Trying to Raise Free Range Kids

Homeschoolers are often thought of as being a bit odd.

I'm OK with that.

Our choices are obviously different from the majority of parents out there as far as schooling our kids go and lately I've been noticing that we vary in other ways too:

  • My kids are given a lot of chores and responsibilities that a lot of their peers are not. Sometimes I think that is due to the fact I have more time to teach them household chores and  sometimes I just need them to take on more responsibility.  Mostly though, I think, as I've watched my boys take on more and more tasks and do them well I just figure why not teach them even more?
  • They were encouraged to use knives to cut their meat and steak starting as young as 6.  
  • I showed them how to run the washing machine and the dryer as soon as they were tall enough to reach the top of the washer using a step stool.  
  • We have given our kids machetes, pocket knives, hot glue guns, and other assorted tools to use when we're walking in the woods or working on a project together.  
 We don't have special ages set aside for when they can or can't try a certain skill.  If they ask and beg for the chance to try we usually let them attempt it.  We tell them that they need to be careful, explain a few ways they could get hurt and then watch and hope they handle it well.

They've had minor cuts from knives, they've gotten minor burns from glue guns or the stove, but they've emerged just fine on the other side with a new appreciation for whichever tool they got hurt using.

We keep an eye on them, warn them when we can, and try to help them avoid any and all injuries.

But accidents and injuries are part of life so when they get hurt we help patch up their cuts, scrapes and burns and bruises with lots of hugs, a few gentle reminders and lots of reassurances.  We always evaluate if we should take that skill away for a while or not and try to determine if they weren't ready for that responsibility yet or if they just had a normal, unavoidable accident.  Sometimes they're innocent accidents; I still cut myself in the kitchen when I'm working at times.  I still burn myself on the glue gun every now and then.  Accidents happen and I know as much as I'd like to prevent them all I just can't.

My kids are silly, funny, regular kids and they get along great with kids of all ages but I'm often told that they seem older than they are.  They talk more grown up, are more self- sufficient, and have a lot of confidence.

 Lately though I'm struggling with letting them have an appropriate amount of independence too.

 When Alec wanted to walk (by himself!) up the stairs on the outside of the Ecotarium while I walked with his brothers through the Ecotarium I was a basket case (though I think I hid it pretty well).  He was insistent that this was something he could handle and all I could envision was calling my husband and telling him I had lost a kid or worse calling the cops to report a missing child.  Then envision myself on the news defending my decision.  I walked so fast through that museum with one goal in mind-- to find Alec on the other side.  He was, of course, happy, fine and unaware of my panic.  He was also proud-- very, very, proud.

I hate to stifle their independence but I also want to keep my kids safe, alive and with me until they graduate and become adults.  I had heard of this book and thought it might be worth reading.  I just love it!

I'm more than half way through and I only started reading it at dinner last night.  It talks about the real statistics versus the fear mongering statistics for things like kidnappings by a strangers, the dangers of Halloween (did you know that not one single kid has ever been hurt or poisoned on Halloween by any treat given out-- EVER?  I didn't!).

It talks about how we as a society are so paralyzed by fear that we're actually harming our kids.

I used to be like that and just a bit more here and there I'm trying to let go of the reigns.

Little by little, one small step at a time.

I noticed it by the time my oldest was only a year old.  My Parents magazine was making me a wreck each month.  I finally got rid of the magazine, stopped watching the news, and even try to avoid the news-like articles on Facebook.

It's not easy.

 I still wait with my breath held outside the men's room door (especially when only one of the boys go in and not all of them!).

I talk relentlessly to the boys about safety in numbers and watching out for one another.  Really if I had two of them walking together outside the Ecotarium I would never have been so nervous.

We talk about stranger danger and how to keep ourselves safe.

We talk about trusting our gut when we think someone might not have our best intentions in mind.

Luckily, through their two karate schools, they've learned a lot about speaking up, danger signs, walking away and how to handle tough situations.

I get looks when I do allow my boys to do something most other moms might not be OK with.

 It's not easy.

It's not.  But I do think it's necessary.

I know when I was in elementary school (yes, younger than THIRD grade) I used to walk home from school with my older sister.  It was OK.  Almost all the kids I knew walked somewhere after school.

Many of you will claim society was different then--- statistics say it isn't but our perception is.  

Crime is down.  It's down to as low as it was in the 70's and 80's.  It's just like it was when we were kids.  Shocking; right?!

I seriously thought there was something out there taking my kids childhood freedoms away from them.  Turns out it was me.

Are you taking your kids freedoms away?

Many of us are.

Think back to your childhood:

  1. Were your mom and/or dad always around when you went to play outside?  On the playground? 
  2. How old were you when you walked somewhere without an adult or rode your bike away from home?  
  3. How old were you when you started babysitting or had a paper route?  
  4. Did you ever go to the movies or out for pizza or ice cream with a small group of your friends without a parent around-- at what age?  
I can remember my mom dropping me off at the movies to meet up with friends and typically another parent would pick us up after the movie.  I can't ever remember a time my parents stayed at a birthday party with me; ever.  Even if we didn't know the family I don't remember my mom not allowing me to go to a birthday party for a classmate.  Yet I feel like the odd man out when I want to drop my kids off now.  So many parents stay and watch and I feel like I'm obligated to stay too or else ask if it's OK for me to drop them off.  It was considered "safe" back then so why isn't it safe now?-- remember crime is THE SAME.

Our perceptions of danger are raised.  We're raising our kids in an age where the motto "better safe than sorry" is ingrained in us.  We see so many dangers around every corner and even when we don't and we allow our children the same freedoms we had as kids we have to deal with the looks and criticisms from other parents.

I keep hearing about families on the news that are being investigated by DCF for letting their kids walk home from the bus stop together or families that let their kids play together at the park alone (even if the park is only across the street from their house this is apparently a huge no-no now).

 I worry about criticisms when I let my kids stay in the car while I run into the library or if I send them into the library alone.

I worry when I write my blog so honestly and admit to having allowed my kids to play outside all day alone or when I admitted to allowing Alec to walk around the Ecotarium building.  They're old enough that I shouldn't have to worry but I do-- not just about their safety but about our safety as a family.

We used to trust parents to make good decisions for their kids.

We assumed they knew best because they knew their children best.

We didn't believe there was a magic age for being left alone; we assumed the parents knew when to trust their kids.

It's sad that we no longer trust anyone-- not our kids, not other parents, not even ourselves.  I'm trying to put more faith in my kids, more faith in our family, and more faith in myself but it's not easy to go against the grain.

It's never easy to be different but I want to be different for my kids because in this case I think different might be better and we all want the best for our kids.  After all that's why we're so susceptible to our fears; we love our kids and we want them to be safe.


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