I was at a playground when I first understood the concept of a free range parent. We were fortunate enough to live within walking distance to a community centre where there was a free indoor playground. If the weather was bad, I would pack my two kids up in the double stroller, do my best to secure the rain cover, and make the trek in my hunter boots to the small room with rubber floors. I would park the stroller, carry my son in his bucket seat, grab all of our valuables, and bunker down to watch my then one-and-a-half-year-old daughter attempt to navigate the play structure. Being one of the youngest there, she struggled to climb or master any of the obstacles before her. Welcoming the momentary reprieve from parenting two under two, I watched as she fumbled, but persisted. Her lack of distress was indication that she was okay unsuccessfully trying to get her bearings. From my place on the periphery, I saw other parents flail their arms around their kids as if they were attempting to conjure up a force-field around their kids. What was funny is their kids had a better handle of the play structure than my daughter. Also, the play room had an occupancy and age limit (no more than ten at a time and children had to be 5 years or under). The likelihood of them being hurt was very unlikely. Nevertheless, parents and grandparents were within arms reach at all time, frantic, breathless, vigilent. Their gaze only left their own children when my daughter would fall. A look of judgement would be shot my way as if to say, “This was preventable, you know.”
It was one of those times that I sent a text to one of my best friends. “You should see the parents here. I am the only parent sitting on the sidelines not trying to pad my daughter with bubble wrap.”
“Ha. Helicopter parents,” She shot back. “They’re crazy.”
“Goodness me. If that’s a helicopter parent, then I’m certainly the opposite.”
A Free Range Parent I was and a Free Range Parent I was proud to be.
My kids are allowed to live their lives scraping their knees and climbing trees, jumping from rocks and running up the slide. They deserve the license to negotiate the rules of play with their peers. In fact, I feel scraped knees, sweaty matted hair, dirty finger nails, and farmers tans as badges of honour. They are signs of a day seized, a summer experienced.
Recently, we moved from an apartment into an actual neighbourhood. There are young families, lawns, and all the makings for friends, fun, and free reign outside. In theory, that is. Though I have loved the ease of just heading out our door and walking to the park, or having front and back lawns to play on, I haven’t exactly been the free range parent I thought I was. Sure, I’m great about giving my kids the autonomy to navigate and negotiate their way around the playground. But, I have found myself in quite a dissonant place.
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There are neighbours across our cul-de-sac that my kids just love. Unlike my kids, this brother-sister duo is a little older and have a lot more liberty than my kids. They play outside pretty much all day by themselves. Their parents set out rules, let the kids out, and then peak through the window from time to time. The first time I saw it, admittedly, I was aghast.
Didn’t they know their kids could run off, get hit by a car, or get into some sort of unsupervised trouble?
My Free Range Parenting Fallacy
But my kids got a sense of their peers’ freedom and wanted a version of the same for themselves. I restated our rules. They were allowed to go up to the mailbox and back. And, I had to be outside with them always. The mailbox is about 10 yards away from our driveway along a sidewalk. Since then, almost everyday I have seen our neighbours’ kids out, and each day my kids have implored me to let them free. Instead of relinquishing control, I’ve reiterated rules, reminded them to stay close, and been right near them. The result has been anything great.
Meanwhile, I actually believe in free range parenting. I’ve read posts about how to give your kids a 1970s summer and how our playdate society is sad and limiting, nodding my head the whole way through. I’ve shared these articles all over social media like they’re gospel. Talk about hypocrisy. The strict rules have set me up for failure. They have been resisting and rebelling whenever they find an opportunity.
The rebellion actually makes sense. Their go-to, aside from fighting, has been pressing the garage door opener and running outside without permission. Lately, the best case scenario has been the When they I needed to change things. And so, I’ve been trying to find a new balance. At three and four-years-old, my kids are too young to be out of the house completely unsupervised (there is a busy street perpendicular to our cul-de-sac), but I’ve backed off greatly. Now, I lather them in sunscreen, remind them not to go on the road, and let my kids go. I need to be able to see them wherever they are in our neighbourhood, but other than that, they’re free.
Letting go continues to be a process for me. I have to constantly remind myself of the benefits. But I have to say, thanks to the parents across the street, my kids are happier, more compliant, and are more active than before.