I Can’t Seem To Find The Balance Between Free-Range Parenting And Neglect
A few months ago, I read the book Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy, and it changed my life. You know, the woman otherwise known as the World’s Worst Mom because she let her nine-year-old ride the subway by himself in 2008?
Up until reading this book, I felt totally overwhelmed by parenting. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love being a parent, but I have no clue if I’m doing it right. On top of that, everything you read is ultra-scary, i.e. your baby is going to die from SIDS, BPA, pesticides, choking, falling, and the list goes on.
My feelings can best be described in this Jim Gaffigan quote: “You know what it’s like having five kids? Imagine you’re drowning. And someone hands you a baby.”
Okay, okay, I don’t have five kids, only two. So parenting should be easy for me, right? Wrong. With all of the rules and dangers surrounding raising a normal kid, I felt totally in over my head. I suspected that there had to be an easier, calmer way, and the Free-Range Philosophy confirmed it.
Maybe life isn’t as scary as the CDC makes it out to be. Maybe, just maybe, if I don’t check on my kid every 15 minutes, he’s not going to die.
I really, really want to be a card-carrying Free-Ranger. But there’s a little more to the story. I was left alone a lot as a child. My childhood involved one crazy father, divorce, and a new step-parent.
My mom and I have worked to repair our relationship today, and I don’t talk to my dad anymore. My mom fully admits that she was disconnected as a young parent and didn’t know how to respond to the stress of my dad’s emotional outbursts that could probably be considered psychological abuse. In the midst of that storm, my siblings and I were an afterthought.
All that is to say that my perspective of childhood was feeling lonely, helpless, and pushed aside. I bottled up most of my emotions and just remember feeling very anxious the majority of the time. It would kill me if either of my kids felt that way.
As I try to loosen the reins on my kids in a semi-Free-Range style, I find myself hitting a wall over and over again. From what I read online, it’s perfectly normal to tell your kids to play by themselves to learn independence and self-entertainment.
But where do I draw the line? I’m sure that I’m overdoing it, but I have a very hard time encouraging my toddler to play alone because I have immediate flashbacks of feeling very, very lonely as a child.
This doesn’t mean that I hover over him nonstop, mind you. My husband also “gently” pushes for free play and independence so that we don’t have a clingy, sheltered kid on our hands. I totally get that free play is an awesome thing because my “independence” as a child made me more creative, driven, and good with people.
So, I’m trying. And it’s freaking me out every step of the way. I desperately want to be the mom that can tell my kids to ride their bikes to a friend’s house without batting an eye. (We live in a very safe neighborhood.) I also remember my parents allowing me to go wherever I wanted, within reason; I even traveled overseas on a mission trip for two months when I was 15.
But when it comes time to putting my money where my mouth is, I have no idea how to find the balance between the two. The example of Free-Range that I was given as a child was probably far too free. Or, maybe there wasn’t enough emotional connection there to balance out the independence I was given.
I don’t want to be a helicopter mom! I really believe that parents should have a balanced life outside of their children. We get a babysitter at least once a month, and we are about to go on a totally kid-free vacation for the weekend when our kids are only 21 months and five months old. (Woo-hoo!)
If I was sitting on a psychologist’s couch right now, he’d probably say that I need to heal some of my emotional wounds before I can have a clear perspective as a parent. On the other hand, I’d really love the perfect “Free-Range Recipe” that would tell me exactly how much freedom I can give my kids without screwing them up. If anyone has it figured out, please let me know.
(Photo: getty images)