I’ve been thinking about free range parenting lately. I’ve read the FAQs and the book reviews. I really, really wish I could be one of those free range moms. It’s totally up my alley. How more efficient can I get as a parent, than to have them do everything themselves? Hmm can I be a free range mom as long as the range is inside the house? Of course I can. I rule this corner after all.
I remember running outside to play with my younger siblings while my mom chatted with a neighbor in the kitchen over coffee. The closest she got to hovering was glancing at the open door, through the screen door, every so often. We would run through the neighborhood collecting the other children as we passed. With wild screams we’d descend on the playground a few blocks away like a flock of crazed seagulls on a french fry. And we played for hours, returning home when the street lights flickered on.
I remember mud puddle hopping and playing soccer in the field between our houses. I remember long hours riding our bikes up and down the streets. We were so free.
But were we? The neighborhood that we explored at large, though seeming so huge to my child mind, was completely enclosed by high fences and all the entry points guarded by military police. Our freedom was contained but didn’t seem that way.
I don’t live on base housing with my children. And even if I did, I don’t know that I would be okay with not seeing them all day. This is the age of instant communication. This is the age of connections. I connected with those kids as we roamed. Twenty-five years later, though the Air Force scattered us to the winds we’ve found each other on Facebook. But I can’t let my kids do the same.
I live off of the same street where a little girl, only a couple years older than my children, was abducted, abused, and murdered walking home from our neighborhood school. This is not a “bad” neighborhood. But this is a neighborhood filled with people, unattended swimming pools, and fast cars. So my children don’t get to run wild through the streets and I am okay with that. They aren’t deprived. They get to go to the playground and run free with their friends. I just happen to be there sitting on the bench or playing with them.
But what I am not okay with is hearing “Mommy…mommy…can you get my shoes. I’m tired.” I don’t want nor expect to handle their every problem. I do think children should learn to be independent and I know my own have a long way to go. Their art storage area and their kid’s snack pantry are baby steps towards that goal. They have been given the rules and expectations. It is not my job to grab them a plate and a granola bar when they are hungry. As long as they are within the guidelines we have laid out for them, they have the power to make those choices. Overly dependent children are a problem in this day and age.
I don’t want my son or daughter to be like the employee I had a couple of years ago. She was a college student, engaged, working full time, and living with her fiance–a “real adult.” She failed to follow a stated procedure so was issued a written warning. She signed the corrective action, yet failed to take accountability, and returned to her job. The next morning she returned to my desk and told me that her mother asked her to find out when a good time would be for her to call me about her daughter’s corrective action. She wanted to speak to me about her daughter’s performance at work and what I could do to rescind the corrective action. Right. In the real world, Helicopter Mommy can’t fix everything and even their perfect daughters will end up losing their jobs.
I want my children to learn that there are consequences to their actions. I want them to learn how to solve problems and how to take care of themselves. I want them to learn how to be adults. Batting your big innocent eyes and giving your Mom your manager’s phone number, isn’t a skill that is valued in the real world. I want my children to be strong and independent, not weak and helpless.
Maybe that makes me a lazy Helicopter Mom but I don’t care which label I wear, as long as in the end my children know what’s right and what’s wrong and how to take care of themselves and their families. I don’t agree that the world is the same place it was 25 years ago. I may have roamed free but I had many a friend that roamed free with a tight leash. Friends that sported the earliest models of the cellphone, not because they were rich or trendy, but because their mothers called them every thirty minutes. The world has changed, our neighborhoods have changed, so I think it is logical that parenting has changed as well. There are always extremes, those that take things just a little too far in one direction or the other. But in the end, there is no barometer that says that one way is better than the other because no two families have the same story.