If I had it my way, I’d keep my kids close and never let them go. There are too many mistakes they could make and too many accidents that could happen.
There’s just too much evil in the world.
I recognized very early on in my parenting journey that I had the predisposition to be a helicopter mom. The anxiety I felt around everything clued me in to the fact that I wanted to do everything in my power to keep my kids close – and safe.
But then I made a decision.
I decided I’d intentionally parent in a way that was wildly opposed to my instincts. That despite the voices in my mind that screamed at me to hold my babies tight, I’d let them go.
And I have.
I let my kids play in the neighborhood for hours without checking in. I’m not opposed to sleepovers. I’ve allowed them to do things like stay home alone or walk to school far earlier than most other kids we knew. When they were younger I let them wander out of my line of sight when we were at the park, and climb higher on the play structure without me hovering beneath.
And to other parents, I might seem careless. But believe me, it’s anything but.
Being a free-range mom doesn’t mean you let your kids have more freedom because you don’t worry about their safety. I’m well-acquainted with the tightness in my chest that practically takes my breath away when I have a sudden moment of panic that I haven’t seen my kids in two hours and that something horrible could have happened to them.
But I refuse to allow myself or my children to be victims of this false fear. Though my anxiety screams in my ear, my head knows that my kids are safe. Abductions, homicides, and deaths (the things we all fear most as parents) are lower now than they have been at any other point in history.
So I let my kids experience freedom.
And despite what it may look like to you, I am careful. Free-range parenting does not mean you allow your three-year-old to parent themselves. Rather, it means that you look at the real risks, and parent accordingly. That you relinquish some of that control that comes with holding your kids too tightly because you recognize that the vast benefits far outweigh the small risks.
And it means that you recognize how incredibly detrimental it is to our children’s well-being for them to be robbed of these types of experiences.
Free-range parenting is not a complete absence of limits, and I certainly do things to mitigate risks. We live in a safe neighborhood which is why I allow them to play so freely, and my kids know how far they can go from our house before it’s “too far.” They understand they can’t go into friends’ houses without asking first. I don’t just let them spend the night at anyone’s home, but I don’t have a complete prohibition on sleepovers, either. Decisions about whether they are old enough to stay home alone are made on a case-by-case basis based upon demonstrated maturity and has been different for each child.
In fact, I’m writing this guest post anonymously not because I’m ashamed of the way that I parent, but because I know there are evil people out there that could choose to target my children based on my admission that my supervision is more lenient than most.
This parenting choice isn’t easy for me, and I want to you know that that the same things that keep you up at night keep me awake, too. I worry about friends and safety and missed opportunities. I worry about social skills and freak accidents and poor choices.
But the difference is that I don’t let those things affect my parenting. I believe the benefits of independence outweigh the risks. And I believe that the real risks are overstated and sensationalized by the social media information overload and the 24/7 world of news we live in.
So I refuse to participate in fear-based parenting even though everything within me begs me to give in – because I believe that I’m doing what’s best for my kids.
And so to the mom who lives with the weight of parenting on her shoulders, I encourage you to ask yourself. Are you parenting out of fear? Or are you parenting out of love? Because though it can feel like they’re one and the same, one has got to be stronger. And while I’d never tell you that you need to cast off all of the limits that may be the hallmark of your parenting, I encourage you to evaluate whether there are small changes you can make to give your kids just a little more independence – and not just a safe illusion of independence, but real, actual freedom.
I believe you’ll experience some freedom, too.