Letting The Helicopter Go

free range parenting, helicopter parents, helicopter parenting, motherhood, parenting, outdoors

Remember when you were a kid, and you would go outside at 9AM, play at the creek, collect crawdads, dig holes, ride your bike to the furthest park in your neighborhood — without a helmet — run into your friend’s house for a quick bite for lunch, roll down a few hills, play tag, stomp through mud and make a little grave for the dead bird you found — only to return home at 5PM just in time for dinner, smelling like dirt, sunshine and creek water?

Remember that? Or something like it?

As a child of the 80s, I think my generation was the last to really experience that — to play freely and unencumbered by parental worry and hovering.

I look back and wonder if maybe my parents were a bit too relaxed. I was literally gone all day. I might pop in for a sandwich or a drink of water, but then I bounded back out to the field in the back of my house to dig for gold with my friends.

Too relaxed or not — I’m glad my parents let me have that.

And I wish my kids could have that freedom.

But I’m terrified.

This isn’t a new subject. The helicopter parenting, the over-scheduling, the shrink-wrapped and manufactured childhoods have all been discussed — it’s all been acknowledged. Parents wring their hands over the lack of freedom that children have today. They wring their hands and then tell their kids to stay in a three-house radius of their yard. They wring their hands about the lack of free-play and then refuse to let their kids ride their bikes to the corner store.

I know this because I’m one of those parents. I’m a free-range parent that’s scared shitless of free-range parenting. And I’m not alone in this.

When my nine and thirteen year old want to go to the park at the creek by themselves, I panic just a little.

Ryan, the thirteen year old is totally old enough. But Kiera? My nine year old Kiera? Why, anything could happen. Certain horrific scenarios run through my head and I just can’t bring myself to say yes. Just. Can’t. My husband, on the other hand, who’s a bit more relaxed about these things, has let them run down to the creek and play at the park much to my horror.

I don’t have to go into the many reasons why I’m afraid. Just watch the news for shits sake. It’s full of dead, kidnapped children.

So here I am, an adult who was raised free-range (I feel like a fucking chicken when I type that), and I’m too terrified to give my children that same freedom.

Now, I’m not crazy. My two older kids walk to the bus stop by themselves. I let them ride their bikes in the neighborhood — as long as they stay on our street (I know, I know.) I let them go to other kids houses on a whim to see if their friends can play — as long as I know the parents.

But what’s wrong with letting them venture further? Letting them go beyond the boundaries of our road — or more accurately, the boundaries of my comfort zone?

I certainly feel that parents should be cautious — there are real dangers in the world. But I have to let some of that fear go. Just a bit.  Perhaps let Kiera ride her bike further out — let her cross the main busy road by herself (or with her brother) and ride her bike through the sprawling neighborhood. Because the fear I have is really the result of the hyper-parenting that’s been pervading our culture.

I was reading Free Range Kids, a website devoted to the idea of giving our children more freedom to play and learn on their own, and came across this disturbing post where a mom posts her concerns on Facebook regarding a 7-year-old walking home from a bus stop by himself.

Fer realz. This is her post.

Hello everyone I’m not sure how to deal with a situation that I have encountered twice so far this school year,, today as I was waiting for the light on Morris and Springdale around 3:45 waiting to turn left I noticed an elementary age boy turning the corner and walking alone up the busy road of Springdale, this scared me to death!! a million things went through my head if something was to happen to him with so many cars driving by,,,, just imagine!!!! So I put my hazard lights on and called to police and followed him slowly till I started to talk to him through the car window to stall him till police would arrive,, and so they did and then took over the matter..

A 7 year old vulnerable boy walking alone along Springdale rd,,where are the parents? School? I don’t get it?!?!?! So dangerous and so many crazy people out there!!!!! I am bothered!!!!!!

You can read the full post here. The creepiest thing about her post was the fact that she slowly followed the kid in her car and tried talking to him through her car window. She obviously came off as the crazy one.

So there lies the problem. I sometimes wonder if neighbors think it’s strange that my nine-year-old walks to the bus stop by herself. It SHOULDN’T be weird — but in this day and age it could be grounds for calling CPS. No exaggeration.

Parents are crazy.

So in the end, I may be more relaxed than other parents — but I definitely need to relax a bit when it comes to letting my kids push the neighborhood boundaries. I want them to get dirty. I want them to be gone for long stretches of the day, finding bugs, and getting dirt under their finger-nails. But it’s a hard idea to wrap my head around. After all, we live right outside of DC.  Crime is not infrequent around here. It’s a fine line to walk, this safety thing. I don’t want to put my kids in danger — but I don’t want to shrink-wrap their lives.

Maybe we should look to north Wales for outdoor play inspiration. The Guardian just wrote an article about junk-yard playgrounds — playgrounds full of wood crates, nails, tires, ladders, old abandoned boats, etc. Apparently it’s a hit and the kids much prefer it to the anchored-down sanitized playgrounds that punctuate the neighborhoods. The part that makes me really uncomfortable is uh — the fires. Kids are encouraged to start fires. Contained fires nonetheless. But fires — so they can learn about safety. Read the article. It’s super interesting.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that the risk of danger to your children outweighs their need for more freedom? What are your rules for outdoor play?

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Parenting Forums Are Full Of Insane People

Parenting forums.

They’re nuts.

If you live in the DC area and you’re a parent, I’m sure you’ve heard of DC Urban Moms and Dads. It’s an anonymous forum that at times can be incredibly helpful and informative. But because of the anonymity of the posters, DCUM can be fucking unreal. People have no fear of going crazy — and the lack of a screen name makes it easy for posters to be ultra snarky and just plain mean.

Because of this, it’s fun to read and scoff at.

For example. In the General Parenting Discussion board, there’s a thread called, “I hate it when moms two and more complain.” As you can see, basic grammar is not a strong suit of some of these posters. Anyhow, so the anonymous poster’s rant goes like this:

There, I said it.
I am not talking about those who had twins as their first children.
I am talking about moms who have two or more, who say how hard it is to deal with a toddler or preschooler while pregnant, how difficult it is to juggle kids for play dates and appointments, how hard it is to not have coinciding naps.
Didn’t you know how hard it is after having just one? Wasn’t this knowledge enough to either be prepared or not have any more children? 
Of course I cannot say anything in their face. But this is always my first thought. You made this bed, so deal with it.
. I feel guilty thinking this but I just can’t keep it inside if me anymore.
Flame away.

I love it. Parents of single children telling parents of multiple children not to complain. This response said it best:

OP I can understand where you’re coming from, but I think your logic is faulty. By your logic no one should be allowed to complain about the difficulty of raising any child who was “planned”, or really anything that the person chose to do. So no one should complain about their job because they chose that job? No one should complain about cleaning their house because they chose to live in a house? What are people allowed to complain about exactly? Only things that they had no say in whatsoever?

But then the snarkiness continues:

I’ll one-up you, OP, and say it’s annoying when any parent says they had no idea raising children would be so HARD, and how they’re so TIRED. As if they’d never seen a kid before.

And.

I hate when they bitch about money. You never know how easy or difficult your kids are going to be, but you sure as hell should have known how much they would cost the second and third time around.

And another.

I get it, OP. I’m always stunned when people complain about the work of having children. (I have one.) I was the last of my friends to have a child, so I heard all their stories. I knew it was going to be hard, and expensive. And I knew that second child sunk a lot of marriages, because the work, as other people said, was exponentially harder, not twice as hard.

While I get that you can’t know exactly what it’s like until you are in the middle of it, what is shocking to me is that women refuse to take a look around them and listen to other people’s stories, and learn from them. (Also why I didn’t get knocked up as a teen or marry a “bad boy.”)

And it continues.

PP here. Take responsibility for yourself! If you want to do something, you should have thoroughly vetted it and worked through all of the variables of what might be. Even if your friends haven’t been through it, there are books, newspapers, your mother’s stories and those of her friends.

I don’t do any big life choice without thinking through all of the ramifications it might have. It’s just common sense.

Ha ha! If you made a choice in life, then you’re not allowed to complain about it. You should’ve thought about all of life’s challenges, worked through all the possible variables, and accepted them ahead of time without complaint!

Because I’m sure moms of single children have never complained.

Now go and have a Merry Christmas! And stop your bitching about your squabbling children.

Love By A Different Name

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Me and Ryan

I really believe that the first born child has it harder than the rest. I guess that doesn’t sound fair to the middle children or the babies — but it’s true.

Oldest babies are the test babies. The ones who have to live through their inept first-time parents’ mistakes. The ones who have to live a life recovering from their parents’ neuroses and anxieties about raising a human being for the first time — a foreign, precious, and terrifying experience. The responsibility of being a parent doesn’t really hit you until you’re holding that helpless creature in your arms and looking into those newborn eyes that encompass endless possibilities.

My boy. My oldest. I made mistakes with him. I had him too young. I wasn’t ready for his amazing, life-altering presence. But I did the best I could.

Now he’s approaching thirteen. He smiles less. He rolls his eyes at me. But he’s still Ryan. Funny. Helpful. Neurotic. Imaginative.

He has a learning disability that makes school a challenge for him. Some nights, his homework is almost unbearable for him. Tears well up in his eyes. “What’s wrong with me?” he says, as he rests his head in his hands in utter defeat.

It breaks my fucking heart. I want him to be happy. To know that my love for him is vaster than a billion universes combined. When I give him hugs, he puts his head on my shoulder — and I know he’s slipping away. Away to that tumultuous, angst-ridden place called teenagerdom. And I don’t want him to leave. Because he’ll see me with new eyes. He’ll see the mistakes I made.

And as he stands on that cusp, I’m about to give birth to my last baby. My last boy. A baby I’m ready for. A baby who’ll have more than Ryan. A baby who (god willing) won’t have to go through some of the difficulties that Ryan went through.

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As I’ve grown older, I’ve become a better parent — more patient and better able to enjoy the moment. I didn’t have that joy and unceasing devotion when I was young. I wasn’t a bad parent; I just wasn’t ready. I was in a perpetual state of impatience, waiting for that next developmental stage, because — god. It sounds awful, but I just wanted Ryan to grow up already. I loved him with ceaseless intensity, but I didn’t know how to enjoy motherhood. And he had to have felt that. I know he felt that.

So now I’m in my thirties. I have a three-year-old and a new little one waiting to make his entrance into this world. And I’m ready and able to give them boundless patience and tenderness. I’m ready to enjoy every moment of their little lives. It’s not fair to Ryan, but as Ryan has grown I’ve become a better mother to him. And that’s something, right?

Damn it. Here I am, not even a week after writing a post on mom guilt, and it’s here staring me in the face. Fucking guilt. But I’m human, and the best I can do is forge forward as a better mother, giving all my children the love they deserve; love by a different name.

I Let A Third Grade Snob Get To Me

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Kiera being her fabulous Kiera self.

My nine year old daughter, Kiera, frequently comes home with a host of tales about a particular girl in her class.

I’ll call her Claire.

Claire is, like, uber fashionable. “So in style,” gushes Kiera.

Kiera was enamored with her at first. Claire is new to the school and just exudes coolness. Apparently. “She’s already soooo popular, mom,” says Kiera. To make things even more interesting, Claire gives Kiera all kinds of fashion and style tips.

“Claire says I have to flip my hair behind behind my shoulders because it looks better that way.”

“Oh my god. Claire has soooo many lip glosses. She showed me. She brought them to school in her backpack.”

“Claire is so into make-up and style, mom. She ALWAYS looks fashionable. That’s ALL she talks about.”

“Claire taught me how to walk like a model today. We sway our hips like this. See?”

Oh my sweet nine year old girl. I told her that Claire focuses too much on looks and that perhaps she (Kiera) should redirect the conversation to other interesting topics. Not that fashion and beauty isn’t fun. I loved that stuff when I was nine. But the focus is a bit excessive. In addition, Kiera started asking for particular clothes because “that’s what Claire’s wearing.”

But then Kiera’s stories started changing.

“Claire told me she wouldn’t be my friend anymore if I didn’t wear my hair up.” She said this as tears filled her big blue eyes.

“Claire was telling me that I look funny today. I don’t think she likes me anymore, mom.”

Then the stories started turning into tear-filled tales of Claire’s dictatorship. Kiera couldn’t even draw something in class without Claire telling her she was doing it wrong. Kiera couldn’t play during recess without Claire pointing out Kiera’s failures. Claire would frequently get in Kiera’s face, boss her around, and declare that Kiera was not a good friend if she didn’t wear her shirt just so.

In short, Kiera was beginning to feel pretty damn inadequate. And Kiera feeling inadequate is a HUGE deal. She is the most enthusiastic, positive-thinking, go-getter that I know. She rarely lets anything get her down. She truly is a happy child — one that typically doesn’t care what people think.

I didn’t feel that these Claire episodes were happening often enough that it required me to get involved. Sometimes you have to sit back and let children navigate friendship struggles. I wanted to encourage Kiera to stand-up for herself. So I continued to encourage her:

“If she gets in your face again, tell her to back off. You can tell her she’s being mean and that you don’t want to play with her.”

“But that’s so hard, mom,” Kiera would say, “If I tell her to go away, she says she doesn’t want to be my friend. And then I start crying!”

“Well, you don’t WANT her to be your friend, Kiera! You’re a good person and you don’t need a mean-spirited person making you sad. By crying, you’re giving her all the power.”

Kiera would stand there silently and nod her head. I could tell she was taking my words in but didn’t quite know what to do with them.

And then.

One morning, Kiera came out of her room wearing an eclectic, colorful outfit — mismatched and odd looking but it somehow fit her personality.

Kiera announced:

I’m tired of all this fashion stuff. I’m just gonna be ME. I’m back to my hippy self. I’m gonna dress how I used to dress. This is me, mom.

With Kiera’s change of heart, the tales of Claire began to diminish. Usually a few weeks go by now before Claire is even mentioned. When Claire IS mentioned, however, it’s still not in a nice way.

This morning Kiera told me the following:

“I told Claire that you used to smoke cigarettes and she says that means you’re a bad parent.”

Ok. No. Uh uh. I don’t think so, CLAIRE.

In my extreme annoyance at this Claire tidbit I said, “Tell Claire she’s talking out of her butt.”

Kiera just stared at me wide-eyed.

Shit. I let a third grader get to me.

“You want me to tell her she’s talking out of her butt?”

“Yes, Kiera. You have my permission.”

She shook her head and smiled in disbelief.

What can I say? Sometimes you need a little third grade mentality to tell a third grade snob to back off.

So there, Claire. I said it. You’re talking out of your butt. 

Now go away.