I couldn’t have asked for better.
  • I have some great family members who were supportive and understood what I am doing, why I am doing it, and that sometimes things go wrong.  No judgement, no hassle, just support.
  • At the end of the day, I have been pretty vocal about what happened.  Sure, there’s been those that judged or had some negative things to say.  Shrug.  I had fears of that before saying anything but at the end of the day, I own my choices of how I parent, and own who I am.  If people don’t like it, don’t follow my lead, and do you, boo.  I’ll do me.  I definitely am left feeling confident about owning who I am.

 

So, we excelled, we faltered, and now we begin again.  Lessons learned, and we were fortunate that out of a scary situation, a ton of positive results happened.  So we begin again, with a plan a bit more fine tuned.  Someone said to me “perhaps this is exactly the lesson she needed”.  I believe it is.  She learned a lot of lessons that day.  She learned about responsibility, about sticking to a plan, communication, and why all of that is so important.  I just need to reinforce all of those lessons going forward.

 

 

Summer Mommin’

So, in our house, it’s officially summer time.  Summer for me really doesn’t start until the last day of school, the first time grilling, and the first day I feel like I am dying from heat stroke.

This year, summer is a little different than usual.

Friday was the kids’ last day of school.  My son headed to a friend’s for an end of year party, and the little one and I headed to the annual beach party.  It was the first time I had gone.  I took the time off work, and we headed to the beach.  This year, the tone was a probably a bit more somber than in years past.  With the redistricting going on in our town, many families from our school were getting pulled out through no fault or desire of their own.  Other families I have known for years through school and soccer, like me, had kids leaving for middle school.  It was a day and time of transition. It was my first day at a school event as a member of the new ptsa board as well.  I was overwhelmed with the amount of parents who came up to wish me well, and to offer their help as the new board transitioned.  I was reminding what a great group of parents we have.  Of course, I now feel an even deeper sense of responsibility to keep the traditions alive.

Saturday was a family birthday party for my niece.  It was a really nice, relaxed atmosphere.  It was also, however, a reminder of how fast time flies, and how quickly the kids are all growing up.  The years are passing by so quickly, not only with my kids, but with the other kids in the family as well.  My nephew, who will be 10 is perilously close to being the same height as me.  How is that possible?  After her party, I fired up the grill to make one of my favorite dishes, and we as a family had an easy night in.

Father’s day came in, which started out busier than usual.  I am dog/house sitting for a neighbor, so I looked after the animals, cooked breakfast (2 lbs of bacon is no match for this family, apparently) and got loads of compliments on a new dish I tried.  We then attempted to assemble ourselves and head to an amusement park (yay for season passes!).  By the time we got there, it was late in the afternoon, but we had plenty of time to hit the water park for some lazy river relaxation and wave pool laughs.  It was relaxing, fun and the kids were thrilled.  My husband seemed to relax and enjoy the time.  I got talked into going onto the new coaster at the park by my son and husband.  I was terrified, and I hear there are videos of my screaming, but it was admittedly a ton of fun.  I surmise that those season passes will get used a couple of times as we battle a very hot beginning of the summer.

Again, we are still working on our beginnings of “free range kids”.  Time spent outside as much as possible, with breaks for cooling down.  My friend around the corner and I take turns texting when the kids are in transit.  They roam between the houses and play in the yards.  Bike rides, scooter rides, and kids just being kids.  I know there are kids who have been doing this for years, but I’m a suburban mom who has been told for YEARS how it’s just not the SAME as it was when I was growing up.  I was told that we need to keep the kids inside and not let them out unless we can be right THERE staring at them to keep them safe.  Meanwhile, I had kids who couldn’t do basic things like safely cross a street because they had never needed to, because I was always there.  Things I knew and did as a kid safely and easy, my kids couldn’t really do because they had never had to do them.  I had always been there to do it for them, and if I couldn’t do it, then they just didn’t learn it.  I started to have visions of my kids being unable to cross a street at 25, and I knew something had to change.

We are starting off small.  It’s hard for this mama to let go a little bit.  When I tell people what I am doing, I get “looks”.  No camp? No constant supervision at every moment and turn?  I get looks like I am mad.  How would I manage without someone to constantly monitor them?  Well, I say, we’re doing an 80’s summer.  A summer where there may be boredom, and you’ll have to think of things to do.  A summer of go outside and play with friends and nature.  I summer of reading, and playing with toys.  A summer of being a kid, but learning new responsibilities.  A summer of figuring out your own fun sometimes.  Sure I’m nervous, and I keep an eye out the window on them.  That being said, I have to teach them to be independent.  That’s what a good mother does.  Teach them to fly on their own, but be there when they need you should they fall. The hardest part of mommyhood for me is having these two little humans who carry my heart around, and going from doing every single thing for them to teaching them to eventually manage without me. There are always the lasts.  The last book you read to them out loud, the last time you bandage a cut before they just grab the first aid kit and do it themselves.  All those lasts, that you never know is a last until you suddenly realize they are doing it themselves now.

For now, I am hiding from the heat as best I can, prepping for a hot week.  There will be complaints of lack of stuff to do, but at least it should be minimal as they are just glad to be out of school.

 

 

Let Them Be Chickens

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So, it’s official.  I am officially on the PTSA board of our school as of today.  I am still wondering if I have done the right thing, and also just what I have gotten myself into. My default is to jump in with both feet, and have already been brainstorming some fundraising ideas.  I was told to relax, hold back, and take a “let’s see” approach.  That’s not really my style.  On one hand, I am chaos personified.  I’m the mom screeching into the parking lot at the last minute, but I get there.  I am the mom who gets it done, even if it doesn’t look pretty.  There is some method to my madness, and I usually need at least a baseline plan in place to keep the stress levels down.  I’m not very structured, but I need a basic idea of a plan to get started.  At the moment, I’m floundering and I feel dazed.  I’m not a fan. I will therefore sit back, and try very hard not to think too much about things.  It just won’t be easy.  I’m more of a doer than a not think about it type of gal.

After getting voted in, I was chatting with a mom friend about the changes, about summer, after school care next year for her daughter, and she asked how I manage to work from home when the kids are home.  She was surprised by my answer.

“Well, the older one will play video games or read and entertain himself pretty quietly, and the younger one plays outside or with the neighbor kids.  I’m trying this whole “free range parenting” thing out.”

She looked stunned.  The video game comment gave her pause and a raised eyebrow.  The free range parenting comment made her appear quite surprised.

The fact is, my son is an old soul.  He is extremely smart (way smarter that me, to be honest).  He’s responsible, a rule follower, and very mature.  (Not like me).  He gets great grades and is respectful and kind.  That, along with some chores, is his “job”.  As long as he is doing his job, and his grades are good, I don’t sweat the small stuff.  I let him play video games with his friends after school.  Sure, I keep the time down to a decent amount, but I let him play.  It’s a form of socialization, and he enjoys it.  It’s also sparked an interest in coding, which could be good for him.  He accompanied me to the apple store and jumped into a coding class there.  The instructor was very impressed with his knowledge and demeanor.  I may take him for more.  Currently, my son and his bike have disappeared down to the school to go hang out on the field/playground with his friends.  He has his sister’s ipod which has wifi, so he can text me if he needs me.  I’m only a few minute drive away.

The little one looks most forward to racing outside each day.  I can see her from my home office window.  I can call to her.  We have a system, and it works.  She never leaves the front of the house without telling me where she is going.  There are also a group of great kids in the neighborhood that she plays with.  The parents know each other, watch out for the kids, and text each other when kids are on route from one house to another.  It’s working.  I now have a happier child, who enjoys being outdoors and playing with friends.

For years, I have struggled with balance.  Work vs home, fairness  with the kids, and a constant battle of how their childhood is vs mine was.  When my son got older, my daughter was still 4 years younger, so it was easier to keep them both inside.  With my work schedule, there wasn’t any time to just hang with the neighbor kids.  Growing up, I raced home, did homework, and jumped on my bike.  I rode the back roads about a mile from my house to my best friends, and we would go back and forth between our houses, playing, riding, laughing, and making memories.  I did this when I was about 8 or nine.  My parents trusted me to do right, to call when I arrived, and to do be responsible.  And you know what?  I WAS.  I DID.  I called, and I was responsible.  I knew quite clearly that bad behavior, or not doing as I should would eliminate my freedoms.  Looking back, I believe my mom would drive the neighborhood to make sure I was safe and keep an eye on what I was up to.  I fell off my bike once and she was there in minutes, without a phone call.  (no cell phones when I was a kid, folks!).  Nowadays kids have technology at their fingertips.  Luckily they have ipods and the neighborhood is a wifi hotspot, so they can text me if they need me.  That’s more than I had as a kid.

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The fact is, kids were kids, but in many ways, we were more grown up than today’s kids.  We had more freedoms and we learned to handle those freedoms appropriately.  We learned responsibility.  We had street sense.  The small freedoms I received made me feel more grown up, and I behaved better.  Why? Because I didn’t want to lose the privileges I had been given!  Cause and effect is an important learning tool.

It occurred to me one day my kids might not really know how to cross the street safely.  As in, which lane cars drive in, where to look, how to listen for cars, how to double check.  I was horrified.  The fact was though I was always with them and guided them. I started teaching them more street sense.  How to manage if I wasn’t there.  How to be safe, and to help their friends be safe. I started taking them on bike rides, to learn the layout of the neighborhood, where cross walks are, and how to read the traffic signals.  It’s an ongoing lesson, but an important one.  I keep an eye on them, but I am allowing more freedom and choices their way as they get older.

I notice other parents doing the same more than before.  Maybe I’m just more in tune with it because giving the kids so much freedom is a bit daunting at first. The fact is, I am raising future adults.  I have to balance teaching them a healthy dose of reality (ie. stranger danger, car safety, etc) vs teaching them to be independent and responsible.  I need to teach them that outside is where magic happens.  Healthy habits, spending time in nature is good not only for the body, but for the soul.  Not to mention, they sleep AMAZINGLY now.

I’ll still be nervous.  I’ll still keep an eye on them when they don’t know I am watching.  At the end of the day though, this free range parenting, allowing the kids more freedom and responsibility has thus far been a good thing.  The better they do, the better I will do. There are parents allowing their kids to navigate the city by themselves, take the subways, etc.  I’m not there yet.  We’re keeping with the neighborhood and going from there.