Do you ever notice how empty all of the playgrounds are? Or even your neighborhood? Or if the playgrounds are populated have you noticed that the parent to child ratio is amazingly equal? Have you noticed that the play equipment is drastically different from the type of equipment we used to play on? Does anyone else miss the swings, merry-go-rounds, metal domes and tire swings? Where are all of the children? Why does everything related to childhood seem like it must be eliminated if it has any semblance of danger?
I have hesitated to speak on this topic for fear of, well, getting my head bitten off basically. As a parent I feel I live quite the parody. On one hand during the newborn/baby stage I am an extremely attached mother. I practice Attachment Parenting (wearing my child, sleeping with my child, breastfeeding my child, not letting my child cry-it-out to go to sleep, etc) and in the eyes of most mainstream parents that makes me quite overbearing. On the other hand when my kids (or should I say kid since I’m just barely on the road to doing this twice) reach toddlerhood I take gradual steps back to remove my constant companionship and guide them towards independence and self mastery. Sounds fine, right? However, apparently my concept of acceptable independence and self mastery is quite deviant from the accepted norm. So much so that I’ve just had to learn to keep my mouth shut most of the time in regards to the topic.
That’s why today I was shocked when a blog got passed my way that echo’s the same childhood ideals that I long to provide to my children as they grow. I didn’t even know the concept had a name. I had always just thought of it in my own head as childhood without a leash. It appears there is a more formal term and that term is Free Range Kids or Free Range Childhood. The blog I mention also goes under that title and is found HERE. Reading it has given me a bit more courage to address this topic.
So what are my own parental confessions that tend to get me the neglectful parent award? I’ll name just a few:
– I let my 3 1/2 year old take her baths by herself which equates to a drowning hazard. I do keep the door open but that’s about the extent of my supervision. Earlier tonight I heard a cough, cough, sputter. Do I jump up and run into the bathroom? Nope. I call out and ask, “You okay?” There’s a slight hesitation and then a “yeah, I just got some water up my nose.” Then she returns to playing.
-I allow my daughter to play outside in our backyard with a swing set and a kiddie pool by herself, which equates to a risk of kidnapping, drowning, broken bones and I’m sure some other creative disasters I haven’t taken into consideration. Sure, I can see her from the windows if I am looking but am I always looking? Admittedly, no.
-Sometimes she wakes up earlier than I am ready to get myself out of bed and typically she wakes up hungry. Instead of me bolting out of bed and finding her something to eat, I encourage her to go to the fridge and gets herself one of the self help items that she enjoys in the morning (a soft taco shell, a string cheese, carrots or a Ziploc baggie of dried cereal) and she eats it next to me in bed watching cartoons until I’m ready to get up and make her a real breakfast. I suppose that could equate to many various dangers such as a huge mess, suffocation (maybe she’d lock herself in the fridge – anyone remember that Punky Brewster episode?), a stab wound (perhaps she’d try to get a steak knife to open something) or even poisoning (eating really old leftovers).
-When my daughter gets hurt I don’t run to her (except on very rare occasions). There is usually at least one occasion per day where I hear my daughter crying because she’s hurt. I usually wait wherever I am for her to come to me and then I wait for her to tell me what happened. The only exception I make to this is when there has been an extreme hurt and usually that is very apparent because there is that scary quiet period where they are trying to breathe followed by a half cry/half scream that every mother is probably familiar with. In those cases I high tail it on over. I am also not a gasp mom. Do you know what those are? Those are the ones that have a high pitched breath intake that occurs with every bump, bruise and fall that their child encounters. Amazingly their children are well trained and on queue they can cry the moment they hear their mothers gasp. It reminds me of the whole Pavlov thing. I was one of those really mean moms that when my child was learning to walk instead of gasping every time she fell or running to her to pick her up I did the unthinkable. I clapped. Seriously. She fell; I clapped and said “yayyy!!” in an encouraging voice. The really weird thing is that after I started doing that she would smile and clap for herself and then stand back up and keep walking. If she ran into the wall or bumped into a table instead of gasping or looking worried I’d say “kaboom!” and smile. Now obviously if it was apparent that she was truly hurt I wouldn’t dare do that but I’ve rarely met a toddler that was truly hurt by a small collision with a wall or floor. I’m not sure what danger is posed by not running to your child when they are hurt or not gasping. I mean, they are all ready hurt. Your emotional stress only fuels more emotional stress on their part. For arguments sake, I suppose lack of immediately responding to your child’s owies would have to be filed under some type of emotional abuse or something of that nature.
-My daughter has free reign of the house. There are no off-limit rooms. She can play in the bathroom. She can go in the garage. She doesn’t have to ask to go in the back yard. Most of our days are spent with each of us doing our various activities and I don’t always know where in the house she is or exactly what she is doing. What are the danger possibilities? Endless.
-When we go to public playgrounds I don’t always watch what she is doing (because sometimes I am reading a book) and sometimes I can’t even see her if I am looking and that doesn’t freak me out at all. We have this really awesome park close to us called, The Playground of Dreams. And boy, it really is. I would have LOVED to play at this park when I was a kid. Unfortunately, we are not able to get any of our friends to go there with us. Why? Because the way the park was designed there are many nooks and crannies all over the playground where the kids can go and there is no way to see them unless you are literally walking behind your child. This makes my friends nervous and they worry about a sicko hiding in one of these blind spots just ready to pounce on their child. While it is entirely possible that it could happen I just don’t find it likely enough to worry about.
So, do I consider myself a lazy, neglectful, uncaring mother? Absolutely not. To be honest I feel that I am very in tune with my daughter and very involved in her life. I can say without a doubt that I know my daughter better than anyone else on this planet with my husband coming in as a close second. Are there things that I allow in my house and/or in her childhood that could cause her harm? Yes, admittedly so. In the end, the simplest way to put it is that I don’t view it as my job to sanitize or pad my daughter’s existence to such an extent that our lives are spent constantly evaluating “what if?” situations. I feel many of the things that parents seem to fear the most are sensationalized far above and beyond the true risk that is actually posed; it is because of this opinion that I stand quite alone amid a population of parents that choose a “better safe than sorry” path.
I am, admittedly, biased. I grew up with a lot of freedom and a lot of responsibility. I did things at the age of 8 that it seems like most teenagers these days can’t even do for themselves. Like wash my own laundry, make my own lunch, find my own entertainment, etc. I even walked a mile each way to the bus stop in the morning and in the afternoon. I wasn’t alone, either. Every other kid in my neighborhood was expected to do the same thing. As I got older, I did even more. I watched over my brother and his friend. My friends and I (usually my brother tagged along and some of my friends’ siblings as well) walked all over the place in the summers to go swimming by ourselves, or to play in the lake, woods or the creek. I was able to take the city bus with my friends and we’d explore the town, go to the mall or ride it just for fun. There was even a local “crazy lady” that was always on the bus and we were mean kids and did things to try to antagonize her craziness. Usually she cast a spell on us. In short there were a million conceived risks that could have occurred to either myself, my brother or the dozens of other children who lived their summers the same way we did. But we all survived and I don’t think it was out of sheer luck. I also didn’t grow up in the 50’s, 60’s or even the 70’s. I grew up in the 90’s. It really wasn’t that long ago and no, I don’t believe the world is that much more dangerous than it was back then. I believe children are more capable of self preservation than we give them credit for and I think the world, while a dangerous place in many ways, is less of a danger to our children than we make it out to be. So even though I know my opinion is not widely accepted and is typically frowned upon I am willing to stand forward and be counted among those who would like to see kids be able to live a more free range childhood. I am one of the parents that want to say that kids get hurt, they break bones, they get bruises and bloody noses and no, you can’t sue people for it. Bring back the swings, the merry-go-rounds and all other things that were fun and let your kids play – and no, you don’t always have to watch.