Sunday, March 11, 2012

Free range parent I am not

Okay, I'm not a free range parent. I'm not the type who is clutching her children to her bosom afraid to let them take a few steps away, but I'm also not comfortable letting them play safely out of sight. I of course, have to let them do that, but it doesn't come naturally for me. That's strange because I grew up largely as a free range kid. I was thrown outside in nice weather, told my boundaries, and came in when my mom yelled from the 10th storey window into the ginormous courtyard in between 5 high rises, which had a small park in the middle of it all. Otherwise my home time was when the lights came on. As I got older, I remember being outside at night with my friends, I was in grade 8 and spent many a summer evening hanging out til 10, 11, 12 just on the benches with my buddies. And for all those newbie free range parents who have kids, 16, 18, 20, my mom was old school free range parent, because while your kids might have to tackle public transportation alone, I was outside unsupervised, at 6, in the ghetto! And all before this whole free range stuff became trendy.

So why am I so neurotic...well maybe because I'm neurotic. Although its strange because while I was allowed to run around like a chicken with my head cut off, my mother was freaking out at every step my youngest made, and he was at most 20 paces away and in clear vision. What did set my mind at ease, was the fact that like when I was growing up, there were parents everywhere. Parents who have no problems telling my kids off, or helping them along, much like when I was growing up. Believe me, if you were doing something stupid and some parent caught you, it was only a matter of time before the news got to your parent. Maybe that was why they were so comfortable letting us roam.

I think part in why it's harder to let kids go on their own these days is because communities like that aren't very common anymore. I can walk for miles in suburbia, in residential areas and not see people sitting out on their porches, they're all in their backyards, or somewhere else. Whereas in many lower income and mixed income communities, everyone is outside as long as weather permits. Gossiping, yelling at each other, just sitting there watching the world go by. Nothing really remarkable happened today while I hung out with my friends and relations. We just sat outside for 6 hours. We watched the kids, we teased each other to death, we got supplies as we needed them, took walks here and there, but mainly just enjoyed the first really nice day of the year. Considering I plan on doing this a lot this year, there was no better way to kick start it.

I think other than the independence of not being under your parent's thumb all the time, kids are really missing out on something not being part of these communities. It's like your parents are there, but they're not. You feel safe and protected, even though you may not be in their direct line of sight. Largely because someone is always watching. At one point, my kids were playing races with a friend and her grandson. I didn't really know what they were doing, except causing a commotion, but I knew they were safe...well, other than using the two toddlers as crash test dummies, let it be known that no toddlers were hurt in those kids experiments.  And that safety was so important to me last year. I remember at one point being finished a class at school and not wanting to go home. I had only misery there and just couldn't walk through that door. So I went home to my old community. I might have blogged about this some time last year. I called my mom and she assembled the wimminfolk and I knew the minute I walked into that space I was safe. Upon reflection of today, I realize just how much, it's like my personal fortress of unsolitude. The negativity, the emotions, the hurt is not allowed in unless I permit it and I realized for the past several months, I had been going back to that co-op, a place where I started my life with my ex, and not even really giving that or him a second thought, it was my space. Sure, it wasn't the exact location where I grew up, it's about a stone's throw away, but the people and the culture are the same, and with that, so is the safety.

Anyhow, this is a long and winding post, I'm rambling, so desperately trying to figure out a way to bring it on home...hmmmm, free range, safety, community=safety, growing up, safety....notice a theme? When deciding when and how far my kids roam, it's not how little people they will encounter that tips the scales in a positive manner. I've come to realize that its being in that community, your pack, your herd...pack sounds way cooler, that is what is safe, and lets me and I imagine would work for many parents feel a bit better about loosening the apron strings a little. It gives them the feeling of security from the strangers and cars and dangers that they could possibly encounter, while being free to explore. It also gives them that larger security to explore life, knowing that even when they leave the pack, there is still a safe place for them to return. I guess the same can be said for families too, but to be clear, I'm not related to any of the folks in my community other than my mother, but they are my family, just as close and important as blood. So as much as I think the concept of free range kids is cool, I think it's best done when there is a community content to let them roam and explore, but also ready to have their back in a flash, through childhood and through life.

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