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Parenting without fear...but with knowledge

Alright, my kid is almost 4, so his father and I have been slowly easing up on the hovering. I mean, we've never been real helicopter parents -- I often say that my parenting style is more along the lines of mindful neglect -- but lately we've been trying to give him more freedom to explore his world. The past few weeks, as the weather is warming up, we've been letting him play in the backyard...alone.

Now I'm not talking all day every day all alone. I'm talking he sits in the sandbox at the back of the yard in full view from the kitchen window. And usually I can only last about three minutes before I'm out on the deck yelling "You OK? Can I come play? Want some water?" etc. He doesn't want me to play, he doesn't want water...he just wants to play with his guys in the fresh air. And I love that.

I can tell he loves this big boy freedom. He is proud of the fact that we trust him to play on his own. But there's a little tiny voice in my head that's always whispering "kids get snatched from their yards all the time...there are sick, sick people all around are a terrible mother..."

Yesterday the little voice quieted a bit when I read an empowering column by Lenore Skenazy, who blogs at FreeRangeKids. Although I don't think I could put my 9-year-old on a NYC subway on his own, I do understand her point about easing up on the hovering, because perhaps the fear we feel is a result of our constant bombardment with news and TV shows full of badness, as well as a kid-products industry that preys on our every insecurity. Actual crime statistics are down since we were kids, in fact. A good quote summarizes her point:
"The world is safer than we've been brainwashed into believing. Our kids are more competent than a superstore's worth of kiddie walking, reading, eating and sleeping aids would have us think. Our parental instincts have gotten us to this point in human evolution without a library full of books warning us that one wrong step and our kids are goners. In other words: take a step back from this weird parenting moment we're in and you CAN give your children the freedom you had without going nuts with worry."
Maybe some would say I'm a nut face for letting my almost-4-year-old play in his backyard unsupervised, even if only for three minutes. And it's OK if you say I'm a nut face because we each have to parent in our own way; if you want to hover, that's cool too. But I believe we have to know our kids well enough to know when they're ready for these tiny steps toward independence. They also have to know that we trust them, and that they can make decisions on their own. I don't want my child to grow up afraid to be on his own, afraid of every stranger he meets. It's a tightrope act, of course, as is pretty much everything we do as parents.

Sadly, right around the time I was reading this article and feeling all supermommy, a house on my block was being raided by a SWAT team. That's right, raided -- guns drawn and everything. When my neighbor told me about it, my first reaction was, oh, drugs, bad. But we soon learned it was worse: four people were taken into custody, and at least one was charged with distributing child porn. Great! A child pornographer (or many) has been living a block-and-a-half away in our sleepy little family-friendly neighborhood. We walk by the house every time we walk to the playground. My friend lives across the street with her 6-year-old and her 1-year old, and another friend lives two doors down with a toddler. Another friend who lives on the block has two free-range boys who spend all day riding their bikes and exploring the world.

I would have preferred a drug dealer on the street, frankly.

So I suppose I will continue to let my son play in the yard on his own, and I will continue to check on him every three minutes. But maybe a solo walk to the park will be years and years away.


  1. paddyandhenrysmomJune 5, 2009 at 7:48 AM

    We live three doors down and across the street from a convicted pedophile, though in between us is a neighbor who is a sheriff's deputy. He's laid down the law with the guy, as in, "No one in this neighborhood better even lay eyes on you," and so far, so good. The guy's in his 60s, I'd say, and as the story goes he molested his daughter's friend years ago. Frankly, I'd rather have a drug dealer around, too. I've got nothing they'd be interested in.

    I'm loosening up a bit about Padraic playing in the backyard w/o me out there (but w/in earshot and usually staring out the back windows at him), but I'm like you. The front yard play or the walk around the block alone are a long time down the road. And no way is my kid riding a subway until he's about 45. ;)


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