Yesterday morning, the TV was on while we were getting ready for our day. Like everyone else, we were watching the weather as if it were a suspense filled movie. Unfortunately, the news doles out info like a soap opera, leaving you on the edge till the next segment. They didn’t give the complete forecast which forced me to keep watching the filler stories. There was a segment that caught my ear. It was about a family in Maryland who is under investigation because they let their 10 and 6 year old children walk a mile to a park unsupervised. Parenting with this much freedom has been dubbed free-ranging and there is a whole contingent of people who object.
The difference is, these parents are raising their children like they had been. I can relate to them because I walked to the elementary and Sunday school, or to the drug store that was on Main Street. My husband recalls the times he was playing on his school grounds. As dinner neared, his best friend’s Mom would bellow her sons name (emphasizing both syllables) “MAR-TIN”. It’s amazing how far a mother’s voice can carry. In those days, we were given boundaries. If we crossed them, we paid the price. This is how we earned independence and the freedom that went along with it.
We have friends who live in Newark, NJ. Their kids were in their early teens when they started taking the train to NYC, without an adult. At the time, this seemed crazy! Crazy because I lived in town with only one stop light. In contrast, the city is just overwhelming. Where they had street smarts, I was comfortable riding in the farmlands. I rode my horse all over the county. My Mom had a general idea where I was, however, would be upset if I returned late. I’m sure she had a sigh of relief each time I walked in the door. When I knew I was pushing her limit, in the summer I would gather an armful of Black-eyed Susans, Daisies or Queens Anne Lace. In the fall, I stuffed my jacket with seckel pears or apples, enough to make a pie and to soften her mood.
Raising Jess, I was at a loss. Her life path was different. She is non-verbal, had compromised motor abilities and because we lived in the suburbs in northern NJ (close enough to NYC where we saw the smoke plume from the Twin Towers), I watched her very closely. We fenced in our yard, got a Golden Retriever and I had peace of mind. In essence, I created a protective bubble. Even so, there was the time when she walked out the front door. I found her ambling down the street with her dog Piper by her side. As careful as we were, she was going to find a way.
This all changed a bit when we moved south. Our home is on two acres in a rural setting. Jess still had her dog, he did watch over her and I let her have more freedom. A few times, she left on her own to go to the neighbors. They had an anteroom with a freezer full of ice cream. Jess always had a plan.
Another memorable time where she tested her freedom was after the school bus dropped her off at the foot of our driveway. It’s a long walk up to the house. I went in one door and she lagged behind heading towards the door off the deck. The phone rang, I answered. Within moments, I realized Jess did not come in the house! To make a long story short, she took off in her Kettcar. The pieces to her escape came together when the neighbor’s daughter found the Kett on the connecting road. Because of the hill on our drive, it gave her enough momentum to get as far as she did. She also had to make a hard left in order not to crash into an embankment. I can only imagine the look of terror on her face as she raced down the driveway out of control. When she re-appeared, she was cool as a cucumber!
Over time, Jess learned the property boundaries and respected them. Two years ago, one of our support people said that the day would come where Jess would be able to be on her own. After seeing this morning news clip, I realized it was time. I asked her if she wanted to go with me to the market, or stay home. She verbalize “bye” and went to her room and turned on the TV. Thirty-one minutes later, when I returned, I found Jess had made a snack and also helped herself to the last of the whipped cream. Knowing that I would not approve of that choice, she took the can of reddi-wip to her room. Overall, she was pleased with herself and I breathed a sigh of relief. As her independence develops, we will keep encouraging her to use Facetime on her iPod and we will continue to grow her community supports.
Back in the day, everyone knew who everyone was. The neighborhood looked after each other. Maybe that is what is different today? Maybe we need to return to the community that watches over itself? Instead of pointing a finger at another parent, be part of the solution. Living in a bubble is not the answer, it is a reaction to fear.
At the same time, I do respect the Mom that keeps a watchful eye over her children. As a parent, this is not a black and white area. Each child, each situation is different. As for the Mom in the news clip, she is preparing her children for the world and I support her. It may not be what I would do, but for every parent, there is a different parenting style and I respect that.
PS- And then when you see in the news about a child being kidnapped in broad daylight, it’s a wonder I let me daughter out of the house at all. What is wrong with people?
April 17. 2015 – maybe the world is changing too fast. There are more and more incidents of children being stalked. Maybe the day is coming that we can’t let them out of our sight? I find this very depressing…