I just got done reading a great parenting book! It was Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry by Lenore Skenazy “America’s Worst Mom.” I loved this book for so many reasons, but mostly because she’s right. We need to stop worrying so much and start trusting our kids (and others). I also loved it because it’s researched and hilarious! If only more parenting books were as highly entertaining!
Free Range Kids is a book about letting go of our parental fear paralysis. It’s a book about the true facts on crime rates, murder rates, accident rates, death rates, etc, instead of what appear to be the high amounts of deaths each year caused from poisoned Halloween candy (the answer is none!). Overall, we have, thanks to our twenty-four hour news, been led to believe that danger is everywhere. We fear our neighbors, our teachers, our scout leaders, our check out clerks, and any strangers at the park. They “could” all be creepers, molesters, or even murderers. But, really, most of the time they are just normal people, people like yourself.
In each chapter of Free-Range Kids, Skenazy analyses some of the most commonly held fears of letting our kids do things alone, without parental supervision, and includes Free-Range Baby steps, brave steps, and giant leaps at the end of each chapter to help you overcome those anxieties and fears.
I have to say though, all the talk in this book about things that could happen, didn’t really help me feel better! She kept putting worse case scenarios out there, and sharing stories about real people, and it made me feel anxious! I can’t imagine what other parents must feel like who watch or read the news all the time. Thankfully, she used logic and statistics to help me calm down. But, I get it: as parents, as people sometimes, we always imagine the worse! Luckily, I’m a relatively low-stress, low-maintenance, low-worry individual, because. . .
I want to raise Free-Range Kids too.
I don’t know if you can tell from this little slice of our lives here on the blog, but my husband and I are pretty hands-off, laid back, type of parents. We don’t over-schedule, we don’t push our kids to do things they don’t want to do (within reason), and we don’t shoo them away from doing hard things. In fact, we greatly encourage independence in our children, give them lots of free range of the house (again, within reason), and let them do pretty much whatever activity strikes their fancy at the moment.
In fact, I am confident enough in my preschoolers, that I leave them to play at the Old Navy coloring table while I shop in store. I also let them play outside, in our unfenced apartment complex communal “backyard” without me there, and sometimes even in front “yard.” Last summer I let my daughters pedal their tricycle up and down the sidewalk out front. I’ve been letting my kids use scissors and make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’ve let them use a sharp knife to cut cheese. And they help me cook and stir on the stove. They no longer have to (though I still prefer it) hold my hand as we cross streets as they know to stop and look both ways. I let my daughters use the bathroom stalls by themselves (but they don’t always choose to), and many more little things. And they aren’t even four yet!
I do these things not because I’m lazy (though I am lazy sometimes), but because I trust my kids. And I am generally a trusting individual of others too. I just don’t buy into the fear tactics of our news outlets and newspapers. Most people are not crazies! They are just people I haven’t met yet. Most have good intentions, who I like to give the benefit of the doubt to.
I don’t want my kids paralyzed by fear either, thinking that they must have mom or dad always there holding their hand, wiping their butt, and pushing them in their tricycle or bicycle. They can do these things themselves. The more children can do for themselves, the more empowered they feel. It is when we as adults limit them, that they often get defiant and act out. They feel powerless. By hovering over our children, shielding them from, well, life, we make them incapable of doing things for themselves, let alone others. And I’m not okay with that.
I want my children to have the type of free-range childhood I had.
As a kid I roamed my neighborhood, played outside until the street lights came on, ran through people’s backyards playing night games, walked myself to parks, libraries, banks, schools, and Family Video. Plus, I rode my bike all over town, frequently riding down streets I had never been on before, just to see if I could try to get lost and find my way home again. I also loved riding my bike because of the sense of freedom it afforded me and the opportunity to think.
When thinking about my childhood, and all the great moments I had, moments that helped create the adult I am today, most do not include my parents (though this could be more of an indicator of the relationship I had with my parents…). A lot of these moments happened at sleep overs, girls camp, church activities, while playing sports, or participating in band. Some happened in my own backyard with my siblings or neighbors. The greatest moments though ultimately came when I was free to be uniquely me, with no parent stepping in or giving me that look or telling me not to say this or that. Real moments of growth came when I could gauge my own greatest against myself.
People often commented that I was mature for my age. As a teenager I was very self-sufficient and self-reliant. My parents never told me to do my homework, I just did it. My parents didn’t tell me to get a job. I just did (but mostly because I had to pay for everything myself). My parents didn’t tell me to go out for sports or extra-curriculars, I just did. I chose. Not my parents. Not my friends. Me. And that empowerment cannot come when parents shelter, overprotect, and try to control their children.
I want my children to go to the park and explore by themselves, unafraid of getting dirty, because mom isn’t there to roll her eyes or complain about how hard mud is to wash out of clothes. I want my children to enjoy the quiet outdoors, and feel God’s presence in it, without me telling them they should be able to feel it. I want my children to taste the sweet air of freedom and delve into their own unique personalities, their own selves.
Freedom, but not neglect
But, unlike how my parents raised me, I want to be more involved and knowledgeable of my children’s locations, who their friends are, and what they are up to. My parents were too hands-off and uninvolved, to the point where I often wondered if they cared about me, or loved me. I want my children to taste freedom, but know that they are tasting it because their parents trust them, not because their parents are too lazy to be involved. It means that I’ll make my children wear helmets when they ride their bikes (I never wore one growing up). It means picking my children up on time from the activities they have chosen to be in. It means talking to them about their friends, by their names. It means asking about their days and their life. I’ll do it because they need to know I care deeply about them and their lives, and want to offer freedom, but not neglect.
How have you learned to let go and trust your kids more? Do you want your kids to have the same freedom and free range that you did as a kid? Have you ever read Free-Range Kids?