I'm not a helicopter mom, but I'm not exactly a free-range parent either. I like to think of myself as safely ensconced somewhere in the middle. I insist on certain safety measures, like car seats and helmets. I prefer to keep my 2-year-old in my sight line, but not necessarily within arm's reach. But I also think it's important for her to learn to make her own choices, deal with natural consequences, and, eventually, trust herself. For that reason, and a few others, I let my toddler play outside unsupervised. Frankly, folks, it's amazing.
I'm best described as an "indoorsy" kind of person. I'm allergic to everything under the sun, and I really hate being in any way uncomfortable. I put cold on the top of that list. The past few months, it's been a convenient excuse for not going outside to play, but living in sunny Texas, it's starting to wear thin — especially with a toddler keen on playing in the backyard. I'm not sure how I discovered this, but I recently realized that she's pretty OK out there on her own. Ever since then, we've maintained the same daily routine. After nap, she brings me her shoes and heads outside to run around with the dog, draw on the patio with chalk, and play with her outside toys. Every day. Until dinnertime.
At first, I was hesitant to share with anyone that I was allowing my child to play outside by herself. Was I being selfish? Neglectful? I don't think so. In my opinion, what's more dangerous than the possibility of injury or abduction is what's lost when kids spend all their time in front of screens. When you take reasonable precautions, autonomous outdoor time can be completely appropriate for toddlers. So with that in mind, here's why I won't be making an apology anytime soon:
A little fresh air every day is good for my kid, body and soul. While she's outside exploring, she's learning about the world and developing an appreciation for nature. The unstructured, creative play in which she engages boosts her development. According to Early Childhood News, outdoor play is associated with physical benefits as well as cognitive and social-emotional ones.
It's not like I let my 2-year-old toddler have free reign of the neighborhood. My kid plays in our fully fenced backyard, and we have a combination lock on the gate. Anything potentially dangerous is locked up in the shed. Beyond that, we live in a one-story house with an open floor plan and windows all along the back, so I can have eyes on her most of the time.
OK, so my miniature Schnauzer isn't exactly Lassie, but he'll let me know if something's amiss or someone isn't where they should be (even if that someone is a kid who dares to walk home from school down our street). He's a terrific playmate and while he "herds" my kid, he'd never hurt her.
My child is not a wobbly 15-month-old with a 10-word vocabulary. She's a 32-month-old preschooler who is solid on her feet and can communicate basic wants and needs. Like most 2- and 3-year-old kids I know, she's resilient AF (unless, God forbid, she gets wet, in which case all bets are off).
Every five minutes (no, really), my daughter pokes her grass-covered head in the door and says, "Hi, Mommy. I play outside. You stay here house." My skills are occasionally required for the kissing of boo-boos, but otherwise, she's right back out there. If I haven't seen or heard from her, it's easy enough to poke my head out the back door.
My daughter is careful by nature. I would hesitate to let my niece play alone outdoors because she is a Mack truck hellbent on destruction, but I know my own child. The kid does a full recon of slides before she'll go down them and, then, she does so on her belly. So I have a reasonable expectation that I won't find her on top of the patio table.
Like every mom I know, I am one busy lady. I'm a stay-at-home mom with two side hustles and a husband who leaves before dawn and returns home around bedtime. Let me tell you, it is so much easier to chop an onion, fold laundry, or write a blog post without a tiny human tugging on my shirt and saying, "Mommy, I help you?"
The other day, I looked out the window and found that my little girl had dragged her camping chair to the edge of the patio and was sitting in it eating her crackers and perusing an Oriental Trading catalog. If that's not a parenting win, then I don't know what is.
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