Almost Free-Range

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I am NOT a helicopter mom. I push my kids out the door and tell them to go get dirty. And even before we moved out to the country, I encouraged my children to play unsupervised. No, not because the latest research told me so or because I read it somewhere or heard it somewhere. I did it for them, for me, for us. As a mom of girls 15 months apart, I needed them to play and govern themselves. And I felt that they could benefit from it, even much earlier than some would consider acceptable.

I was fortunate to have a like-minded soul as a neighbor in the city. She also felt her two benefited from self-governing play. We often let the four of them play together without direct supervision. But that’s not to say neither of us had an eye or ear on them.

I remember one late summer afternoon when we were outside in our cul-de-sac and my friend (the other not totally-free-range-parent) was cooking dinner. She left her door open and her dog got out. Her dog was big and old and didn’t “run” anywhere. I thought I noticed him sneak out so we walked some backyards and called for him. Another neighbor (a full-blooded helicopter mom) came out and asked my friend, “Whad’ya do, lose another kid?”

I was pissed. And mortified. Can a mom not yell her kids’ names out the front door to come inside anymore without being labeled negligent? Can our kids not play in the front yard while I’m folding laundry and listening to them? I remember this moment very well. It was one of those moments that solidified my life choice to move the country. I was hurt our neighbor said that to my friend’s face. I was hurt for her, for me, and for our kids.

I want my girls to know their boundaries. I want them to know where risk and reward meet for their individual personalities. I want them to be able to govern themselves. I want them to succeed, and fail, in my absence. I want them to be good human beings. And my way of creating those human beings is not the same as everyone else’s. I don’t even disapprove of those who are helicopters – I can certainly relate with that feeling of worry as my girls were both 2nd trimester preemies.

There’s a valid reason why I want them to play freely. And being born super early played a part in that. For many, it may not even be that dramatic of a life event to warrant their choice. But wherever others fall on the helicopter spectrum (I made that term up, sounds legit), there’s a valid reason why they choose that for their kids.

As I watch my girls run out the door to play in the snow, or head to the barn to check on the cats, I have great pride in their independence. But yes, I check on them. And sometimes I even sneak a precious photo.

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