There are a lot of parenting styles.
Some have catchy names like attachment or slow parenting, which to me conjures up images of children being put in a Crock-Pot. It’s a very unsettling visual. My favorite is the free-range parent. This type of child rearing was in the news a lot recently when a Maryland couple was cited by child protective services for letting their 10- and 6-year-old walk to and from a park that was a mile away from their home.
The parents’ reasoning for their free-range approach was that it was how they were brought up and they want to raise independent children.
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Here’s my take on free-ranging. It’s lame. In fact, I’ll go so far to say that I think free-ranging is just a cutesy name for lazy, except who wants to admit that they’re a lazy parent? Pretty much no one, and free-range sounds so, I don’t know, Whole Food-sy, like it’s all organic and good for you. Plus, it gives you a nifty soapbox to stand on as you puff out your chest and declare that independent child nonsense.
What these moms and dads really should be confessing is that they want to read a book, binge on a Netflix series or get some work done. No, scratch that. They could do all that on their iPhone 6 while at the park with their kids.
So, I’ll share my opinion that these parents want their children to leave them the hell alone, thus they call their nonparenting free-ranging so they can feel good about foisting their kids off on other parents.
Yeah, that’s right: foisting, because most free-range kids, not too happy with being left alone, seek out the companionship and security of other families. Any mother who has been with her kids at a park, swimming pool or even her own neighborhood is acquainted with the free-range child.
This is the lonely child who sees a family and come over and ask to play or partake of the snack being handed out. They glue themselves to you until you have to leave and yet you stay as long as possible because you are alarmed these children are by themselves.
At the pool it’s even worse because you fear for their safety without a parent keeping an eye on them while they’re in the water. (Quick note to all parents: A lifeguard is not a babysitter.) You even start packing extra snacks for the kids because you know they are being left unattended for hours at a time.
Free-range kids in your neighborhood are a little different story. You know them and you know their parents. You also know on the weekends and in the summer they ring your doorbell at 8 a.m. and would stay forever if you would let them. When you casually mention to their mother that her darling is “sure enjoying hanging out with your family for 14 hours a day” the standard reply is, “I know. Isn’t it great we live in such a kid-friendly neighborhood.”
Yeah, the kid-friendly thing is great all right and the whole “it takes a village” is an awesome concept, but you didn’t sign up to be a free nanny and your own kids are enough to handle without raising another one.
As for the whole back-in-the-day argument that goes something like this: “We left on our bikes in the morning and didn’t come home till we got hungry at night and look, we turned out fine.”
Let me run this hypothesis by you. I would like to propose that the reason parents today are so, let’s say protective, is because we spent our childhoods scared to death. Seriously, the things I did as a child I would never allow my kids the “freedom” to do. No way. No how.
Another flaw in the back-in-the-day scenario is that the world has changed. By letting your child roam, you are not doing your part to restore America to the sensibilities of the Andy Griffith show. Aunt Bee is not home cooking pies. She’s running ConAgra.
For sure, I will admit parents today are hovering and helicoptering. We have our kids in a stranglehold that we like to tell ourselves is just a great big hug. Or is it just me who does that?
But letting your kid free range is not the answer, primarily because childhood is exceedingly short, most especially the days when your kid would love nothing better than go to the park and hang out with you. These moments shouldn’t be shunned, pushed off on others or used as a teachable moment in independence. They should be savored because in a blink they’re gone and soon things like a phone will replace you as your child’s constant and steadfast companion.