As I sit here to write this, I have just returned from a fun evening on our boat with the girls. This year we bought a tube for them to enjoy. The tube is fun. I enjoy it myself. But, it can go fast. I can’t deny that each time one of my daughters gets on that tube, my insides curl up just a tiny bit, especially when it is my youngest daughter’s turn.
And, of course, as soon as they sit inside of it they already start sending my husband the “thumbs up” to go faster and faster and faster. All the while, I’m telling him to go slower and slower and slower *OR* biting my lip in order to let them enjoy a little “Free Range” excitement.
I don’t claim to be an expert on the things that I write about. If I am very honest, I struggle with most of these things just as much as I am sure you do….
But, somewhere inside of me, I know that in order to grow at all as a human being we have to allow ourselves to be a little bit uncomfortable.
I also truly believe we need to learn to trust our instincts more as parents so this can get complicated and it becomes a VERY careful balancing act.
It takes bravery to be a parent and let go enough to allow your children to have a childhood full of fun, risks, experiences, challenges and accomplishments. It takes guts to bite your lip a little while your insides curl up and figure out when to say “enough” and when to let the uncomfortableness set in enough to let go just a little bit more.
And we are all different.
Truth be told, I was not a Free Range Kid like many of my peers and I’m sure, many of you were. My family was VERY cautious of my whereabouts when I was young and living in New York, near the Bronx, there were plenty of real things to worry about to try to protect me from. All concerns about my safety were filled with pure love.
Yet, I can’t help but feel I did miss out.
I remember friends near my apartment being allowed to ride their bikes down to the local park. It was within a mile or two and they went in groups. One day, I was asked to go for the first time. I was SO excited.
Calling up to my apartment window, my friend asked me if I could ride down, play a game on the field and get an ice cream from the ice cream truck before coming back home.
This was a regular summer day for him. But for me, this proposal seemed like the most wonderful opportunity of my lifetime! I begged and pleaded with my mother but it was NOT going to happen. I remember being so upset that I secretly broke my piggy bank into pieces and gave my friend the money to get me an ice cream to bring back anyway.
Somehow he did manage to make it back alive with my melted ice cream in hand. The ice cream was good but the ride to the park seemed, in my eyes, to be much sweeter… and I would have traded them in a blink.
As a matter of fact, Tony made it back alive at least 20 times that summer and each and every summer after that.
Could he have gotten abducted, hit by a car or injured? Yes of course.
But, the truth is, that there was MORE of a chance that I’d get into a car accident with my family on a “safe” ride to my grandmother’s house the next morning or any of the workday mornings that year or years after.
But I didn’t.
Some may argue that “times have changed”. That somehow, back then, streets were safer – crime was lower and bad things didn’t happen as much as they do now.
But the research and facts tell us otherwise.
Why, then, are we so afraid?
I’m not sure.
I assume it must have something to do with our access to news, social media and crime stories. What would happen if the news was 75% positive? Would our perception change?
I think it would.
What I am trying to say is that it is not easy to be a Free Range Parent – not now and probably not back then either.
It takes courage. Things can happen… things will happen: scraped knees, broken bones and neighborhood drama.
But, other things can happen too: tree climbing, neighborhood games, confidence building, learning one’s own boundaries, practicing balance, learning from mistakes, fresh air, sunshine, building forts, navigating disagreements and so much more.
My middle school daughter opened my eyes, once again, to this very concept. She said “Mom, I know you love us but you should try not to always ask for the best teachers for us each year.”
I knew where she was going with this… and, often, I do write a letter or meet with the Principal to ask for a “good fit” for my children with regard to placement. I feel it will help their educational experience if they are in an environment that nourishes who they are. And, it will…
But maybe… maybe there needs to be more balance and “letting go” on my end too.
She continues, “I know having one of my hardest teachers, Mr. X, really made that class difficult for me last year… but because of that, I learned how to deal with people who are not always easy. And I got through it and did well.”
She did more than well. She did excellent. And the world is filled with people who are not always easy.
We absolutely need to be our children’s advocates…. But we do not need to create a perfect and safe childhood for them covered in helmets, bumper pads, plastic wrap and rainbows. We need to find a way to let them learn the hard lessons in life yet lead them the right way when they may be going astray. We need to know when certain things are age appropriate for them to try and when we should protect a bit more.
We need balance.
If we make life so easy for them that they do not struggle, they will not be able to cope as adults.
A few winters ago, one of my best friends and I decided to give our children the gift of more freedom. She lives under a mile away… well maybe it is a bit more than a mile, but it’s in walking distance from our home.
While I am often very annoyed by how fast people drive in my neighborhood, the truth is that we live on pretty safe residential roads. There really is no reason that, in a group, our children should not be ok walking to one another’s homes.
But our streets are not filled with children at all.
So, once a week or so we took turns sending our children, with sleds in hand (and I will admit, a cell phone “just in case”), to each other’s homes to sleigh ride.
This seems like such a simple thing that so many adults now did daily in their youth… but living in this day and age we felt like REBELS. Not many of our friends would have allowed the same. Even living in suburban CT, most moms we know would worry too much to let their children walk that far and be out of sight for half the day in the freezing cold.
Guess what? Each and every time they came back ok. More than OK. They came back filled with stories and cold fingers, asking for hot cocoa by the fire as they relived the exciting moments they spent discovering and flying down hills on their sleds together. They talked about ways that they helped and protected one another down the “steep slopes” and how they looked out for their little sisters and brothers.
They came back with memories and they came back with the confidence knowing that they are more than capable of being safe and responsible and trusted.
And they came back.
This led to Free Range Bike Riding in the spring and summer. Our children now enjoy meeting one another midway between our homes for a few hours of riding around the neighborhood unsupervised.
Here are some Free Range things we have done THIS summer:
Riding bikes to the beach without me (I admit, this was out of my comfort zone as this is our first summer at the shore house but I did it)
Using a sharp knife to cut veggies while helping me cook.
Watching (while biting my lip) as my monkey child explored vines and trees to hang on at a local state park.
Swimming (where we really weren’t supposed to) in the waterfall among sharp rocks and edges.
Sending my second oldest into the grocery store, without me, to get a few items while I wait in the car. Be careful with this. She’s 13. Nowadays parents can get arrested if children under 12 are out and about!!!!
Letting the girls hike through the woods in our backyard without screaming “watch out for ticks – don’t walk in the tall grass” like I usually do every five minutes (we do check our bodies pretty thoroughly after though – we live in tickville!)
Saying YES when my little one wants to try swimming to the dock with her sisters for the first time at the beach.
Were these hard for me? Yes… many times they were. Letting go is always hard and does not come without risk. But, I would like to argue that it comes with more benefits than risk. I would like to hope that my letting go will give my children the tools they need to be independent and confident adults one day who can cook a meal, drive a car, swim a few laps and explore their world without me.
Here’s a thought:
What if we took back our streets, our playgrounds, our beaches, our parks, our schools and our world – what if we stomped out FEAR in masses, taking back our rights and our children’s rights to live in this world freely. Imagine how safe we’d feel if there were 20 free range kids biking to the local store – not just two. POWER IN NUMBERS BABY!
Some exceptions (or maybe the better word is confessions):
A good friend of ours sadly and tragically lost his child in an ATV accident very recently. It was so heartbreaking and I was shattered walking out of that innocent child’s funeral. We have ATV’s and if I am honest, they have always made me very nervous even though my husband is very safe and careful while the girls ride.
Since the funeral, I will not allow the ATV’s any more. In my opinion, right now, the risk of injury to a young child on a motorized vehicle like that is more than I am willing to take in the name of Free Range. Somehow letting my girls walk to the corner store seems much more reasonable. Is my fear rational? Maybe or maybe not. It hit us personally and I think I’m not ready for this one yet – or maybe ever. Although, Sandy Hook was near also and while it took everything within me, I sent my girls back to school.
After hearing about a dangerous person in your area such as a pedophile, irresponsible gun owner or drunk driver – be smart and teach your children the same. There is no reason to be ignorant in support of giving our children a Free Range Childhood. When we are presented with knowledge that is RATIONAL and real, we should of course be more careful. The problem is that the news, media, Facebook, twitter and other tools we have in our life right now are making it feel to us that there is more bad than good in this world. And I refuse to believe that. As we know, the facts dispute that.
So, I ask you – what Free Range Summer activities have your children enjoyed?
Please share with us here on the blog in comments or by Linking Up your blog post below. Be sure to also use our hashtag #slowsummerseries to inspire others to slow down and give their children the gift of a slow and free summer this year.