My child is playing in the back yard. He’s leaping, he’s bouncing, he’s chasing, he’s exploring. He’s antagonizing the puppy dogs, and ninja jumping the basketball hoop. He’s allowing the slide to beckon daredevil antics. On his face is a smile that melt hearts, and begs forgiveness for all wrongdoing.
Oh, yeah. Before I forget, he’s also playing in the back yard alone.
Except, he’s not really alone. The blinds are thrown back, the windows are open, and I can hear every giggling shriek from my perch in the kitchen. I mean, my candied jalapeños won’t eat themselves. Dinner, also, will not cook itself without diligent supervision. Therefore, when Tiny Tot asks to run outside and play, I allow it, knowing he’s safe.
He’s in our 9,000 square foot back yard, carefree, happy, and unlikely to kill himself.
How do I know that? How am I so assured? Because, even though I am inside the house, I’m watching. I’m listening. I’m reacting when the need arises.
From my viewing spot, right next to both stove and window, I can see my neighbor walking around. There’s a canopy in her yard, the wails of an infant, brightly colored yard toys, and one, massive German Shepherd. I see her pacing the baby, encouraging the sun and wind to soothe away the crank. There is another woman, possibly a grandparent, milling around the yard, as well. Whether they notice the lack of a parental figure is not my concern. I do not care if they care, gossip, or muse about a tiny, little boy who ducks and weaves with stuntman precision. But, what I do know, is that my neighbor can hear the constant chatter of conversation between Tiny and myself.
“Little man,” I say, watching a puppy sail through the air, “what do you think you just did, that I didn’t appreciate?”
Glancing in my direction, he shrugs. “He was licking old water, and it’s gross, Mommy.”
“I don’t care if it’s gross. You know better. Be nice to that dog, or get inside this house.”
Our back-and-forth discussion is normal during dinner hours. I’m making sure he’s eating something slightly healthier than crap. He’s running off excess energy. We’re both happy larks. Harmony, butterflies, fairy tales.
I realize, though, that I’m not typically forthcoming about his outside playing habits, because of recent events. You know the events; I know the events. A mother opens a door, and a policeman stands there, threats of CPS gleaming in his eye. This mom knows her crime: allowing a ten year old to walk to the neighborhood park, alone.
All alone, without parental guidance.
A mother in Maryland, a mother in Florida, a mother in Georgia, all battling the label of neglect. None of them can make decisions regarding their own child’s well-being–someone else will do it for them. A neighbor, a passer-by, a police officer, a nosy citizen. They are the “free-range” parents, not the “helicopter” parents–both of which are arbitrary terms, and–quite frankly–asinine.
Helicopter parents are condemned for hovering. They nitpick, they analyze, they micromanage, they risk assess. Their children, according to urban legend, will become thumb-sucking humans, cowering in a cave, unable to deal with the reality of independence.
Meet the free range parents. These are the hipsters of the parent world. The wind, the sky, and the sea determines the freedom of movement in their child. These children learn independence by breaking arms and losing limbs. They overcome adversity from infancy, and the parents are proud to admit it.
So, we label parents in categories of good and bad–and it’s not the parents who are winning. This is today’s norm. We are becoming politically correct, to the point of not being able to wipe our own butts without fear of retribution.
Is fear the new standard of parenting?
Now, no. Tiny is not allowed to walk to the park alone. He’s not old enough, and I’m unwilling to allow such freedom. The back yard is gated, locked, and enforced by a cement block from when the puppy broke the fence. But, to me, he’s old enough to have autonomy in the back yard.
Why am I able to make that call? What gives me the authority to allow my child to play, alone, unfettered by parental supervision? Why do I believe it’s the right choice, one that I shouldn’t second-guess, based on society’s omniscient eye?
Because, I’m his mom.
That’s my right, as a parent. I get to make the decisions. I get to determine when he’s old enough to not kill himself. I get to teach him the principles of independence, and release the ties when I know he’s ready.
The real question is, who gives these neighbor’s credence to condemn the parent for making an assessment, based on their child’s abilities? Why is it even an option?
We’re parents. We love our children, and it is unconditional. We’re proud of them, we’re proud for them, and we love watching their growth. We’re winging it, knowing we make important decisions that affect their development, and well-being.
I’m not a free range cow. I’m not a helicopter. I’m a mom, and I’m a great one. What’s more–though I sometimes doubt my abilities, especially in hindsight–I know it.
So, it stands to reason, fear will not determine how I parent. It won’t stand in the way of my knowing–inherently, and with mental clarity–when my child is ready to take the next step in independence.
Society may not like it, but I’m still in charge of my own toilet paper.