Free Ranging – For Parents Who Want to Be Left Alone

There are a la46e34602bffb6354d7217da6ff675c2ot of parenting styles. Some have catchy names like attachment, mindful or slow parenting (which to me conjures up images of children being put in a crock pot. It’s a very unsettling visual). My favorite is the free-range parent. This type of child rearing has been in the news a lot recently when a Maryland couple was cited by Child Protective Services for letting their 10 and 6-year-old walk to and from a park that was a mile away from their home.

The parents reasoning for their free-range approach was that it was how they were brought up and they want to raise independent children.


Here’s my take on free ranging. It’s lame. In fact, I’ll go so far to say that I think free-ranging is just a cutesy name for lazy except who wants to admit that they’re a lazy parent? Pretty much no one and free range sounds so, I don’t know, Whole Food-sy like it’s all organic and good for you. Plus, it gives you a nifty soapbox to stand on as you puff out your chest and declare that independent child nonsense.

What these moms and dads really should be confessing is that they want to read a book, binge on a Netflix series or get some work done. No scratch that. They could do all that on their iPhone 6 while at the park with their kids.

So, I’ll share my opinion that this kind of parent wants their children to leave them the hell alone thus they call their non parenting free-ranging so they can feel good about foisting their kids off on other parents.

Yeah, that’s right foisting because most free-range kids, not too happy with being left alone, seek out the companionship and security of other families. Any mother who has been with her kids at a park, swimming pool, or even her own neighborhood is acquainted with the free-range kid.

This is the lonely child or children that see a family and come over and ask to play or partake of the snack being handed out. They glue themselves to you until you have to leave and yet you stay as long as possible because you are alarmed these children are by themselves.

At the pool it’s even worse because you fear for their safety without a parent keeping an eye on them while they’re in the water. (Quick note to all parents a lifeguard is not a babysitter.) You even start packing extra snacks for the kids because you know they are being left unattended for hours at a time.

Free-range kids in your neighborhood are a little different story. You know them and you know their parents. You also know on the weekends and in the summer they ring your doorbell at 8:00 am and would stay forever if you would let them. When you casually mention to their mother that her darling is “sure enjoying hanging out with your family for 14 hours a day” the standard reply is “I know. Isn’t it great we live in such a kid friendly neighborhood.”

Yeah, the kid friendly thing is great alright and the whole it takes a village is an awesome concept, but you didn’t sign up to be a free nanny and there are many times your own kids are enough to handle without raising another one.

As for the whole back in the day argument that goes something like this: “We left on our bikes in the morning and didn’t come home till we got hungry at night and look we turned out fine.”

Let me run this hypothesis by you. I would like to propose that the reason parents today are so, let’s say, protective, is because we spent our childhoods scared to death. Seriously, the things I did as a child I would never allow my kids the “freedom” to do. No way. No how. (Let’s see, I played on the train tracks, went off a homemade rope swing into a reservoir of questionable depth by myself because no one else wanted to swim and that’s just on one Saturday morning circa 1976.)

Another flaw in the back in the day scenario is that the world has changed. By letting your child roam you are not doing your part to restore America to the sensibilities of the Andy Griffith show. Aunt Bee is not home cooking pies. She’s running ConAgra.

For sure, I will admit parents today are hovering and helicoptering. We have our kids in a stranglehold that we like to tell ourselves is just a great big hug. (Or is that just me that does that?) But letting your kid free range is not the answer.

Primarily because childhood is exceedingly short, most especially the days when your kid would love nothing better than going to the park and hang out with you. These moments shouldn’t be shunned, pushed off on others or used as a teachable moment in independence. They should be savored because in a blink they’re gone and soon things like a phone will replace you as your child’s constant and steadfast companion.

*Attcover_1.3-2ention Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.  It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read.  I hope you like it! 🙂

17 thoughts on “Free Ranging – For Parents Who Want to Be Left Alone

  1. Non Free Ranger says:

    Love this. You are sooo right. I live in a neighborhood with two free range kids. This means the kids divide their time between my family and another one two doors down. The mom brags about her “independent children” meanwhile I feel like I’m raising them half the time.

  2. Donna T says:

    Well, I’ve been considering myself getting into the free range thing by letting my child do things independently-ride his bike with friends and no adult, walk down the street, and be home alone for 10 minutes. He’s 11. I’ve been thinking it’s good for him to know how to handle situations and figure things out without panicking and to develop confidence.
    I experienced the lonely summer kid for the first time last year, so I understand and totally agree on what happens with that. A 10 year old is not comfortable being home alone all day, and sure enough, they sought out other homes, mine being one.
    I am hanging onto the last few years of his being a kid.

  3. Jennifer says:

    There is a difference between encouraging your children to be independent and allowing them to try some things on their own and being neglectful. You are describing a neglectful parent. Not a parent who goes to the park with their kids a lot but can’t every day. You’re describing a parent who doesn’t feed their kids or ever ask them even bother checking in. I don’t think you are describing a “free-range” (I hate that term) parent as I identify with it.

  4. DonnaA says:

    When I first heard/read the phrase “free-range parenting” the picture I got in my head is of children wandering around in a pasture and just like cattle eating the grass. I can’t explain it, it just popped in my head. “Back in the day” (40+ years ago) my brother and I walked over a mile each way to school every day. No it was not up hill both ways. No we were not barefoot and no we did not walk through 3 feet of snow in winter. LOL.

    I agree that “Back in the day” does not apply to this day and age. Allowing children of that age to walk a mile to and from the park is outright negligence. A 10 YO and 8 YO should not be allowed to walk alone more than 2 blocks away from home. IMHO the person who called the police on those children being alone did the right thing.

  5. Maureen McGill Sklaroff says:

    My pat answer to free range parenting is yes, that is the way we were raised. In fact, we were so free range we all played at a lake that none of the adults knew existed, where someone had built a raft. Us younger kids always though about trying the raft, but were too scared too. One day, however, two of the younger boys went down there with their teenaged brothers, who were not too scared to try the raft. It got to the middle and sank. the two younger boys new how to swim, but couldn’t swim that far with clothes on, so drowned. The whole community got up in arms and drained the lake (a precious commodity in Southern California). What we really needed was to not be kicked out of the house all day so that we hiked three miles away and found the lake. At the same time, there needs to be a balance between that and these families that never let their kids play outside. My daughter always wants to be playing and as our house is the house with the swing set and Otter Pops (sorry Whole Food popsicles are too expensive when you’re feeding the whole neighborhood) many of the kids end up at our house a lot. They also end up at other houses though. We do have parents who never let the kids play at their house, as you discuss… Yet, there are also several families on our street who have their kids lives lined up with homework, extra study, extra curricular, etc. One day, our next door neighbors must have told their daughters to go out and play. The three girls were 10, 8, and 8-ish and had never been out to play in all their years living here. They kind of straddled their bikes and walked the bikes, not rode, in jerky circles right by their driveway, totally unsure what they were supposed to do. They were making weird noises and it was really creepy! they are not special needs and attend honors classes at the regular schools, they just don’t know how to play.

  6. Mom of 3 girls says:

    You always make me laugh, thanks! I guess we are the free range parents here, though. We do have a rule about not going into others homes. And we usually wind up with about ten kids at our house because we let the kids use tools to build forts and have the dart guns, legos, drum set, dogs and water guns. I just keep a supply of popsicles, water, and bandaids…the neighbor kids know where to get them if they need them. The kids know to be home when the street lights come on.

  7. tired parent says:

    While I think the term free-range parenting is dumb (My children aren’t chickens) I disagree with your overly generalized account of the Maryland incident which has sparked this conversation. I think the Meitivs family in Maryland is within their right to allow their kids to go to and from the park unsupervised. From the media accounts, the children were not in any distress, they were not lost and the parents knew where the kids were. I think it ridiculous for the state to intervene. If the parent’s felt the 10-year old was responsible enough, that is their decision not the government’s. I think that autonomy is good for kids and it is up to parents to decide how much freedom to give each child and when those freedoms should be granted. There is no magic age of maturity. I know plenty of 10-year old kids who are more mature than some teenagers who

    Shoving your kids outside the house to play without talking about boundaries, rules and general good manners is lazy, but allowing your kids the freedom to walk to the neighborhood market. park or school teaches them independence away from mom and dad. I have let my kids (12 and 10) go into the store to buy groceries while I have waited in the car. Not because I’m lazy, but because I want them to have the experience and responsibility and confidence of finding and picking out the items and interacting with the cashier without my interference. I was outside if they needed me but they didn’t and the sense of pride they got from doing it themselves was immeasurable. My kids sometimes walk or ride their bikes the mile to and from school when the weather is nice and (gasp) I’m not there with them. I didn’t just shove them out the door and say go. Beforehand we walked/biked and timed the route and talked about landmarks, houses of approved friends they could stop at if something happened, etc. My kids aren’t running around the neighborhood like banshees. They have behavioral expectations they are required to meet, or they will lose their freedom privileges.
    I worked in higher education for many years and was always amazed at how many kids made it to college and couldn’t think or make a simple decision on their own without getting parent affirmation because their “helicopter” parents never let them think for themselves.
    There has to be a middle ground between these so called “free-range” parents you describe that let their kids terrorize and munch their way through neighborhoods and “helicopter” parents who never let their kids see sunshine for fear something bad might happen. I personally lean more towards the former.

  8. SMB says:

    Well, I used to tell my kids (now 31 and 30) to go outside and play-lots of times. It comes in handy. I grew up in Detroit, and my mom regularly did the same, I was one of 8 kids. My kids knew the limits as young children, ie. don’t leave the yard without asking etc. I raised them in a very small town, year round population 1000, but summer population of upto 30,000, with strangers as neighboors. I got a german shepherd dog at the age we thought they could be alone. Independence comes in stages, a little bit at a time. Confidence in the child takes time for the kid and the parent.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I find your boldness both vindicating and refreshing! After having been repeatedly taken advantage of by a parent of three “free rangers”, I have come to the conclusion that many of it’s adherents are using this “movement” to manipulate benevolent bystanders into providing uncompensated child care services. My gentle and tactful attempts to set proper boundaries between our families have been met with both anger and contempt, revealing the selfish sense of entitlement that lurks beneath all of the “logical” arguments in favor of this “parenting style”. Why should other people, who are fighting their own battles, have their own responsibilities and challenges have to stop whatever they’re involved with to check on my child’s well-being? it’s just presumptuous to expect that from others! In fact, I will even say that if a neighbor is repeatedly “sending their kids out to play” and they, perchance, always seem to end up at your house, then you are being exploited by the parent. I certainly don’t mind helping my neighbors out occasionally, as long as it’s planned and on my terms, i.e. within time limits that I feel I can manage along with my other responsibilities to my own family.

    I myself was a “free range” child, who was saddled with the heavy responsibility of practically raising my two “free range” half brothers who were 5 and 6 years younger than me. I was 10 when I began to babysit them. Sometimes we were left alone for 8 or more hour days during the summers. I do not believe that I reaped any benefit at all from my “free range adventures”, nor did my siblings. Case in point: Twenty years later we discovered that a nice, friendly man in the neighborhood that my parents trusted was a pedophile. He had victimized several male children. Luckily, I was able to thwart every attempt this man ever made to get my brothers alone with him. It would have been disastrous indeed. I can’t tell you how many times I longed to have my parents invest in me. I missed out on being able to do after school activities and have a parent cheer me on in the sports that I was interested in participating in but couldn’t because I had to be home to care for my siblings. We were as “free range” as “free range” gets. No supervision for hours at a time. All of this left a deep, painful void I still carry in my soul today. I would have enjoyed some healthy helicoptering!

    I have to wonder whether or not the child abduction statistics have decreased due to increased parental vigilance over the years. If so, then it stands to reason that if parents stop being as vigilant, then we will no doubt experience a rapid increase in those statistics. I certainly hope not!

  10. Jennifer says:

    One does have to wonder how Amanda Berry views the “free range” parenting movement….considering the horrors that she endured. Why would any sane person put their child at risk for something like that? I wonder if practitioners of this style of parenting immunize their children. Same parallels apply.

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