If I could start over again I would totally be a Free Range Parent

Updated Jun 8 2017
Guest post by Rebecca Mayglothling
Be Free Range Art by Etsy seller WendysJoy

My children are older and in grade school. My daughter was always an amazing daredevil β€” climbing slides and 20 foot waterfalls at only a year-and-a-half. I was extremely nervous over her. She was my second child and my first, my son, would never dream of doing anything as devilish as climb a slide! After she climbed the slide, I never returned to that park again because she scared the pants off me.

Both kids aged and started to meet friends. Through them, I met one of my dearest friends, J. She is highly intelligent and had some of the best child rearing advice I'd ever received. Additionally, she knew people I knew from the past. We had a lot to talk about and a lot to share. We spent quite a bit of time together, and since J was also my part-time sitter, she spent a lot of time alone with my children.

As I got to know her better, I started to observe how J raised her children. Consequently, J also cared for my children the same way she raised hers. Remember, I was the nervous mother who wanted to bubble wrap the children. J was the free-range mother who let her kids climb the walls. If they fell, they fell. She didn't try to guard them against every scratch.

Of course, J kept them off the roof of her third story apartment, and when they moved to a beautiful farmhouse, she kept them far away from the pond. Other than that, she let them explore and learn on their own. I watched this and occasionally reached out to catch the climbing babies before realizing they're allowed to climb!

As I watched her parenting style, I started to wonder about my own. I was the parent who kept my kids as safe as possible. Barring the few seconds I couldn't watch my daughter as she scurried up to new heights, my kids kept their feet firmly on the ground. They never had a chance to explore and learn on their own. If they wanted to climb on the table, I was right there to tell them no. If they wanted to stack the chairs up high enough to reach the ceiling, I took the chairs away. I would not allow any risks that made me even slightly nervous.

I realized that J was letting my children explore on their own when they were with her. I also realized quickly that my kids were fine, and so were hers. J remains one of my most trusted babysitters, and I think it's obvious that I barely trust anyone with my kids. I began to realize that her kids really don't have a fear of trying new things. They just go for it.

Caution Free Range Children Sign by etsy seller ArtfullyRustic

It could be argued that the kids might get hurt, but don't we all take that chance? If I could do it all over again, I would raise free-range kids. It was, after all, how I was raised. Somehow I lost sight of that when my son was born.

I baby-gated everything. Baby gates don't work with her kids, because they can naturally escape them. I watched my kids like a hawk. She educates hers on the dangers of certain items, making sure they get the message loud and clear. I was constantly nervous. She seems more relaxed.

There is an argument for free-range parenting. Free-range parenting is not a new concept. Only a few decades ago, when my ancestors were raising farm kids, there was no other way to parent because there was always work to be done. After observing my kids compared to hers, I wonder if my ancestors weren't onto something.

If I were to bear any more children, I would raise free-range kids. I would try to worry less and let them explore more.

I would be very interested to find out how they compare to my older children, and I would have a great role model to thank for the idea!

  1. Why not start over, tomorrow? While maybe you won't become daredevil parent, are there ways you could implement your dream of free-ranging with elementary or older elementary students? Are there ways they could explore some 'dangerous' things (like ropes courses, or summer camps, or some other random project) that would let you, and them, feel like they're getting more age-appropriate freedom and exploration?

  2. I loved this post. I have a 10-month-old son and another baby boy on the way and I think a lot about what kind of parent I'm going to be. In some respects, my parents were "free range parents." (Then again, I was also raised in the 1980s. On a farm. There was the time that I had a terrific bike crash into a mud puddle. There were no kisses, just a bath in the backyard with cold water from the pump. :)) But there were also times that I think my mom might have been the first helicopter parent and her fears and her desire to keep me close to the nest have influenced me greatly. I hope that I can take the best parts of my parents' style and wing the rest. πŸ™‚

  3. I am definitely a free range parent and absolutely love to watch my child (soon to be children) grow.

    My only complaint about "the movement" is that the community on the free range kids website you linked is so off putting. I feel the tone over there leans toward being alarmist about not being alarmist … or something.

  4. It feels like such a balancing act! On the one hand, I want my 18 month old to feel confident and fearless as she climbs around the playground. On the other hand, the few times she's fallen have practically given me a heart attack and keep me within arms reach. I try to find ways for her to explore in a safe way–for instance she can climb on the couch after I put cushions underneath it.

    I guess the tricky part for me is figuring out what IS age-appropriate. Climbing 10 feet? Climbing 20 feet? Climbing up to the 2nd floor roof but not the 3rd floor roof? How do you find these things out when you're a first time parent?

    • When I was a kid, my parents "spotted" me. They let me climb anything, but they had to be waiting underneath in case I fell. I think most kids have a good sense of how high is safe for them–the only kids who went very high were the ones who were good at climbing and never fell anyway. The rest of us stayed pretty low.

      When I'm babysitting my climb-o-matic little brother, I judge it by: does he look stable? If not, if he falls, will he A) get an owie, B) break a bone, or C) die (cars, cliffs, electricity, etc.)? If C, I'd stop him; if B, I'd spot him and watch extra closely, and if A, I'd relax and let him play. Hurting himself is how he learned his own limits. I know this is easier for me because I'm a sister and not a parent, but it worked for me. Little Bro is still alive, and an excellent judge of heights. πŸ˜€

      • Thanks, that's definitely helpful to hear! I do try and stick with "spotting" most of the time. I think it's the B situations that make me the most nervous. My daughter is a pretty confident climber, but there have been a couple times where she's slipped or a larger kid has bumped her. I know she CAN go down the big slide by herself, but if someone accidentally bumped her at the top that's a looong way down. I mean, I'm picturing it like that scene in the Titanic with the propeller! Logically I know it's pretty unlikely, but the "what ifs" get me.

        I'm gonna be a wreck when she starts driving, aren't I? πŸ˜‰

      • As a self-professed scardey cat, who was definitely not raised free range, I'm nearly incapable of distinguishing A, B, and C. Everything feels like C to me.

        I got upset that my husband gave my daughter a piggy back ride at the mall, because we were on the 2nd floor and I imagined all the ways he could slip, drop her, and have her fall to her death. We compromised by having me walk between them and the railing.

        I try to be as hands off as I can stand, but it's hard. A lot of people decried 50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do as common sense, but some of us nervous nellies do need to be told what's "dangerous" because someone might get sued versus dangerous because someone might get seriously hurt.

  5. Before I was a parent, I had a cat. She was my sweetest, most beloved treasure. I've known a lot of cats, but she was the best. She's adventurous, she loved to be outside, and sometimes she'd get in trouble: lost, locked in, beat up, wet. But she always came back, she always made it through, and I always gave her the freedom to live her cat life the best way she could. At the time, I said I hoped I would give my kids the same freedom. I have a 13 month old now, and I still have the cat, but she's older now and happier staying close to home. I'm glad I gave her her freedom, and I practice giving my baby his freedom to explore. How else will he know himself and his limits?

  6. Oh I want so much to be a free range parent and was even on my way to loosening up, but 6 weeks in a spica cast with a fractured femur made me more nervous than ever. Stole my innocence, so to speak.

  7. Good for you that you consider starting "over" again if what you have done until now don't work the way you wanted it to πŸ™‚

    In Norway, I think that we are naturally a bit more free range than in some other contries (not all the norwegians, of course, but most). We let our kids play alone when they are 3-4 years old, babyproofing our homes is minimal and climbing is encouraged (I mean, Norway is all about mountains, we HAVE to learn how to climb safely).

    We are still as worried that our kids will hurt themselves and we get just as scared when our kids falls and skin her knee, but we must make a line between 1. What is good for the kid 2. What is good for me.

    It is good for my daughter to learn what is ok to do and what is dangerous and NOT ok to do so that when she is unsupervised she can make smart choices. And with dangerous I mean "Will this get me killed or seriously injured", not "will I get a ouchie".

  8. As a pediatric nurse and a naturally anxious person, I will never be "free range." I am disheartened by discussions about the best parenting philosophy or style…we are all doing the best we can with what we have (our personalities, our circumstances, our kids' personalities and needs etc.). There is never one right way to do anything…the folks who follow a certain style feel vindicated when reading about it, the rest second guess themselves. Ugh.

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