As a Type-A, somewhat obsessive perfectionist, I never thought I would qualify as a free-range mom. Free-range parenting, to the uninitiated, means allowing your kids the freedom to explore their world independently and without a ton of intervention and hovering. In short, it's the opposite of helicopter parenting. It's also sometimes perceived by "the haters" as being lazy, permissive, irresponsible, and potentially dangerous. Out of necessity, I prepared a list of things all free-range moms should say to the haters when they come a-knockin'. Because, well, they probably will.
I find it mildly amusing how controlling I am when it comes to everything in my life except my children. I am the mom who feels so at ease at the local playground, she sometimes forgets she's supposed to be watching her 3-year-old son on that scary-ass slide that even the elementary school kids avoid. I am the mom who, when my kids were super tiny, almost always found time to shower because I was not afraid of leaving a toddler to crawl around a bit unsupervised (the doors were locked, we don't have a staircase, there were no toxic chemicals within arms reach). Sometimes I do the equivalent of suburban parents in the '70s and leave my apartment door open while my kids roam our hallway. "Come back before dinner!" I say, while keeping an ear out to make sure no one is screaming loud enough to cause a noise complaint.
The thing is, this is what works for me, but parenting styles are not one-size-fits-all. For example, one of my best mom friends is a helicopter parent, the exact opposite of the way I choose to raise my children, and we just laugh at our differences. She points out when she thinks I'm being way too laissez-fair,e and I do the same when I think she could consider a lighter hand. Her comments don't come from a place of hate or judgement, but rather, love for my kid. If you know me, and you're a true friend, then I think it is fine to add your two cents about my free-range parenting. However, if you're just hating from the sidelines, I've got a few things to say to you.
"I Will Not Be Joining The PTA, Becoming A Recess Aid, Or Lunch Monitor"
At the beginning of the school year at my son's new school I had considered becoming a recess monitor, which meant that I would get to attend lunch and recess for his class once a week. At first I thought it would be a great opportunity to get to know his classmates and observe him in his social environment, which didn't seem like the worst idea because this was, after all, kindergarten.
Then my husband and I talked about it and realized it didn't fit into our general approach to parenting. My presence at recess would not go unnoticed by our son, who tends to lean on me a lot when I'm around. We wanted him to have the freedom to explore his own social boundaries without feeling like there was a tether or safety in mom being right there. So while there was that initial temptation to go in and be a "Mommy Spy," I quickly snapped out of it and let him do his own thing.
"I Didn't 'Forget' To Put Locks On My Cabinets Or Stoppers In The Electric Outlets"
The haters may wonder where all the child locks, door safety thingamajigs, and outlet protectors in my house may be. Why? Well, because I do not have any. There was a brief attempt to protect my outlets when my son was a toddler, but then I ran out of the plastic plugs and then was like, "Oh well. If he sticks a finger in one, then he'll learn." I remember the feeling of licking the bottom of a warm telephone cable after I had unplugged it from a wall when I was about 2 or 3 and let me tell you: I've never licked another telephone cable since.
Of course, when my kids started being mobile I moved hazardous cleaning supplies and sharp objects out of reach, but I did not lock my drawers. I decided I would teach my kids not to play with the contents of whatever drawers I didn't want them to play with, and for some reason the Parenting Gods have graced me with this one thing and let it work in my favor.
"Yes, I Know My Kids Are Roaming The Playground Barefoot"
When my kids decide their feet are too sweaty to run around the playground in socks and shoes like normal folk, they hand me their shoes and go barefoot. When we leave, my children look like Mole People.
This is not my favorite practice because I am intensely averse to germs, but when it comes to wanting my kids to explore their world in a way that feels fun and exciting and liberating, I'll loosen up when I need to. Sure, there is the possibility of broken glass on the ground, but it is very rare, in my experience, in a kid's playground. In my nearly six years of playing barefoot in New York City playgrounds, we have not encountered any shards yet.
"I'm Honestly Not Worried"
I probably should be more worried about my son wandering off or getting lost in the crowd, given the adult-to-child ratio on school trips, but that's not the reason I want to go. I like going because I honestly just love hanging out with kids in the 5 and up age range, Yes, that includes my own kid, too. For the trips that I've been lucky to have been chosen to go, the teacher and I have worked out beforehand that I won't be sitting with my own kid on the bus because we both think it is better for him to socialize with a friend rather than me.
"If I'm Not Anxious About My Kid, You Shouldn't Be Either"
I appreciate you coming up to me to let me know my kid is all the way on the other side of the park, picking flowers with his friend while I'm over here on the slide with his little brother. Thanks.
However, you should have saved yourself the effort and the trip because he knows not to leave the park without me, and also, there is just one gate out of the park and it is behind me. Where is he going to go?
"No, I'm Not Lazy"
You might think that my style of parenting is lazy, but I say you're wrong. I am not lazy. I work hard to demonstrate a level of trust in my children and sense of independence that I feel meets their individual developmental stages. We talk a lot about what I expect from them and what their responsibilities are.
For example, when one of my kids said he wanted to go down the fireman pole by himself at the park, and none of the other moms were thinking their kids were ready for that particular piece of equipment, I said it was fine. I also let him know that if he was not careful and didn't think about where his body was going during every movement, he could hurt himself really badly. And if he hurt himself badly, he wouldn't be able to play anything at the park for some time. He was so very careful on that fireman pole and worked slowly and deliberately every time he went on it, often spending the better part of his park time working on his descent until he became King of the Fireman Pole. That exercise on my part as the parent certainly did not mean I got to check out. I had to watch him like a hawk throughout to make sure he didn't hurt himself and that he was acting responsibility.
"This Honestly Isn't Lord Of 'The Flies'"
Snore. I'm so bored of you likening my parenting style to Lord of the Flies. My kids do not run the show and I do not just let them dictate the course of the day. Free-range parenting means that while I will allow my kids to take their shoes off in the park, it doesn't mean they can just decide to throw their shoes at a bunch of kids because they live in a society without rules.
"Why Can't We Just Be Free To Be You And Me?"
It would be so nice if I could do my parenting style and you could do yours and we could just accept one another for who we each are. Occasionally I might have opinions about your constant hovering over your daughter as she sharpens her pencils in the kid-safe pencil sharpener. I will keep those opinions to a minimum or will try to only share them if you bring up your own concern about whether you're being too protective.
Honestly, you can do the same for me when I start to worry out loud that I'm doing my whole parenting thing wrong, too. However, on the days when we're both feeling good, and the kids seem to be doing fine, let's just leave each other (and each other's kids) be. Deal?