I’m not built to be a free-range mother. I’m nervous and over-protective by nature, and many years of experience as a social worker’ve just increased my knowledge of everything that may happen to my daughters, from sexual abuse to traumatic brain injuries. If I had my way, my girls would not leave the home without a GPS monitoring device, a helmet, a phone, and a Taser Jr..
And so I was surprised as anyone when I realized I had begun free-range parenting my daughters, ages 7 and 8.5. The women may spend weekend afternoons running into your neighbors’ home, then occasionally another neighbors’ home, and eventually either my spouse or I end up texting another parents on the block so as to figure out where they are.
We went with all the girls’ day school. We spent the weekend on the cornerstone of a Jewish summer camp with a bunch of different families, and from Friday night to Sunday morning, I wasn’t entirely certain where my daughters were unless they had been eating, sleeping, or playing in the lake. Spending the weekend drinking coffee and chatting with other parents (rather than hovering over my kids) got me really thinking. How did I become a free-range parent? And when I, the Mother of Anxious Jewish mothers, can do it, can’t anyone?
The answer is, well, kind of, but not for the reasons you’d think. Despite what a selection of parenting specialists and opinionators might have you believe, the capability to free-range parent’s comparatively little to do with the true parent. Our individual need or commitment to letting our kids off the leash is one relatively small factor in the grand scheme of things.
Instead, it’s almost entirely a mixture of good timing, superior luck, community support, and an ample dose of privilege.
First, my women are now old enough, healthy enough, and usually trustworthy enough to be permitted to wander. Before this year, they just were too young to play independently, as I couldn’t always rely on them to make safe choices or come get my spouse or wife when things went wrong. They are also young enough that I’m not yet concerned about drunk driving or date rape; summit elementary school is in fact the sweet spot for play.
I’m also blessed to have kids who can normally be trusted, that look out for each other, and that are healthy enough to be in their own. This last point is a significant one; my old daughter had an asthma attack back in school that demanded a 911 call in the college, which certainly set us back a year or two. (Nothing produces a mother twist the leash greater than the possibility that her kiddo could suddenly stop breathing.)
Moreover, all their individual wandering happens in the context of the community, either in our neighborhood or at school events. We’re lucky enough to reside in an unusually safe city, the women visit a tiny Jewish day school in which most of the families know each other and feel a sense of responsibility for each other, and our home is about a densely populated road where the homes are only a couple of feet apart from each other. The women don’t have to move far to feel as though they’re in their own, and even if they’re out of my stove, I trust my friends, neighbors, and fellow parents to keep an eye on these.
Underlying all this, clearly, is our privilege, a reality that maynot, and should not, be underestimated. We’re white Americans with sufficient cash to reside in the city of our picking and also to send our allies daily college. This means that when strange adults visit my children alone, they’re a lot more inclined to not just help them, yet to provide me my spouse the benefit of the doubt. Sadly, the exact same isn’t necessarily accurate for families of colour, immigrant families, or those facing poverty or other economic hurdles, that are a lot more likely to face important consequences should they abandon their kids.
A few of those factors –such as my kids ‘ age (both developmental and physical), the colour of their skin, and their health status, are outside my control. Providentially, the most important element isn’t.
The Truth is that my daughters’ liberty, and my own skill to independently parent them, is entirely dependent on the other adults within our area, and also the extent to which we trust each other to watch out for our kids. In reality, in most communities across the spectrum of expertise, parents have the ability to defeat the burdens of modern life by banding together and keeping an eye on others offpsring.
So, next time you neglect yourself for being too over-protective or worried about your children’s liberty, remember, it’s not entirely about you. The capability to free-range parent takes a delicate mix of variables which are, to a degree or another, outside of your control. A hyper-anxious Jewish Mama can free-range parent under the very best of conditions, so it’s incumbent upon each of us to do what we can to support our fellow parents that are also doing their very best to raise happy, independent kids.