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How Long Is Your Parenting Leash?

Are you a free-range parent, or do you hover like a helicopter?

Babble has a great essay up by Elizabeth Floyd Mair on the balancing act between helicopter parenting and free range kids. It’s a topic of tension for every parent I know.

We all have the same goals. We want our kids to grow up confident, secure, capable and safe. We want our lives as parents to be rich and interesting, a combination of quality time with our kids and space to relax and do our own thing.

The compromises we make to achieve those goals define, in some ways, who we are as parents. Are we the moms who take our kids to the park and leave them there, or the ones who attend after school enrichment programs with our kids every single day?

At the edges of this spectrum, we almost seem to form opposing teams: the free range parents vs. the helicopters. In reality, most of us are in the middle, tilting towards one side or another, depending on the specific issue. Mostly I fall toward the free-range side. But only mostly.

I live in an urban neighborhood, where I don’t feel comfortable letting my 3- and 6-year-old play outside without me. I’m fine letting the older one walk down the block by herself to visit a friend, though. I expect the kids to manage their own snacks, but police what they’re allowed to eat. My kids are allowed a very limited diet of non-commercial video programming, but can read anything they can get their hands on. I’m cavalier about swearing in front of them but have kittens of rage when people make sexist or racist remarks in their hearing.

In other words, I’m all over the map on this one. Like every parent I know. I’m not afraid of my kids being abducted by strangers, but I’m a little irrational in my vigilant avoidance of potentially carcinogenic plastic food containers.

One of the core pieces of being a mom is being a limit-setter. Another part is being the Mother Bear, protecting our little ones from harm. Yet we also need to encourage their growth. One day, these fragile creatures will have to carry the weight of the world. We won’t be able to follow after them, kissing every skinned knee and cleaning up spills. Instead, they’ll be caring for us. How we raise them will do a lot to determine how prepared they are for that challenge.

How do you strike the balance between hovering and helping? When does free range tip over into neglect?

Photo: Poi Photography

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