Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Home on the Range

Did you ever have a point in your life where you read/heard/saw something that just put your whole world in perspective? A moment after which you felt you couldn't turn back? God help me for the reference, an honest to goodness Oprah AH-HA moment?

I have.

Amy, y'all might know her as fraught, lent me a book the other day. It's called Free Range Kids, by Lenore Skenazy. It is all about how we are holding back and stifling our kids by over-protecting them. As I read it, I felt I had found my parenting soulmate.

It is all about how we are paralyzed by fear. How we unnecessarily shelter our kids and the damage our "protection" brings. Maybe I just love it because she is, in this case, preaching to the choir. I have spent many years (read 11- 10 parenting and 1 pregnant) being told I was a "bad" parent. Often with a smile but always with the undertone that I was just not caring enough because if I did care, you see, I would helicopter around my kids, sheltering them from harm.

Instead, I've always taken the stance that I value self reliance. If they can do it themselves, maybe they should. And every once in a while, someone might fall down. They might even get hurt. If we spend our whole parenting experience protecting our kids from any failure whatsoever, they are utterly unprepared when they do fail, as we all do eventually, if not regularly.

Reading the book, I felt emboldened. No, I wasn't a slacker all these years. I was instead refusing to bend to crazy levels of "safety." From here on out, I was going to [totally lifting from the book] world proof my kids rather than child proof the world.

So I've started to do some crazy things. My kids are cooking by themselves - with the stove. They are packing their own lunches. They are learning to do laundry. I have set them loose with kitchen knives. Just today I sent Eion into Tinnell's alone to pay our bill.

They love it.

If their reaction was not enough to convince me, I've been talking to people about the free range kids concept. One of the teachers told me a story about how, on a field trip, they were out to eat and a 5th grader was horrified that she had access to a butter knife. She was 11 and had never used a knife. Are we raising responsible someday-adults or Howard Hughes?

And the reaction around me has been interesting as well. I was at the bank with E [aside: don't let me forget to post about a not free range kids part of that trip later] and he was playing with a rubber band he found. I told him to stop it as he was going to wing it at either me or the branch manager. He asked if he could go outside with it. My initial thought was no but I quickly changed my mind. "Sure," I told him, "just stay on the bricks and don't go into the parking lot." Almost immediately, a teller came up to me, panicked, asking, "Do you know your son is outside?" Her panic turned to confusion when I told her, of course - I sent him there.

At the mall today, Eion wanted to look at some Angry Birds hats at one of the (annoying) kiosks outside the stores. I sent him on his way and told him to meet me back in the store when he was done. The cashier told me (again with the panic) "Your son left the store!" When I explained that I knew that and he would come back when done she just looked at me like I had lost my ever-loving mind.

My mind, thankfully, was fully intact. But what I knew was that he, realistically, was in very little (or no) danger being at a kiosk right outside the store. Lord knows if anyone did try to kidnap him, E is one loud fella. And really attached to his Mommy.

It's a little radical. But I think my kids will be better off for the freedom. I remember working at the used clothing sale the PTA had last spring. I was manning the checkout and a Mom and her daughter came up with several items. I asked the little girl if the dress they were buying was for her. She did not answer and refused to make eye contact. Her Mom, very proudly, told me how she had trained her daughter not to talk to strangers.

How utterly freaking sad.

This little girl had been raised to think the world was so full of danger that she couldn't talk to an adult even when her Mom was right there to prevent kidnapping or whatever the hell else her Mom thought might befall her.

I'm not going to raise kids afraid of anyone that has not been fingerprinted and background checked. Kids who bathe in Purell and won't ride their bikes up the street. Kids who are afraid of butter knives.

So if you see three kids unattended in our cul de sac, those are mine. And yes, I know they are in the street.


  1. Way to go Katie. We need to learn how to deal with, what some call "dangers".
    The only way to learn the concept of "hot" is to touch it.
    Dirt in the garden will not kill you, it might simply taste bad.
    In the end, exposure to germs makes you stronger.
    Stangers are simply people you have not talked to before!
    Keep it up. Henry (Dad).

  2. Totally agree! (I must get myself a copy of this book.) Our preschool teacher used to call it "helicopter parenting". I've always thought most kids that are being raise with hovering parents seem so miserable...not to mention they are usually miserable to be around as well. :D

  3. Well said Katie! Homeschooling, free ranging... what will be next?? Raising chickens perhaps? ;)

    I love the world-proofing one's children concept.