Thursday, May 22, 2008

Free-Range Parenting; Free-Range Kids

Ever heard of it? Me either, until my blogging pal Annie wrote about it today. So I did what any self-respecting parent would do---I googled it. Here is what I found: Free-range parenting is a concept whereas parents live responsibly (seat belts, helmets, airbags, etc.), but do not restrict their child's actions out of fear.

I agree with Annie that most of us (40-50 somethings) were raised with the “free range” mentality—there simply wasn’t a label yet. My parents loved me. I don’t doubt it a bit, but they NEVER had a chart on the refrigerator to “track” my grades nor did I EVER receive a sticker for completing my chores. They made it to “most” of my softball games when it was convenient and fit their schedule and yes; I rode my bicycle to many practices, play dates and extra curricular activities (without a helmet, no less). Their lives included me, but didn’t “revolve” around me. I ran in the woods with the neighborhood boys, I played “king of the mountain” with a rusty knife and I smoked a cigarette with the naughty girl across the street. Consequently, I not only have lived to tell the tales, but I have NO sense of entitlement. I don’t expect my boss to overlook when I am late, I don’t expect someone else to make sure I have my lunch, I tend to take chances that have brought great joy to my life, and I don’t tend to blame anyone, but myself, when I screw up.

I remember when our (now 19 year old) son was asked to play on a travel baseball team. My husband and I sat him down and with all the love we could muster announced (in our best Dr. Spock voice) that sometimes the “good of the family outweighed the good of one member” and that traveling all summer long would be both arduous and financially rigorous for our family. We lived with the disagreeing stares from his friend's parents. Weren't we AFRAID that Chad would NEVER get playing time in high school if he didn't play on the travel team? After much discussion, our son reluctantly agreed and, alas, did not play on the “travel team”. At the time, it was a difficult decision; but now that I look back it was providential; as that was the summer we all went on a Caribbean cruise---it ended up being the last vacation before Don’s death. If Chad had played travel ball, that vacation would have been impossible.

As an educator, I come into contact with all types of parents: helicopter parents, consultant parents, drill sergeant parents; but seldom free range parents. Rarely do parents look realistically at their children and furnish the parameters in which they can grow. It is easier to accentuate the positive aspects in our children, than to address those not so attractive dimensions of their character. We want to “save” them from making the mistakes that we made, only to inadvertently set them up to do so anyway. We are AFRAID to allow them the freedom to learn, perhaps fail and then relearn. We are quick to "save" and slow to "guide". It seems easier some how---or is it?

I have not looked at my youngest sons grades since first quarter this year. I was frustrated that he was not achieving as I thought he should. He is disorganized and somewhat scatterbrained, but is extremely contented—definitely a “glass half full” child. He has made honor roll all four quarters, albeit with a couple of C’s. Could he do better? You bet. Do I need to encourage him? You bet. Does he need a cheerleader? Yes, when he does something worth cheering. Does he need someone to take him to task? Yes, when he lacks confidence or drive. Does he need time to figure things out on his own? A HUNDRED TIMES—yes. Is it difficult to sit back and watch? Sometimes, but other times it is exciting to see those synapses taking place in his adolescent brain as he works through each hurdle. Am I this pragmatic all the time? Heck no—wish I could say that I was.

Children need freedom—and limits. They need to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. They need to be treasured enough to realize that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that the difference they make in the world comes from hard work and heart. They need the autonomy to take chances and the discipline that goes with limitations. They need to know that you will always be their cheerleader, but not always their savior. They need to know you will have the integrity to call them out when they are wrong and support them when they are right. They need to be allowed to run through the woods, play “king of the mountain” with a rusty knife and break the rules without you knowing it—why? Because we can talk to them until we are blue in the face, but until they experience the consequences of their actions, they can’t own them. They can’t learn from them and they certainly can’t grow.

This I know for sure…


Evan and Julia said...

This may sound horrible, but I think the best thing you can do for a child sometimes is just let them fail. That doesn't require punishment or browbeating, but it does require honesty and humility on both the part of the child and the parent.
I've been writing about Josiah, who became king at age 8, and was to become one of the greatest kings of Israel. Under his reign, the lost Book of the Law was discovered and he renewed his people's covenant before the LORD. I think there is a significant connection there. I've been thinking a lot lately about boundaries in relation to this text and I can see that in what you've said. Thanks for bringing another perspective to my musings that I can definitely agree with.

Anonymous said...

It's not awful to let children fail or learn from mistakes. How will they learn otherwise?

We let Katy bow out of the last ballet performance. She has had fun but wasn't clicking with the other girls really and wanted to be done after the big festival. So she didn't attend the last two practices and won't be in the finale on Saturday. Next fall we will look at another school because she does so love to dance but this one is not so focused on traveling to contests/festivals.

Children are a gift and a responsibility but they will have their own lives to live someday and for now must be content with supporting roles in ours.

The girl left behind said...

Amen. A thousand times amen. Your decision re: the traveling sports time was so very sane, and I wish more parents would do it. It wreaks havoc on schoolwork and family life, and these same parents who looked so disapprovingly upon you and Don are the same ones griping that all they do is chauffeur the kids from one activity to the next. Who signed them up for that?

Great post. I hope that sanity breaks out in families before they break down.

Ali said...

Ah hah! I have a name! This is the style of parenting I aim for. I've always labeled it 'consequential parenting'. I will help my children through the consequences of their action but I won't stop the consequences of their actions reaching them.


Lisa said...

This is one of your best posts yet! This issue is so close to my heart. Although I am now queen of the free-range parents, I certainly didn't start out that way. For some reason, I really believed that as a GOOD CHRISTIAN, I had to control every aspect of my children's lives. I gave up that silliness when Luke turned two and I realized that the concept of control was just an illusion.
By allowing my children to taste and try and explore and learn--and yes, to sometimes crash and burn--I am hopeful that they are learning to stand on their own two feet in this world.
I really needed this post this week--thank you for being the voice of reason in a sea of fear.

Lisa- Unschooling Mom said...

We went though something very similar about a month ago- My 11 year old daughter was accepted into a professional ballet company performance and needed to rehearse everyday ( 2 days a week) for 3 weeks- which I knew prior to auditions. And we agreed as a family that it was important to her and we would make the sacrifice to help her with her passion and dream.

The day after roles were posted they put rehearsal schedule- ti was not for 3 weeks but 7 weeks. I was aghast. I just couldn't see maintaining the schedule.

I decied that ion this case it just wasnt do-able. There were many tears 9 hers and mine) and I was very angry at the company for misleading me- I would not have let her audition knowing it would be so intense.

In the end my daughter came to me and said 'Mom, I know you love me and are doing what's best for our family and I trust you" was a very powerful parenting moment for me.

And as an add- on- I completely agree- we need to give our kids room to "fail" . By this I mean trust them to use their own judgment . I don't mean let my 4 year old balance along a cliff- but let them try things after explaining some of the risks.

Love your blog!

Shelly said...

Great post....really great post.

I am trying to adjust some of my parenting style....however, it isn't always popular or in vogue with the other parents I am around...somehow we bought into the idea that we are supposed to make our kids lives easy and almost perfect.....they can't learn anything in ideal conditions except how to become more dependent on us!

Tanja said...

I feel like a bad mom, not thinking so deeply about how to raise my children.
They know I love them more than anything else in the world, and I feel so loved by them.

I want to give them a happy childhood. They already have gone through so much, that I find it important that indeed they can run through the woods, that they can have friends over, that they can go on girl scouts camp or swim with their friends. There is lots of laughter in our house, and I cherish that. We dance together, we sing together.

Music is important in our family, my oldest plays guitar and keyboard and also sings in the school choir, the other two play the viola. I love to hear them practise, to hear them try out new songs. But never will I push them.

I parent from my heart, not from a book or according to a theory. I just do what makes us all happy.
Am I a bad mom now?

Marsha said...

Oh Tanja--
You are giving them just what they need--know that and go on---
Love you my friend,

suzanne said...

I finally have had some time to read your amazing insights to a variety of things. Okay, so we are the INSANE family that had a daughter playing club vball and a son playing AAU basketball. We are blessed in many ways, and both of my kids ended up playing sports at DI schools on FULL SCHOLARSHIPS. I know that we both sacrificed, but to be honest the weekends I spent with Leanne on the road in and out of gyms were some of the best times I have had with my her. Sure, I missed out on other things, but I would not trade that time for anything, nor would Dave.
I think we were the family that most people looked at and said NO WAY, they are nuts. I know Marsha that you see first hand that our family is close and the kids are as normal as they can be with me for a MOM! LOL! I have figured out that every family has to decide what is best for them and go from there. I also try to not be as judgemental as I once was!