A lovely, wise and profoundly inspiring SPARKling... WATERMELLEN... is the motivation for this blog entry. (I highly recommend subscribing to HER blog!)
When WATERMELLEN first suggested that I re-post this blog, I wasn’t convinced there was much value in doing so. However, reading through it anew, allowing the words to trace over my heart, in conjunction with her own most recent offerings (links at the bottom), I realized that this blog’s value reaches beyond time and space.
I first wrote this blog in January 2015. It's about My Divine Miss O. It's about community. It's about bias. It's about risk management. It's about living joyously despite our fears and tribulations. It's about trusting in our own intuition regarding what is good for us. It's about inherent freedom in a limiting world. It’s about healing our collective woundedness.
Pretty timely, seems to me, given all on our collective plates these days. What do you think?
"Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape."
I've used this site as a support since The Divine Miss O was 2-ish.
I realized early on that I was waayyy out of step with all of the other parents who had children Miss O's age... and my temperament does not lend itself well to the helicopter parenting style that seems to be the norm these days... though my propensity to micro-manage and worry does... and I didn't want to impose my fears and perfectionistic tendencies on my daughter.
I longed for something simpler... and more wonder-full. I want my daughter to move through the world with a sense of freedom and adventure.
Last night we had a moment with our Divine Miss O that was pure grace, which also celebrated the rightness of our decision to choose freedom over fear.
Here's the story, and my letter in thanks to Lenore Skenazy:
I came across your story/website when my daughter was about 2... she's now 10... and our only child. I was having trouble navigating parental waters as an older Mom (she was born when I was 43). I certainly did not fit in with my mothering peers, and I felt constantly judged, and found lacking, simply because at my core I believe that kids are lot more capable than we give them credit for being. Besides that, I was just too tired to micromanage her, LOL! I needed her to be strong and independent... being older with health issues, I needed to know she'd be fine without me, if it came to that.
First of all, I just want to thank you for how your work has helped me to be the sort of mother I want to be... to empower my daughter and give her the sort of childhood freedom I enjoyed, despite all of the messages around me to do otherwise. Our family is so much better for it.
Secondly, I'd like to share a chapter in our free-range life with you.
Yesterday, I got the confirmation I needed that 'free range' is so much more than a cute sound bite, and that it is truly what our kids need and want from us.
Free Range is trusting in our kids and giving them the respect and support they need to become all they can be in the world. Let me tell you our story:
The Divine Miss O goes to a school situated about 15 minutes away walking, down a very busy city street, through a major but controlled intersection, past a busy strip mall and across a city park with a deep pond. Since day one she has begged to walk alone to school. At age 6, without older siblings/friends, I just couldn't see that happening... she's a pretty, out-going (will talk with anyone), tiny girl, who didn't yet have the necessary skills to negotiate the route with confidence.
Rather than saying no, I outlined for her what I had to see which would tell me she was ready to walk to school by herself: looking both ways before crossing the street, crossing with confidence so as to not confuse drivers, going directly to/from school without detours, being aware of time and respecting the clock, showing good judgment in unforeseen situations, respecting public property, etc.). For the next two years she worked diligently at meeting my expectations... we role-played every conceivable situation from the cute kitten in someone's yard (leave it there and stay on the public walk), to the older kid who tries to push her around (stand up for yourself and get adult help, if necessary), to the really nice lady who invites her in for a cookie ("no thank you" "I have to ask my mom")... and everything in between (how to avoid 'trouble', who/how to ask for help if you need it, how to fight if you have to)... the process was fun, funny, maddening and enriching for both of us.
Finally, to the absolute horror of all the other school moms (most whose kids still do not walk to school), The Divine Miss O started walking to/from school daily, alone, rain or shine, -20 C (sometimes colder) at age 8. I've only had to go looking for her once after school when she missed her deadline (she was distracted by a particularly interesting insect)... another learning opportunity for both of us.
She's made some friends in our neighbourhood... she met them walking. Prior to that, we had no idea which kids from her school, if any, lived near us. We've had a steady stream of kids into the house after school ever since... and I am the "best mom ever" for keeping everyone in after-school snacks, and mittens (apparently we are the only house for blocks that has such an exotic item... thank God for the Dollarama).
She dealt confidently and WELL with the strange woman who wanted to put lipstick on her the very first day she walked alone (seriously!)... I almost cancelled walking alone from there on in, but read a few more Free Range posts, and calmed down.
She's learned just how close she can get to that pond in the park without falling in, and can name a dozen or so species that live there... and that it takes A LOT of scrubbing to get muddy socks clean again... as well as that your pretty new boots don't look so pretty after they are soaked in sludge... they don't smell all that great, either.
She's learned to stand up for herself when boys started taking pictures of her with their cell phone... and that knocking them down may not be the BEST way ("I just got so MAD when they wouldn't STOP, Mom!")... and that going to another kid's house to apologize is not as scary as she thought it would be... that it kind of makes you feel like a big kid... and the boys learned to not mess with The Divine Miss O!
She's learned you can carve an animal (REALLY WELL!) out of a block of snow with your hands as you walk!
These, and every other lesson (there's a new one every day!) is a treasure I hold reverently, pondering them in my heart.
Recently, the opportunities for learning grew in magnitude.
About a month and a half ago, a Grade 8 boy from her school started walking home from school with her. From my after-school seat by the front window with my coffee, I'd see them pull into sight... she, striding along in her relaxed way; he twice her height, matching his stride to hers. She bounced through the door happy, and full of chat... they talked about Minecraft (an internet lego-type world she loves), sports, school... and The Divine Miss O felt as though she'd made a new friend. I figured he had to be a pretty nice kid to pay attention to my little girl that way. It was so cute... until she burst through the front door a week or so later, indignation radiating off her like steam.
While the Divine Miss O had been enjoying the company, this day she took great offense to The Boy's attempts at conversation... it was all sexual (my characterization, not Miss O's) in nature. Was she learning Fully Alive in school (our Family Life Program taught from Grade 1-8)? How old is she? Does she have a boyfriend? Does she know what boys and girls do together ("you know you're almost 12 and boys are going to try and do things to you!")... a parent's absolute nightmare.
With my heart pounding, I calmly and nonchalantly explored with her how she responded to all of this, and how she felt about it. She wasn't fazed at all, though she thought it was “pretty weird” that he would talk about this stuff when he doesn't even really know her, and she repeatedly told him she didn't discuss personal stuff outside her family (YEAH! That's my girl!)... "I didn't want him to know I was uncomfortable, Mom... but I did walk a little faster!" Mostly she was just confused about why he'd start talking this way. “Didn't he know it was inappropriate, Mom!?!”
I truly don't know what most other people would have done under the circumstances, but I told her I was very proud of how she handled herself (I am in awe of her composure), and we began a new set of role-playing exercises: how to discourage an unsavory conversation, how to discourage someone from following you, how to find out more about someone without appearing to pry (I wanted to learn his last name)... and we made a plan for what she should do next: don't walk with him if she can help it, and use the strategies she learned in role-playing. In a calm, casual way (though I felt anything BUT) I did my best to give her insight into The Boy's motives... to help her see him for the manipulative person he is... not a potential friend… and, she got it.
Before Christmas The Divine Miss O had several opportunities to put our role-playing practice to good use, as we continued to discern just how serious this situation was... The Boy didn't always make the conversation weirdly sexual...so, maybe he's just a really immature, awkward kid who is flexing his perception of 'man' muscles... I didn't want to escalate the situation without being certain there was any need to do so.
Then this past Monday it turned: The Boy tried to convince The Divine Miss O to leave the very busy city street and to walk instead down the quiet alley that runs parallel. When she flatly refused to do so, he asked her if she was scared... she told him, "No!" and she really didn't seem to be (though I was)... she just already knew from past conversation that we would not approve of the alley route. He also made comments with sexual undertones to her in the hallway at school in front of other kids (which offended her greatly... she wasn't exactly sure why, but she knew it sounded wrong). I didn't want to overreact, or undermine her confidence, so I suggested that her next step should be to invite him to come and meet her Mom (she knew exactly what I was up to, and was delighted by this suggestion)... while I did some investigating of my own beforehand.
I called the school Principal to explain, and to ask his opinion as to how we might address my concerns. I discovered that he knows who The Boy is. He checked to confirm that The Boy has no reason to be walking all this way with my daughter... he doesn't live anywhere near us. The principal offered to handle the situation from his end, but once again, I felt this might undermine The Divine Miss O's confidence and create fears where there weren't any yet, so I told him I'd speak to Miss O and then get back to him... if she felt that she needed adult help to get rid of The Boy, I would let him know.
When The Divine Miss O got home from school (disappointed that she didn't have an opportunity to invite The Boy to meet her mom... he didn't approach her this day), we sat down together and I filled her in on what all I had found out, and expressed my concerns... particularly that anyone inviting her to stray from her usual route, and pressing her further when she declined, was up to no good... asking her what she thought.
Her first comment was, "WELL! I don't like that he's been lying to me!" When her Dad asked her how the The Boy had lied, "Well Dad... walking with me like he's just going home when he's not is LYING!" "...And he seemed nice!"
We made a plan: she must tell The Boy that she no longer wants to walk with him, and then simply walk away (she feels very confident doing so... we role-played it several times). If he makes any more comments to her at school, she is to go directly to the principal and let him know. If The Boy doesn't respect her wishes to be left alone, the principal will step in and, if need be, we will call the police... because this is called 'harassment' and it is against the law. "So, he's kind of bullying me, Mom?" "Yes... he persists in inappropriate behavior/talk even though you've told him clearly to stop. He's not treating you with respect." "Well, I don't need THAT kind of friend!"
We then asked her what she's learned from all of this:
"Get to know people really well before you tell them any personal stuff."
"Get to know people really well before you decide if they are good, or not."
"Be careful around people until you know them for a long time."
I didn't think it could get much better until she scooted around the table to give me a big hug and emphatically stated, "THANK YOU, Mom, for not leaving me out of the solution!" (We tell her often that she can either be part of the solution, or be part of the problem.)
WOW! I could not have seen that coming. It really didn't occur to me that there might be times she felt excluded from being a catalyst for change in her own life. I would have thought she is still too young to be thinking in those terms. For me, that one comment explains why free-range parenting is so important.
This situation could have instilled debilitating fear (in both of us), and completely undermined my daughter's confidence in the world. Instead, her confidence in her own ability to navigate the world well, and her trust in us as her parents, has grown... while her innocence, freedom and sense of adventure remains intact.
I want my daughter to have the world. I think we're off to a good start.
The Divine Miss O, aged 10... a girl ready to take on the WORLD!
I'm happy to tell you that, even 7 years later, this remains a parenting moment of which I am most proud (at the time is t was HARD)! It's also been foundational in so much that has happened since. The trust, communication channels and confidence we created together through this for our whole family has been priceless.
My Divine Miss O is, by no means, perfect. Like any kid (myself included) she has, a time or two, taken advantage of the freedom she had to work so hard to earn, but because we already had a well-established foundation of mutual respect we've been able to work through these bumps with few lasting repercussions.
The pandemic has given us an even greater opportunity to grow as a family because we are already strong. Being locked in with my teenager has been an absolute joy. in between board games. It breaks my heart that more people have not been able to say the same.
Additionally, the lessons we've learned together over the years have more than prepared us to weather our current societal tribulations as well as anyone possibly could. Remember my opening?
Free-Range is about community, addressing bias, risk management, living joyously despite our fears and tribulations, trusting in our own intuition regarding what is good for us, inherent freedom in a limiting world and healing our collective woundedness. Free-range has prepared us well to adapt and be part of the solutions for ourselves, and for our community.
In case you haven't yet drawn the parallels, free-range principals are extremely pertinent to overall wellness, and specifically to weight loss:
* what biases keep you from fully embracing what works for you?
* what fears are you willing to face in order to bring more joy into your life?
* do you trust yourself to know what is best for you regardless of what others may say?
* how do you retain a sense of your own freedom, despite the limiting aspects of discipline and responsibility required to eliminate excess weight?
* how are you addressing your own woundedness to make more room in your life for authenticity?
Free-range isn't just a nice idea for people "who can afford it," it's an imperative for all of us… with the underpinnings of respect, compassion and dignity for all. Free-range, done well, teaches us all to be better in every way.
The Divine Miss O, almost 17... ready to take on the world!
...and one more, just because! Can you blame me?
UPDATE: January 23, 2015:
My account was published on Free Range Kids TODAY…. the comments alone are worth a visit!
_RAMONA: The Divine Miss O's Mom January 23, 2015 at 7:05 pm
My Update on Free-Range Kids!
There is so much I’d like to say in response to many of you, and I will do so, but first I’d like to offer an update to the situation as it continues to play out.
As one poster mentioned, we remain concerned about the possibility of The Boy approaching other girls less prepared to manage the situation, and we remain watchful. As The Boy is himself a child (pointed out by yet another poster), we want to be cautious about how we address our concerns. I think one of the mistakes people make is in reacting, rather than responding, to situations that make them uncomfortable and, as a result, end up feeling disregarded and ineffective at the least or, at the worst, doing more damage than necessary to all concerned. Before responding to our concerns, we want to be clear about what sort of response is required, and we want to be taken seriously when we do take further action.
It’s been two weeks since the “alley” incident. In this time, The Boy has avoided the Divine Miss O entirely, in and out of school. This leads us to believe that at the least he is very aware of the inappropriateness of his actions and based on Miss O’s vehement “no” he expected trouble to be coming his way… and he has the ability to make better choices… or he’s just confused. He has also stopped walking home this way.
However, just two days ago, The Boy did attempt to walk with Miss O, and as planned, she delivered her message of no longer wishing to walk with him. He, of course, questioned this and was promptly told exactly why his company was no longer acceptable to her: “you keep talking about inappropriate stuff even though I told you to stop!” He didn’t chase her down, or try to prolong the conversation, and he has kept his distance since. We’ve made the Principal aware.
Should The Boy approach the Divine Miss O again, we will then ask the principle to step in, and involve The Boy’s parents. Should it come to this, once The Boy’s parents have been notified, we will then discuss our concerns further with the school principle, and if it seems important to do so from our perspective, we will contact the police. Even if he does not approach our daughter again, we will be discussing this further with the principle to see what can be done for The Boy.
What many people reading fail to recognize: there has been nothing actionable by law done here in relation to the The Boy’s behavior. At this point he is a confused and inappropriate 13-year-old, who needs some guidance, and hopefully we can address this in a way that respects his dignity as a human being, while also ensuring that other children less able to stand up for themselves are protected.
_RAMONA: The Divine Miss O's Mom January 23, 2015 at 11:25 pm
My response to a commenter on Free-Range Kids
Raising strong free-rangers is about, I think, calculated risk… even in the situation I’ve described above.
The boy is 13. If he were in high school, or not from her school, our immediate response would have been different. If Miss O wasn’t walking home on a very busy, public street our response would have been different. If she hadn’t already demonstrated a strong ability to handle herself well in challenging situations, our response would have been different. The details of every situation determine the response, not some arbitrary perception of propriety.
We had the wiggle room in this particular situation to let it play out some, naturally, and allow our daughter to build her confidence and mature in her ability to handle difficult people and situations. And this is our habit… wherever possible, we give her room to handle things before stepping in to see if she will sink, or soar… and even when she’s sinking, before stepping in we remind her that she also knows how to swim… we’re here to help, but she has to do the work… and she reaps the rewards of doing so.
Over time she has become a lot more inclined to listen to us right off because she’s already had the opportunity to learn “the hard way” that we are right about things more often, than not. Free-range is a two-way trust/respect building process.
_RAMONA: The Divine Miss O's Mom January 25, 2015 at 2:36 pm
My response to a commenter on Free-Range Kids
When we are bubble-wrapping our kids and hovering over them trying to keep them safe, what we’re really doing is projecting our fears and adult agendas onto them; and instead of making them feel more safe, we are inadvertently telling them they can’t trust their own perception and instincts, which in turn undermines their confidence. Helicopter parents communicate an intrinsic lack of faith in their kids’ innate competence in even the gravest situations. One of the things I appreciate most about being a free-range parent is having the opportunity to discover just how smart, resourceful and insightful my Divine Miss O is. I don’t think helicopter parents have the same opportunity to delight in their children.
As harsh as this may sound to some, and though I continually pray that my daughter will experience only the best of life (all the while realizing this is unrealistic), I know that having something ‘bad’ happen to her will not be the end of our world. The potential traumatizing usually happens in the aftermath and in how I, as her parent, may choose to react.
I can let her range freely because I know that whatever life brings to our door, we will handle it together with grace and courage and determination to get to the other side WELL. I’m not parenting from fear, I’m parenting with faith and hope.
Ya know… what a lot of parents seem to forget is that we don’t need to trust the world in order to embrace free-range, we need to trust our kids, and they need to know we have faith in them… and we need to trust our own innate wisdom.
The more you focus on, and build, mutual trust and respect between you and your kids, the less you have to fear, and the more freedom you can all enjoy… what the world is, or isn’t doing, becomes irrelevant to how you move through it.
The degree to which you feel comfortable with free-range ideology is a direct measuring stick of your own confidence in having raised your kids well, and a reflection of the quality of your relationship with them.
_RAMONA: The Divine Miss O's Mom January 26, 2015 at 4:46 pm
My response to a commenter on Free-Range Kids
“Tempering one’s reactions” is, I think, the first tenant of free-range parenting.… Because of my own history (or fears, or insecurities, or needs, or comfort levels… whatever it is that is pushing my buttons in the moment), I have always been careful to get my Divine Miss O’s take on her experience first, and make THAT the beginning point for whatever happens next.
Helicopter-parenting is parent-centered (the whole impetus is the parent’s need for safety and control and to be seen as a ‘good’ parent)… the child is seen as an extension of the parent.
Free-range parenting is child-centered… it is the child’s need for a sense of mastery and freedom and control over their life experience that drives decision-making… The child is respected as a separate and competent individual in their own right.
You can’t childproof the world, only world proof your child.
Personally, I think if safety is our primary goal we are setting the bar way too low. The main point underlying free-range parenting is that no matter how hard we try, we cannot ever make the world truly ‘safe’. The best we can do is teach, encourage, and allow our kids to grow through every challenge on to the next.
In my opinion, good judgment/intuition is not a given that suddenly kicks in along with maturity, and when we suddenly need it. These are muscles that need to be exercised and something that will develop as challenges are faced and conquered.
There isn’t anyone who can possibly know what being a free-range parent costs me on a daily basis, nor can you from your own bias, say with any clarity what should be done in this specific situation… while I appreciate and share your concerns, I can’t condone your judgment. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and I know a predator when I see one. I know just how careful one must be, and if you read my account carefully, you would have noted that, “I did my best to give [my Divine Miss O] insight into The Boy’s motives… to help her see him for the manipulative person he is… not a potential friend.” I also know from personal experience that over-reacting, and acting without clear cause and purpose, can do as much damage as any actual physical harm. I refuse to impose my fears and daemons on my daughter. I have no words for how grateful I am for the years of really good therapy that have allowed me to live my life with a true sense of freedom, and I will not give that up, nor will I damage my daughter’s sense of moving freely and joyously through the world unless and until I have clear cause to do so.
Contrary to thinking her irresponsible, I am also very grateful to Lenore for publishing my account here, because it is here that I realize just how far I’ve come in reclaiming all that was taken from me. I hope this helps others to see that moving through life with love, joy and freedom will always win over fear and daemons.
Where and when to kick, bite, punch and scream, and how hard is precisely part of our free-range curriculum! ;) The Divine Miss O is a warrior princess. Interestingly, her Dad and I have had to work *much* harder to teach her that the first line of defense is assessment and avoidance wherever possible… fight back only when all else has failed!
WATERMELLEN’s blogs… don’t skip the comments. They’re an important part of the conversation.
Free Range Kids
"And I'm wondering: post COVID, whether this trend towards free range will be likely to continue?"
Oh, my word, I sure hope so!
I grew up much as you did, Ellen, and I've raised a very lonely free-range kiddo! Why lonely? Because nobody else seems able to see the value in allowing their kids to grow up in an atmosphere of freedom and autonomy. We live in an extremely safe city, comparatively. I have never understood the over-the-top concerns about allowing kids to explore the community without an adult hovering over them continuously. Has my kiddo had some weird experiences? Sure, she has... but she handled every one of them like a champ. She feels very competent out in the world and has developed a sense of responsibility, judgement and resilience her peers seem to lack.
May free range be another one of the many blessings that thrive long after the pandemic ends!
Free Range Balance?
My heart aches for all who have had to live with the negative repercussions that could, perhaps, be attributed to "free-range" parenting. Those sorts of memories shape us for a life time, for sure... and not always for the better. None of us can do any more than our best, regardless of where we fit on the "free-range" spectrum.
Yesterday, I identified myself as both a free-range kid, and a free-range parent. The statement on its face is true but there is a lot of life, experience, debate, consideration, fear, prayer, therapy, courage, joy and even more in between my childhood and my daughter's. Equally true acknowledgements: I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse; my desire to live a full and joyous life is often at odds with my fears; I value both freedom and safety equally (life would be easier if I didn't), as a child I almost burnt down my family home while exercising my curiosity (NOT for lack of responsible parenting on the part of my parents... my Dad was the fire chief... I knew what the expectations were, and chose otherwise), I know what a truly great adventure feels like because I've lived, thrived through and survived many... though some just barely... and those still haunt me... as do my own daughter's 'close calls' yet my pride in her confidence and capabilities more than compensates (she's so much smarter than I even knew)... and, truthfully, her greatest scars and mishaps were endured when I was 'right there'. Go figure.
The thing is, I've never believed that "free-range" was the problem, even when adventures got dicey. The problems were the result of adults who didn't value children, adults who made poor choices, adults who didn't believe what children told them, adults who didn't so much encourage freedom as much as they didn't have the resources or the inclination to parent mindfully... adults who did not step up to their rightful place in the village that it takes to raise a child.
Many people, when they hear "free-range" really hear irresponsible, careless, ill-considered, neglectful, never knowing where your kids are or who they're with, no questions asked ever... and while these may be elements to consider when kids seem to be "running wild," the vast majority of truly free-range parents (parents who believe that their children deserve the opportunity to experience some measure of the world out from under the weight of constant surveillance and restriction) are rarely any of these (especially those who live in large urban centers). "Free-range" is NOT synonymous with "no guidance or expectations." My daughter has so much more freedom than her peers because I refuse to consign her to a life shaped by my own scars and fears... AND her freedom has been acquired/earned as she's actively and progressively demonstrated the skills, abilities, sense of responsibility and judgement necessary to keep herself and others safe while navigating the world around her without direct supervision (which also takes into consideration the temperament of the child).
I never or easily watch my daughter walk out the door without some measure of concern/fear for her well-being... and there are times I feel as though I'm holding my breath until she returns (even though, within reason, I know where she is going, with whom, and when she's coming home). Raising up a confident, capable truly free adult is complicated and complex and challenging and HARD... and the process is as individual as there are kids/parents. I'm proud of both my daughter and I for doing the work required to make her a free-range adult.
Confirmation Bias and Risk Tolerance