Saturday, June 25, 2011

Becoming A Free-Range Parent by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan

I am follower of Lenore Skenazy’s blog Free-Range Kids. She has a book out by the same name, which I would very much like to buy. I bring this up because often to do the kinds of activities she promotes for Free-Range kids, activities that were once the norm, partly out of necessity and partly the world functioned differently, a parent needs to practice.

Letting kids have independence and freedom in today’s culture takes conscience effort and work, but the rewards are worth it. I have been practicing and I can tell you that at times it is a terrifying process to let my child move in greater and greater spheres beyond me—“out of my sight.” When she was little, two to three, I would let my daughter often walk a block or more in front of me in instances where there were no cars, but I could still see her. Now that she’s five years old, I am working on letting her out of my sight. When I do this in controlled environments, I still get huge knot in my stomach. I fight to overcome the urge to run after her yelling “you are too far from me.

Quick rewind to a blog I posted for Mother’s Day that included my mom’s fears that when she called me at night and I wasn’t home—when I lived in NYC—she told me she couldn’t sleep. Now as a review I was in my 30’s when I lived in NYC. So here’s my mom dealing with the same huge knot in her stomach. She couldn’t see me. Being a mom is living with this knot...and letting this human being you bore become the independent person they were meant to be.

The process of raising independent children is a difficult one. No matter the dictates of any culture, releasing a child into the world begins at birth. What’s sad is that our society has succumbed to our interior fears to the detriment of raising healthy, independent children.

Now I am starting to sound like a professor giving a lecture...easy to do since I am a professor. But let me move into a recent little moment I had with my daughter. She takes swimming lessons at the college where I work and last week she wanted to go for a walk. I responded by asking her where did she wanted to go and she said “I want to go by myself, Mom.” In my mind I was screaming to myself “You’re too little, you’re my baby, no, no, no!!!” I took a deep breath and instead decided that the campus side walk was a good controlled environment and that I could follow her in the car.

We got to the check point and she wanted to go farther. She had a sense of pride in herself. She was really happy that she was being independent. She wanted to go farther. We went farther. We did three legs of the walk and at the last leg she rounded the corner onto the main street. At that point, I had to go with traffic and so pulled out onto the main road. My daughter stayed walking along the sidewalk. I turned at the first block and pulled over. For me, this was the hardest part. She was out of my sight as she walked down the block and I pulled over. She knew this. There were no streets to cross just this stretch along the main road. It was too much for me to wait in the car even though I could see her after I stopped. I had to get out and meet her part way.

When I got to her dealing with my stomach knot was all the more poignant. She said “Mom I am so big I can really do this myself.” Ouch, I just wanted to cry and I was proud of her all at the same time. This to me is the hard work of parenting: owning the fear and walking into it anyway. This is also a definition of courage. Free-Range parenting takes courage and but the rewards are so worth it.

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