Parenting is hard work. You always feel like you are messing up and someone – usually a person who doesn’t know the difference between a zygote and a pygmy goat – is always full of advice and criticism as to the quality of job you are doing.
Even other parents are critical, starting with whether or not you breastfed, what kind of diaper you used, and God forbid you let your child use a binkie. You were setting them up for a lifetime of dependency.
My tendency was to not listen so much to the noise and let it go around me, filtering what was useful and discarding what wasn’t.
Criticisms, depending on who they come from, were filed away appropriately.
Probably the biggest criticism I receive, and probably always will, is that I tend to be overprotective.
I have been told I need to loosen up, cut the umbilical cord and let my child experience childhood.
I can shrug it off because I know I am doing my main job-and that’s keeping my child safe.
So hearing about the new ‘free range child’ movement makes me, well, nervous.
There’s all kinds of stories about how children are walking home by themselves, being allowed to ride public transit unaccompanied – things that would probably make my anxiety level increase and I’m an adult.
“They call them free range kids,” Lamar said. “I was probably a free range kid. I would wait for the sun to come up, get on my bike and be gone all day. My Mama probably didn’t know where I was.”
But the ‘60s were different than today, or at least that’s how it seems.
You didn’t turn on the news or pull up Facebook to find your feed full of missing children – or worse.
Just as my husband was running wild and free, I was fairly sheltered, and didn’t spend the night away from home until I was 11.
Even then, it was a church group at a lady’s house my mama grew up with, and I am pretty sure she slept in her car in the driveway.
Mama knew even then, there were scary things out there and her job was to keep me safe because I was a child.
Sure, she let me do some things – she dropped me off at the Athens Skate Inn when I was 13, she let me go to other overnight events, she let me cruise the Piggly Wiggly and Rec parking lot on just about every Friday and Saturday night, even though she questioned my direction in life for finding it to be entertaining.
But again, things were different then.
I couldn’t imagine dropping my child off at a skating rink by himself. It wouldn’t happen.
I can’t understand how some parents can take their parental responsibility so lightly and act like children – children, mind you, as in 12 and younger -are supposed to be able to take care of themselves.
“I would never dream of letting Cole do some of the things I did,” Lamar said.
I shudder at some of the tales he has told me, like a bus ride by himself to see his father when he was five.
They say the free range movement is supposed to help these children become more independent and teach them coping skills, so they can become more self-sustaining adults.
Remember how I said everyone’s got their own opinion about parenting? Well, here’s mine.
That’s a crock of something.
It’s the parents’ job to give our children tools to learn how to cope, help them make good choices and equip them to be independent.
When they are children, they are scared and not able to make certain decisions – it’s our job to help guide them. And while guiding them, we are supposed to keep them safe.
Not throw them to the wolves, almost literally, and say: “Hey, you are a free range child and I don’t want to be perceived as a helicopter mom, so good luck to you!”
They are children; not chickens.
They are children; not a marketing label to tell people why your chicken is better and justify the higher price.
Proponents of the free range children movement claim other parents are preventing children from growing up.
I think we are doing our job and making sure they do just that. But apparently, trying to protect your child makes you crazy nowadays.
“You’ve got to let your child experience childhood and be a little boy,” someone told me one day.
I’m not saying for every little bump or bruise he gets I freak out and whisk him to the emergency room.
I am cautious, but not fanatical.
He gets dirty.
He runs and falls down.
He plays on things at the playground that make my head spin.
But my child has very, very firm boundaries and limitations. And I think like most children, he likes knowing those boundaries are there, because within that enclosed range, he knows he is safe, secure, protected and loved.
And that is really the best way to make sure children will become self-sufficient adults.