So I saw this article the other day, about the anti-helicopter parenting of New York freelance writer Lenore Skenazy as she allowed her nine year old to ride the subway home from Bloomingdales, alone, and got an uproar of both supporters and haters. So she started freerangekids, a new blog which promotes the idea that our children will not probably die if not wrapped in bubble wrap and constantly watched like a hawk. I...I like this idea. I like it a lot. I am one of just a few mommies in my neighborhood that allows my kids play outside without being out there with them. They have a pretty wide swath of freedom, within 10-12 houses in either direction mind you, and they know to call if they go inside someone else's house to play, they know to let me know where they will be. Sometimes they forget, and pay a consequence. They learn from it.
I live in the suburbs. In Kansas. No, its not Mayberry, but it ain't Gary, Indiana either. It's green lawns and big, fenced yards and lots of Keeping up With the Jones, with a little splash of Desperate Housewives. It's pretty safe. Yet there are children who live within direct line-of-sight of my yard who are not allowed to come play in my backyard, even while a parent is outside doing something like lawnmowing or washing the car, because then that parent doesn't have an eye trained directly on that child. This, I do not understand.
I was a latchkey kid in the 80's. I went to after school care when younger, but by the time I was in 4th grade, I had my own key to the house on the same chain as my bike lock key. I was responsible for my 1st grader brother, and I came home every day after school and watched TV and beat him up and ate white chocolate baking squares for snack out of the pantry. My brother and I called my mom at work half a dozen times every afternoon to tattle on the other one (the rule was we could not leave the house, she could call us at ANY TIME and if we didn't answer our butts were toast. This was before caller id and even answering machines, at least at my house.) It may not have been the arrangement my mother preferred, but it was the arrangement that fit in her pocketbook at the time, and we all survived.
When my kids were younger, yes, I watched them outside more carefully, I wanted to be there in case they fell off a bike, or to make sure they weren't riding out into the street in front of a zooming teenager in a giant SUV. But also, I wanted to be out there because I didn't want to be the mommy letting all the other mommies watch my kids, since they were all out there being paranoid anyway. Although, the mommy camaraderie, and for a few blissful minutes of not doing anything else but standing around, was fun in a busy world. But now, I have shit to do, people. My kids, 5 and 7, are quite capable of taking care of themselves outside.
This despite that sometimes one of them comes running into the house to tattle on some behavior I would have interfered with had I been out there. Or for that matter, someone comes in bleeding and crying. That's called, Oh I don't know, BEING KIDS. It's why we have Bactine and Band-Aids and kisses for making it all better, and tissues to wipe away the tears. And we then give them a cookie and send their asses back outside.
And yes, sometimes I come out of my front door screaming because I walk by a window and see them doing something I don't like, for instance, shooting a nerf gun too close to someone's face or sitting on the top of the playset roof, or trying to reach down in the sewer out by the curb with a long stick. I'm sure my neighbors think, "Well, if she were out here watching she would have noticed that before it became a problem!"
Look, I do have helicopter parent tendencies. I am right now questioning my judgement in allowing my oldest to go to a laser tag birthday party coming up soon. I don't like them playing with guns, at all, but I have forced myself to chill out on that as they've gotten a little older and can understand rules about shooting near the face, etc. They are boys, and I have to let them play boy games and not suppress the natural tendencies. I am the first one to react when I hear that something has happened at school, either with a teacher or another student. And I have always been rather hyper about self-esteem and ADHD issues that may affect my kids negatively, as I don't want them to go through what happened to me as a kid in school along those lines.
But in the end, I think I'm a pretty easy going parent. I want my kids to know that I'll always be there for them when they need me, but they have to learn their own way. I don't want them to go off to college and think they can do what they want, I'll always rescue them. I want them to have the right decision making skills, and kids don't get that by being told what to think or do, they get it by learning it the hard way. By being allowed to get into those tough spots and making a choice, right or wrong.
Would I let my nine year old take public transportation, alone? Can't say. But I don't live where that's even an option. If I had grown up in NYC, knew the city and subway lines and how it worked, I would probably be more comfortable.