Free Range Parenting: What It Means to My Family

Free range does not mean laid back.

mudIn the past three weeks, I’ve been told by multiple people that I am a laid-back parent. The thing is, I don’t feel like I am. My kids would tell you I’m not. So would my sister. I am a no-means-no mom. My friends and family see that and know we expect our children to behave. I think these people have misconceived the free range parenting approach that my husband and I take as being laid back. We do not have our eyes on our children all the time, but we do have structure and age-appropriate boundaries. Here is what free range parenting means to us.

Rules are few, but they are for real.

The rules we have at home are meant to be followed. Period. The same thing goes for rules about how to behave in public, at church, at the playground … Occasionally, we must revisit these rules. My children are good kids, but they are VERY curious and often rival The Little Rascals with the shenanigans they pull. So, revisiting is necessary (you may NOT paint the Persian cat with peanut butter). But we don’t hover.

Helicoptering does not help them.

When my husband and I hang too close, our children stop problem solving on their own. They don’t try and try again on the monkey bars because they expect us to help them all the way across. They turn to us to referee their disputes. Left alone, our kids turn to each other for help and for fun. They learn (often the hard way) how high they can climb and the best way to communicate with each other.

Trusting them on their own builds confidence.

You may see me and my husband out with our children and think we seem blasé or unconcerned with what they’re up to. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The truth is that in our home, we just feel that a little leeway is better for them. It is better for us, too. We are teaching them that there is a time for us to be together and a time for us to be apart. There are times that they need to use their own judgment. Because we’ve given them opportunities to use that judgment, they have learned how to make good decisions, and we can give them more room to explore.

Laid back? Nope.

About a year and a half ago, I was coming out of the grocery store, and my son was pitching an epic fit, violating one of our in-public rules. It had been going on since the frozen food section, and now it was carrying into the parking lot. I snatched him up by his ear, held tight, and started walking to our van. Halfway to the car, a policeman pulled up next to us (said ear still in my grip). I just knew he was going to take me to jail. He rolled down the window and said, “I haven’t seen somebody do that since I was a kid! That is great. Boy, you better listen to your mama.” <WHEW>

If you think I’m calm, cool, and collected, it’s because you haven’t seen me wearing my Snatch-the-Ear-Mommy hat. When you see me out and seemingly chilled in my free range mode, it’s because that other hat isn’t on. Wait around a minute. You’ll see it. I am not being laid back. I am respecting my children’s judgment until they need to be reminded what is appropriate (and safe) behavior.

What kind of parenting style do you have?


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