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Sometime the universe starts pointing a certain direction and you can’t help but notice. First, I answered a Mouthy Housewife question about giving a 12-year-old more freedom. Then a friend sent me an article from The Atlantic about The Overprotected Kid.

And then there is my own 9 1/2 year-old. A year ago, she wrote a list of things she wanted from mom and dad and wrote “freedom.” Yes, a smoothie came first but let’s remember just how delicious a smoothie is. She got the smoothie. She still wants more freedom.

For many of the parents I talk to, there is a desire to give kids more freedom but there is also the terrifying fear of not wanting anything awful to happen to them. A generation ago, parents also did not want anything terrible to happen to their kids but they felt safer. Why? Probably because media wasn’t constantly in their lives.

My kids and your kids are just as safe in the world. Yup. It’s true. U.S. violent crime rates have dropped almost 50% since they reached a high in 1992. A child who gets abducted is still a very rare occurrence.

But somehow it just doesn’t feel that way. We think, “What if I was the parent of 6-year-old Etan Patz?” In 1979, Etan disappeared in NYC while walking alone to the school bus. And the constant media barrage of high profile abductions (kids we feel like we truly know like Madeleine McCann) makes us feel like our kids are in grave danger.

They just aren’t. So don’t we need to give our kids a little bit more freedom to play, to experiment and to skin their knees so they will have the necessary skills to succeed in this world? Do any of us gain confidence by someone hovering over us and telling us what to do constantly? No. I gain confidence by trying things out until I succeed.

So where is the balance between watching our children at all times and letting go just a little bit so they can thrive? There must be a middle ground. I have been thinking about how do give my 9-year-old more freedom without having a complete panic attack myself.

I recently offered to let her and her 7-year-old sister go the library portion of our art museum to pick out books (with their own library cards) while I stayed with my younger children in a kids play area. The 7-year-old wanted none of this alone time but the 9-year-old loved the idea.

I’ve let the two of them go into our UPS store and ship a package for me. I’ve let them walk down the street and bring back younger kids from the neighborhood to play in our yard.

I let them play in the backyard while I’m upstairs and paying no attention. Have you noticed the creativity that ensues when kids don’t feel watched? My girls (7 and 9) and our neighbors  (9 and 12) climbed a tree and hung a rope swing while I was upstairs changing Cash’s diaper and helping the twins with something. For real.

Dylan swinging on rope

I guess any one of them could have fallen from the tree. But I can’t keep my children in a golden lockbox and then release them at 18 and expect them to soar.

I don’t think there is any perfect age to let your child do certain things on their own. Because every child is so different. One kid might be ready to walk home from the school bus stop alone at age 7. Another child might need another year.

And it also depends on where you live. Certainly some neighborhoods are safer than others. But I think we do have to be aware that sometimes our “perception of danger” is really just a perception and not the true reality.

And maybe as a mom you enjoy picking your kid up at the bus stop and that’s great too. That might be a special time together. So you’ll enjoy meeting your child each day and giving him or her other freedoms.

I guess what I’m proposing is that maybe we can’t hold on so tightly. I’ve felt judged for being “overprotective” and as a mom, I’m certainly a work in progress. I’m sure by the time my 5th is a tween, I’ll be letting him drive the minivan. You know, as long as he’s careful.

I don’t think I’m overprotective but I’m not laid back about their safety either. I know in high crowd situations, I keep my kids very close. At our pool club or in our neighborhood, I feel more relaxed. I take one situation at a time.

When I recently took all 5 of my kids to the art museum,  I realized I had left the sweatshirts in the car – a necessity in the arctic inside temperature. I asked my daughter Dylan if she wanted to go get them for me. She was elated with the responsibility. Yes, I watched from the lobby as she carefully made her way through the parking lot to the car and retrieved the sweatshirts.

I didn’t feel panicked. I didn’t feel stressed. I felt proud. And so was she.

22 Responses to finding your own free range parenting

  • Susan Kintner says:

    A magnificent post. Parenting is challenging and, as you say, it is all about balance. Your kids are lucky to have you as a mom. Mom

  • Jodi says:

    Love this and love you! Whenever I or anyone ask the boys what their favorite thing about sleepaway camp is? First response is always “freedom”.

  • bitsy says:

    Yep! It’s getting harder and harder to let kids grow up. There is so much pressure from all angles to manage and protect every minute of their lives, but we have to resist or we’ll end up with spineless, wimpy, pathetic adults. Every one of my friends thought I was crazy to let my 18-year-old go work in another country, but it was an incredible experience for her and I would not prevent her from seeing the world and growing as an individual, which is what she did!

  • Alex says:

    I’m so glad you wrote about this because I think about it all the time. We just started letting Noa walk to her friends’ houses down the street by herself. I have to stop myself from going secret agent and following her, dipping behind trees and parked cars so that she can maintain her dignity. Never mind about mine. Meanwhile I’m pretty sure my mom was letting me ride my bike halfway across our neighborhood to my friend’s house when I was 5.

  • Lisa says:

    ” I can’t keep my kids in a golden lockbox then release them at 18 and expect them to soar!”
    Love this. I am not a parent but I work with HS students and am constantly amazed at their abilities to go and do and have such respect for parents that have allowed their kids to fail, to soar, to make their own decisions. Roots and wings is my thought and how I mentor them.
    I remember a friend’s daughter who wanted to go to the mall with friends at 10 or 12..um no….BUT you can go with us and we will wait for you and drink coffee and sit in a central spot and you will call us every 15 minutes to tell us where you are and you will stay with your friends….and no one died! And now at at almost 20 she is an amazing independent young woman who can make her own decisions and has such a great relationship with her parents and as a college student knows when to call and ask for help.
    From my perspective parenting is HARD WORK and I respect you and applaud for all that you do.

  • daphne says:

    It really was a great article — and I’ve been thinking about it alot, and about the type of people I want my kids to become. Remember Dory’s brilliant words from Finding Nemo “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.”

  • Kate says:

    French Twist by Catherine Crawford and Bringing Up Bebe (aka French Children Don’t Throw Food) by Pamela Druckerman are good reads. Apparently the French establish very concrete boundaries for their kids (to ensure safety, good manners and most importantly…a mature palate) but then allow a lot of freedom within them. Haven’t yet worked out how to execute this idea in my own parenting (and the boy is still only 9 months old!) but I’m hopeful. There are some French folk who stroll about in my neighborhood that I’ve been stalking lately. Stay tuned.

    Lenore Skenazy certainly hit the nail on the head in my opinion. Note: No children were actually hit on the head with a nail. Kelcey, perhaps you should start a “take your kids to the park and leave them there” day. At the very least, you’ll be the talk of the town!

  • Honest Mum says:

    Adored this and will bookmark for 3 years time (is that even possible?)-I interviewed a leading psychologist Karen Pine on my blog http://honestmum.com/wonderful.....chologist/ who says this,

    “Read Judith Harris’s work. She’s shown that parents aren’t as important or influential as we’re led to believe. The current zeitgeist makes parents believe that their every move will shape their child’s future. It won’t. Once we accept that, we can stop feeling guilty about not being the perfect parent!

    … A bit of healthy neglect is good for kids. Hands-off parenting teaches children self-responsibility, independence and gives them an internal locus of control. The more we, as parents, do for our kids the more we undermine the development of those important life skills.”

    Thanks for this fabulous post!

  • beachgirl says:

    It’s a fine line and one I walk every day. I am trying so hard to give my 8 year old some freedom but I am taking baby steps. I will park outside our local store and let her go in and order a bagel etc while I wait outside in the car BUT I can see her through the door at all times. It works for both of us. I know she is safe and she feels so grown up. She has gone on her first sleepover – major step for me and I didn’t get any sleep but neither did she – not for the same reasons as me though :).. I think in this day and age we need to keep a closer eye on our kids but we still don’t want to release them into the world at the age of 18 with the umbilical cord still attached. Its hard and it makes me want to tell all the moms with babies in strollers that you think this is hard but its not as hard as when they get out of the stroller and start asking ” can I sleep over at such and such house?” Sounds like you are doing a great job!

  • Mynde says:

    While the physical world can be a rather safe place for kids, especially just playing outside, it seems to me that the real danger is coming from the Internet. And the millions of small devices we give our kiddos with instant access to the plethora of ways they can get into trouble. Thinking an iPod was safe enough, I opened the door to a whole other form of evil for my child without even realizing it. Snap chat, Instagram, Facebook……and just the Internet in general. Our kids are better off running the streets unsupervised and surfing the web unsupervised :0) Just adding my observations- I’m am right with you on getting them back to just playing. Breaking an arm falling from a tree means they are healthy enough to be outside playing!!!

    • Kelcey says:

      Thank you for making this point. I totally agree. And every minute they are outside playing is one more minute they aren’t on those devices!!

  • Joanna says:

    I’m happy you wrote this. I was talking to my six year-old as we drove by my old childhood neighborhood and I was showing him where our neighborhood tree house was, where there used to be a bull I’d go pet, the greenbelt I used to play in. And I told him I did a lot of exploring as a kid, he asked me why can’t I go explore? And I kind of wanted to cry, that’s an important part of growing up, makes your brain think, and I’m too scared to let him go. I need to let him go, even if its little, he needs to explore the world without the watchful eye of me. It’s scary…

  • Angie says:

    Soooooo glad you brought this up. “You can cripple a man by never allowing them to walk”.Our job as parents is to allow them to become the people they are and that means allowing mistakes, failures, and successes. We are their safety net of support and need to let them fall so they know they have the ability to get back up again.

  • British American says:

    Yes! Well written. 🙂

    My 3rd grader asked when she can walk home from school, since 3rd grade seems to be the age around here where other kids are. Luckily I also have a Kindergartener who can’t walk home alone, so she doesn’t get to yet!

    But we did just extend their boundary for riding their bikes outside – they (ages 6 and 8 (9 in June)) are now allowed to go to the end of the block together. I remember loving riding my bike alone as a kid, though I have no clue how old I was. I like that they have each other to look out for the other. 3 year old not allowed outside on his own yet though.

  • amanda says:

    This is a huge issue that I struggle with. I want my kids to be independent and make good decisions, but I have a hard time letting them learn how to do that because of my fear of danger.

    Great advise:) thank you.

  • When I was six I was left to get myself ready and off to school by myself. Sometimes I wonder why my kids can’t do that????? I’m trying to find a good balance between free-range and being called by the CPS. I love this post and honestly I think it’s been so far one of the most challenging parts of parenting. xoxo

  • Melanie says:

    Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t easier for us with larger families. Out of necessity, I have let my older girls do things on their own, just because it is easier than trying to drag everyone everywhere…

  • Kristena says:

    Thank you for writing this… A friend of mine just posted a missing persons piece in their fb page the other day asking why a 10 year old was walking down the street. My response? Because she was 10 and could and should. The media is overwhelming at times and can make scary situations even scarier.

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kelcey kintner