I’m not a Free-Range Mom, but it’s ok if you are. I think? Landing the Helicopter and surveying the scene.

It’s a nematode? Just keep reading, it’ll make sense later. (image via wikimedia commons)


I think a lot of the judgment issues among parents (and from non-parents toward parents) arises from a fear of the unknown.  This article by famous free-ranger Lenore Skenazy came up on my Facebook newsfeed, and nestled beneath the share I found a host of sympathetic comments.  I read the comments before I read the article.  I wanted to post my comment at that point, but I didn’t want to be one of those Facebook commenters who comment without reading the article in question, so I read the article.  Then I posted my comment.

I certainly don’t think that the act of leaving your child to play unattended at the age of 9, or even younger, should be made criminal.  Not that I necessarily think it’s a good idea for kids to play unsupervised (see below), but I just don’t think the parents should be arrested or fined for it.  I truly believe that most parents know what’s best for their own children, and that if we enact laws that subject parents to punishment for letting their kid play in the park without them present, it will cause more harm than good.

But moving on to the real crux of the issue for me, at exactly what age does it become appropriate to leave kids to play unsupervised in a public park?  Or how about in your own front yard?  Does it depend not so much on the child’s age, but his or her level of maturity and experience in the world?  Is this a subject that is pretty clear cut, or is their room for interpretation here?

Like I told Facebook today, I only have a 2 year old and a 4 year old so far, so I have no frame of reference.  Maybe when my kids are 9 or close to it, I will feel really differently when I see how well they can handle themselves.  But truthfully, I think I fall more in the helicopter camp (ugh I hate that term), rather than the free-range side, the more I witness my own parenting in action.  The world is full of scary people and bad things!  Naturally, I want to protect my kids from that.  And no, I don’t think a 9 year old necessarily has the physical strength or mental grit to run or talk her way out of a really bad situation involving a really bad guy.

But again, maybe I’m overly cautious here.  I have to be honest – when I drive down the street and see kids who are 9-ish looking (the kids are probably 14 but I have no clue) walking down the street, the first thought I have is often “where are their parents?”  I said this out loud to my husband once, and he just laughed and told me the kids at issue looked old enough to be by themselves.

So I don’t judge other parents for being a bit more free-range (like a chicken!) than me, and I don’t think I would call the police unless I truly believed there was an imminent risk of harm involved — but then again, how do you make this judgment call?  If I see a kid alone in a car somewhere, especially on a hot day … you best believe I am making the call.  But then, maybe his dad just ran into the store for a minute, maybe he’s around the corner and I just can’t see, maybe the kid is old enough and smart enough to get out of the car and get help if he needs it, maybe …

I think the point I want to make is that not all judgment is bad, although I can see where it would be annoying.  Generally, people just want to make sure kids — all kids, whether they belong to them or not — are safe and healthy.  My gut reaction of judgment toward a free-range mom is probably just a reflex that comes from having an ingrained feeling of dread that arises from envisioning my own kid in the free-range kid’s shoes.  Dirty, ratty shoes, running through the woods where there’s hookworms and nematodes and things.  Or something like that?  I don’t go outside.

So fear, yeah.  People judge from a place of fear, fear of what they don’t understand.  I would love for some of you free-rangers to educate me on why my fears may be unfounded.  Allow me to land the helicopter for moment, so we can talk about it.


8 thoughts on “I’m not a Free-Range Mom, but it’s ok if you are. I think? Landing the Helicopter and surveying the scene.

  1. I use “helicopter parent” in the context of parents who manage their kids’ college issues. It’s not helicoptery to supervise little ones. When do little ones become big ones? It happens gradually and with a lot of crossed fingers and wood-knocking. I recently read about a kid who was almost garroted going down a slide when a random wire or rope somehow got stuck around her neck. A whole new thing for me to fear (now at the grandmother level)!! I guess my bottom line was always, “What’s the down side to supervising them every minute?” and the answer was that my magazine or email or whatever was not as important. It takes just a nanosecond for mayhem to occur — my little grandson, whom I follow around EVERYWHERE when he’s with me, has managed to get his hands on a wine glass (stolen from the dishwasher), a serrated knife (I thought it was far enough toward the back of the counter, but Elastic Boy nabbed it), a can of those crunchy onion rings which he dumped all over the floor after he extracted it out of my work bag (the dogs were happy!), pens, paper clips, etc. I walked out of the room for one second and returned to find him WHIPPING THE DOG with his blanket (amazingly, she rolled on her back and took the abuse like a champ). Sometimes we forget kids are kids, not little adults, and they don’t have the sense we wish they had. It’s a scary world out there.


  2. Because of my job I hear and see stuff that upsets me, including stuff that involves children. But when I talk to my friends that are also mothers, I start to get the feeling that my perception may be skewed. Sometimes I think that it’s just a really, really rough world out there and there are tons and tons of really bad people. I come from a free-range home myself, however — didn’t most of us growing up in the 70s and 80s? — so I definitely feel conflicted on this topic. So, I guess I’m half free-range and half helicopter and all no help at all. But I loved this post. Please know that you’re not alone.


  3. we live in a great community where kids 8-10 often can go outside and go to a neighborhood park for a little bit on their own. (we recently moved to AZ and it seems like its a whole different game than CT). But, we were walking to our community pool a few weeks ago and an 8 year old (ish) joined our troop and entered in with us. That I was not comfortable with-since there are no lifeguards and I had no idea who the kid was!
    The oldest of my crew is almost 5, and he has a 2 year old sister and 1 year old brother. Sometimes I let the older two play upstairs by themselves, and Sometimes I let them play outside in our totally fenced in back yard by themselves. Buuuuut, I’m still pretty helicoptery, and my kids are used to it. In fact, if I’m not helicoptering my oldest tells me “no one is keeping an `eye of me’.” So, I’m trying to strike some independence for them and myself and working on keeping them safe too.


    1. Haha, I loved your child’s concern about needing someone to keep an “eye of me.” That tells me kids like the feeling of being supervised and available. Beautiful.


  4. Yes. I let my 9 year old play unsupervised on our street. It is a dead end off of a dead end and he usually does not stay out for more than an hour. The neighborhood is filled with kids of similar ages.


  5. Melanie, you crack me up. I do let the boys play out alone, but I live in the woods, and Nate is like an overly-cautious 50 year old man. I also only let Josh out alone if I can see him from the window all the time, and I’ve drilled into his head that he cannot leave the swing set area– never if I’m not watching from inside. Also? We almost ordered beneficial nematodes for our lawn for grub control…because we like to live on the edge 😉


  6. I am far from free-market, but I think the way to land the helicopter is just a few moments at a time at first. I left my 7 year-old alone while I walked his sister 100 yards away for about three minutes at a park and practically hyperventilated. Baby steps, right.


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