Letting go one step at a time.

I’ve never thought to label my parenting style–although at times I’ve suggested that I’m a bit more of a Type B parent, since I’m so type A in the rest of my life, there’s just no more A to go around.

I know there’s free-range parents and helicopter parents; attachment parents and authoritarians. As for me, I suppose I fall smack in that wide swath of middle ground, in between hey three year-olds…take a subway by yourself. You have the small motor skills to use a Metrocard, right? And OMG what were you thinking, eating that sugar-free organic cookie WITHOUT USING HAND SANITIZER FIRST. We’re going to the doctor immediately.

You see yourself in that spectrum too? Welcome!

I’m protective to some degree, because hi, I’m human. And yet I want to inspire confidence and independence in my children by giving them freedom in relatively risk-free environments.

Don’t know about you, but I’d call their school, a relatively risk-free environment.

This past fall, I started allowing Thalia to walk up the stairs by herself to her first grade class. (Sniff.) She loves it so much, I now find it sweet when she deigns to ask me to walk up with her. It’s awesome to know that sometimes, my hand still feels comforting holding her own. But most days, I wave goodbye at the bottom of the stairs, after insisting on a final kiss, and watch her race up to find her friends.

Remarkably…wait for it…she has yet to get lost on her way from the stairs to the classroom; the classroom that’s right next to the stairs.

I’m raising a genius!

And so, in part inspired by Thalia’s remarkable sense of direction, we’ve taken it one step further. Now, some mornings, I say goodbye at the door while she walks Sage to her preschool class, then returns to her own class by herself. Occasionally  it’s because I’m running late in the morning. But sometimes it’s just because she begs and pleads and wants so badly to be the big kid with that level of responsibility–and Sage doesn’t mind it much either.

And yet, it’s remarkable how many parents seem surprised by this.

I’ve seen a few raised eyebrows, heard a few backhanded comments  from behind plastered smiles, along the lines of “wow…that’s very trusting of you.

And this is where I think the world has gone mad.

Again, I fall somewhere in the middle on the Parenting Panic Scale (PPS™). I appreciate the thinking behind Take Your Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day, but I don’t think we’re ready for that based on our children’s ages and where we live, and the creepy strung-out smelly methadone guy who seems to hang around our neighborhood a little too often. I do, however, think that allowing my kid to walk down the halls of her own school unaccompanied and make a stop along the way in another classroom, is a reasonable thing.

Along the same lines, I think letting my five year-old pee on her very own in an individual bathroom in the local café ten feet from our table is a reasonable thing.

Yes, we do that too.

The likelihood that something awful will happen? In the zero range.

The likelihood that another parent in the café will throw us horrified looks?  A lot greater.

I know that our visceral reactions as parents are not always based on logic or common sense. Sending my kids off without me down the hall may still trigger fleeting thoughts about that one time, that one case, that one story we heard on the news where…that one rumor with that kid who…

But I work really hard to fight those thoughts.  Ratings-starved alarmist cable news anchors? I’m beating you. You too, Purell.

I want my kids to grow up savvy. I really don’t want them to grow up scared.


91 thoughts on “Letting go one step at a time.”

  1. Every parent has different styles. You don’t know this, but I still, even at your age, get nervous about you when you are traveling alone. It is completely irrational. I held your hand walking down the street until you were in your early teens. It may have been more comforting for me than for you. Some parents let their kids pee by themselves at early ages and some don’t. But somehow, 99% of kids turn out just fine. You certainly did.

    1. Thanks for letting me pee by myself. Evidently it rubbed off. (Not the pee.)

      But as I recall, you also let me go dancing when I was 15 because I always called to let you know where I was and when I’d be home. I now see mothers who won’t let their 14 year-olds walk to school alone. I’d say you were pretty fair and balanced…even if you were nervous. xo

    2. My parents are 85 years old. When I come home to visit them and borrow their car to hang out with friends my dad always says, “Wear your seat belt, and make sure you lock the car door!”

      I love that about my dad. Unfortunately, my sons (age 25 and 23) find that completely annoying when I do it.

      I hope they find that endearing in another 25 years. You can’t “stop” being a parent. It’s ingrained too deeply.

      1. Doh!

        Actually, my dad speaks and (writes) much better than I do.

        He says, “Wear your seatbelt…” not “Where’s your seatbelt…”

        My English teacher mom would have been appalled at my terrible spelling and inability to proofread before pushing submit.

  2. That’s funny about your girls walking to class. My kids go to a Montessori school where the 3-year-olds are expected to walk themselves into the building, and you get funny looks if you DO accompany them. This was a challenge for me with my oldest until I found her a friend who would walk with her to her room, and never an issue with my other two kids because they had each other.

    1. I think in our school, after first grade you’re on your own. Which makes perfect sense. But you know? The kindergarteners are pretty fine too.

  3. I would horrify the parents at your school. I *DROP HER OFF AT THE DOOR.* This translates to: I don’t get out of my car. There’s a student drop off area, and standing right in front of the door is the teacher on duty.

    I sent my 5 year old son into the men’s room at the grocery store by himself today. I was standing right outside the door, and a very nice man helped him get a paper towel and held the door open for him when he was leaving.

    Not every person you see is a predator. Overestimating risk has become a national past time.

  4. Oh God, I’ve thought, written, analyzed (trust me I have the bills to prove it) this whole holding on/letting go thing for the past 12.5 years. It doesn’t get easier (like your dad said), and no matter how many times he successfully navigates his metaphorical stairs my mind always have a fleeting thought of “what if.”

    Oh, and I still carry Purell and freak when I see his touch anything “public” and then touch his mouth. Blech.

  5. Good piece. I think part of the thing is that a desire for our children’s safety is visceral, and there seem to be so many opportunities to fortify that sense these days. But the question then is, are we making our children safer or are w…e making ourselves feel safer? And in some cases, a child who can feel confident navigating a stairway, a hallway, etc., actually IS a safer child–not just because sooner or later they will do this, but also because if, heaven forbid, there is a problem, they can react with confidence.

    1. “Are we making our children safer or are we making ourselves feel safer?”

      Best question ever, Michael! I think generally the latter. Parents do what they can live with, and I get that. But I think we often get in our own ways. Me included.

      1. I often can’t get out of my own way.

        Add in the judgement of others-perceived or real-and it’s a wonder we ever make it out of the house.

        And, btw, your dad’s comment made me cry. It’s so true.

  6. My dad told me stories from his childhood. My favorite one is that when he was a little boy, about 8, he would get up before everyone else at home, grab a shotgun and go out barefoot to shoot up some food (shoes were only for school). His little cat would come along and sit on his feet and keep them warm, a fact he much appreciated. This was in country with lots and lots of rattlesnakes. It cracks me up. If you let your kid do that now, you would be in JAIL.

    Kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for.

  7. Can I just say that I hate when other parents judge? It makes my stomach lurch and makes me want to lash out at them. The sugar coated, venomous comments get to be too much sometimes. I had an incident with my four year old at the pool last Friday. She threw a short temper tantrum about something and refused to walk by me on the way out, so I walked about five feet ahead of her and let her sulk behind me. Well, she tripped and landed in the wood chips next to the sidewalk. She wasn’t hurt, I made sure of that, and we brushed her off, but I didn’t make a big deal about it even though it set off her temper tantrum again. But the snorts and comment from the mom walking in front of me took the cake, like I was the worst mother in the world for not fawning over her, picking her up or making her hold my hand and walk by me. I wanted to smack that woman or make a rude comment, you can’t even imagine how sharply I bit my tongue.

    1. Oh that’s awful. My neighborhood overall is pretty awesome–no venemous comments, and the competimommies tend to dry up when the kids hit about 3 and you’re no longer competing on whose teeth came in first. (A sign of intelligence, of course.)

      I will say in fairness I don’t know that I’m being judged per se when I notice the looks. I think that some parents truly are surprised, and think “well, I couldn’t do that myself!” But it’s not a reflection on my parenting choices. Or maybe I’m naiive?

  8. I think the amount of hand-holding necessary depends on each kid.

    My 13-year-old son is going off to band camp next week. It’s the first time he’s asked to do anything like this. I know kids who do overnight camp at 10 or younger, but he wasn’t ready maturity wise. He’s a super intelligent kid but he spends a fair amount of time with his head in the clouds. He needs reminders. Lots of them.

    Meanwhile, my 11-year-old daughter will be going to day camp and staying overnight with a friend. Am I worried about her? No. She is savvy and street smart. She can handle herself.

    1. Of course it depends on the kid. Absolutely. My niece (6) left for sleepaway camp yesterday. We’re rooting for her!

      1. I agree and more importantly not only does it depend on the kid, it depends on the parent. *I* know my kids and their comfort level and ability to handle situations. If I feel it’s okay, it’s okay. But who am I to say just because my child can do it yours should or shouldn’t. With my oldest two now being 13 and 11 I am constantly testing my gut on different levels of “freedom” for them. Ultimately it comes down to if I feel like I will worry sick about them they are probably not ready for the situation at hand.

  9. The leaving at the park thing…yeah not gonna happen. I’m a paranoid person when it comes to that. If it was down the street I’d consider it. The closest park to me is three or four miles away. However, I will send my girls to the restroom by themselves, even at Target while I continue shopping. I will have them go into 7-11, get a slurpee and pay for it, while I watch from my car. I have them order for themselves in restaurants and at times I make them pay when we are out and about. Mostly? Because I want to raise children who know that they are capable of doing things for themselves.

    My cousins daughter is 19. Last year she went out to eat (Olive Garden but whatever) with a group of girlfriends. One girl had no clue what she liked to eat. She had someone else order for her. She had money but had no concept of how to pay or how to come up with a tip. I’ve been told she also has no clue how to pump her own gas. 18 years old and she didn’t know how she liked her steak cooked. It’s sad really. Hell my seven year old could tell you how she likes hers cooked.

    I don’t freak about germs or sugar or TV time. But I will admit that the thought of my oldest going to sleepover camp for two weeks in August makes me nauseous. We all have our limits right?

    1. We all have our own lines we draw, and things we are and aren’t comfortable with. I think it’s awesome anytime a parent is thoughtful about it–maybe it’s even better that it seems kind of erratic. It means you’re putting thought into it and not just giving out kneejerk no’s. Or yesses.

  10. I’m debating about letting my boys ride the bus next year when I have a 3rd grader and one in Kindergarten. My oldest have never ridden the bus before but I thought together they could ride it home in the afternoons. When I tell other Moms this some are like “No WAY would I let my kid ride the bus!!” and other’s are like “how come you waited so long?!?” Of course it depends on the kids and the parents but yeah, at some point it’s time and too much paranoia isn’t going to keep some things from happening, no matter how hard we try.

  11. Interesting post. We were visiting family out in the country this last week and my older two boys (8 1/2 and 6) had the best time riding their bikes up and down the dirt road without us. There is a dead-end road just by our house and my husband asked me what I thought of letting them go to that road to ride on their own (we don’t live in a typical suburban neighborhood, no sidewalk in front of our house). He also said the other day “When do you think they’ll be old enough to let them go to the park down the road and play by themselves?” And I’m not sure. He remembers doing that at that age when HE was a kid. And I’m the same way as you, I don’t hover, I let them go to the Men’s Restroom on their own, they ride the school bus to school (so no option to go with them to class there), etc. So I’m mulling it over.

    1. You just brought back great memories of the summer I was 8, and we spent weeks at a friend’s rural house. My brother and I walked up and down that dirt road, meeting other kids, exploring, wandering. It was amazing.

  12. I had a visit from the sheriff, thanks to a neighborhood parent who decided I was being too trusting, too permissive, possibly even downright neglectful. Yet I was doing nothing different from what my own mother had done with me thirty-odd years ago — except our neighborhood has sidewalks and no free-range Dobermans.

    Sometimes I think it takes just as much courage to withstand the criticism of other parents as it does to grant your children independence and responsibility.

    1. Yet another example of why I think the world has gone batshit crazy. You let your kids play in the neighborhood and now you’re neglectful?

      That neighbor would not want me for a neighbor anymore. Bless you Julie, for having that courage.

    2. That blows my mind, Julie. WTF?

      I just went outside to check on Boy (it was awfully quiet out there) and my next door neighbor said, “they’re all together, Karen. I think they’re just around the corner.” Your neighbors should be your allies in this whole thing, not your enemies. Jeez.

      How dare she judge and call the police on you.

  13. I feel like this is confession:

    Forgive me Liz for I have sinned.
    I let the kids play outside for so long that I sometimes wonder where they are. They don’t go far, but they are known to run across the street to their friends’ house and disappear inside.

    I let my son go into the men’s bathroom alone. He’s 7, and he really doesn’t want to still use the bathroom with his sisters and I.

    I recently let my 11 year old ride her bike around the neighborhood alone. That is a biggie for me.

    And I never, ever, ever use hand sanitizer (I hate that stuff) and always forget to ask the kids to wash their hands before meals. Even in public.

    But, my germy kids are pretty healthy, so I feel pretty good about these sins.

    1. Your kids are pretty awesome too. I can vouch for that. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say, they’re not sins.

  14. I am right there with you. I let my 6-year-old ride his bike around our short little block–as I watch him check-in as he rides by. Next year I can drop my first-grader off with his pre-school sister and he can walk her to class and himself to his.

    I let my son go to the bathroom by himself and my almost 5-year-old daughter too.

    It’s important to trust them (even though we may worry).

  15. LOL I grew up in the bad part of town. I took the bus across town at age 6 to get to school on my own.

    We played in a big field behind our flats with the burnt our cars and other detritus.

    We live in a townhouse complex so I am pretty happy letting the kids roam about without me…cept for the 3 yrs old. I tend to vaguely know where they are. I was one for taking them to school and picking them up but now they grab the keys from me and bike home ahead of me.

    Right now they are wheeling to the corner store with their friends. Granted they are 8 and 10.

    Boils down to knowing your kids, knowing your neighbourhood and knowing yourself.

  16. I’m @gunnersama. 🙂

    My boys are 9 and 6. My 9yo finally was able to use a public restroom by himself – when he was 8. Part of it is/was his maturity level, part of it is/was because I don’t trust people. At all. If the 6yo needs to use the restroom, the two of them can go together, or he goes with me. But I am generally outside the bathroom waiting. This drives my husband batty, but I don’t care.

    We homeschool, so the classroom and bus situation doesn’t apply to me.

    We were using a church for standardized testing this year, and many parents were leaving their 2nd graders. As in, dropping them off, with strangers, to pick them up 3-4hrs later. The proctor for my 3rd grader was shocked I was staying in the parking lot. It does not seem safe to me to leave my child in the care of someone I do not know, in an environment he is not familiar with, for any length of time. I know that’s me feeling safe, not them, but I just can’t do it.

    Church is a different story, only because I know these people. We attend two churches regularly. I grew up with the people at the one church, and have spent a crazy amount of time with the people at the second church. These people have proven to be trustworthy. I sign them in, walk the 6yo to his class, and send the 9yo down the stairs to his class by himself. Mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want to climb back up the stairs.

    For most public play places (say that three times fast), I am more laid back, I think. The playground, the beach, the pool. I’ll sit in my chair, look up every few minutes and find them, then go back to whatever I was doing. They come check in with me, I check in with them every once in a while. But they have freedom to play and do without me on top of them. They wear neon yellow shirts unless they are in the pool, so they are easy to spot. And this has been the case since, umm, 3yo or so.

    And I have just started leaving them home alone for short periods of time.

    I don’t know where that puts me on the scale (maybe jumping from side to side?), but that’s where I’m at. 🙂

    1. Thanks Margaret. I’m sure the decisions you make, while definitely different than mine, also come from love.

      I just get really bummed hearing so much fear from parents all the time.

      1. I hear too many stories, for there not to be some fear. But I figure if I arm myself, and my kids, with knowledge and awareness, then we both have power. And sometimes that means protecting them, while having conversations with them, for as long as possible. *shrug*

        To each their own. 🙂

  17. I’m there in the middle with you.

    Letting your kids walk down the school hallways by themselves seems perfectly reasonable to me.

    I let my eight year old go to the bathroom by herself. I can usually see the main door from where I’m sitting (or the entrance to the little hallway).

  18. This all leaves me a bit sad. The world is the safest it has ever been for children and yet we are the most anxious and terrified generation of parents. Even in the horrible 70s and 80s, I remember leaving my home in the morning and not coming back until dinner time. My parents didn’t know where I was, nor we’re they worried. I used to walk to school, bike across town and go out for pizza with my friends starting in third grade!

    I wholeheartedly believe we need to raise independent kids who are capable of doing things for themselves. I find it horrifying that there are kids who can’t do anything without a parents’ help including discuss coursework with college professors or even negotiating a contract with an employer. We need to loosen the reigns and give back control to kids over their lives. And we need to start at a young age, in small ways, to show them the way.

    My goal is to help parents be more confident in their parenting. I’m with you. Let her walk to class. If people look at you funny, ignore them. Stick to your guns. Do what makes you happy. If someone can’t handle it, that’s their problem.

    Oh, and Purell is the devil. I think eating dirt is a right of passage for all children.

    Michal from Bump to Bean

    1. Thanks Michal. I just asked twitter whether they’d let their 6 year old take a bus/walk to school/pee.

      One answer was something like NO WAY, NOT IN THIS DAY AND AGE!

      There’s some major dissonance between fact and perception. I’m guilty of it myself at times.

  19. This post has some of the best comments ever:

    Sometimes I think it takes just as much courage to withstand the criticism of other parents as it does to grant your children independence and responsibility.

    Not every person you see is a predator. Overestimating risk has become a national past time.

    The world is the safest it has ever been for children and yet we are the most anxious and terrified generation of parents.

    But the question then is, are we making our children safer or are we making ourselves feel safer?

    But, then again, that may be my own kids/experience talking since my kids tend toward the more shy/cautious (as do I). They need all the help they can get getting out there, talking to people, doing things on their own, etc.

    I can totally see that if they were more umm, outgoing? reckless? I might have different concerns.

    But I do try hard to keep my own anxieties (I am ever so good at imagining the worst scenarios) from infecting reality!

    1. Aw shoot! My italics didn’t turn off after the quotes. :-p Last three not as eloquent chunks are mine.

      I fixed it for you Jen! I HAVE THAT POWER -Liz

  20. Nice post. The decisions I regret are often the ones I made in fear of being judged. You are a great mom, trust your instincts.

  21. You are right, you know. As much as we need to protect them, we are not gonna be around forever. Before that happens they need to learn how to be on their own.

    My own mother belongs to the Take Your Children to the Park…and Leave Them There school of parenting. I was taught to cross the street to my day care school when I was 4. I could remember a couple of close calls with the bumper. When I was 12, I was hospitalized for gastroenteritis. It was the first time in my life that I was admitted and had an IV. I was scared and in pain. My mother drops by in the afternoon and evening to bring me food. The rest of the time I was alone. You are probably gonna think that I had a horrible mother. That was what I thought growing up. But I know for a fact that she does love us and it’s for that very reason that she did what she did. I learned to be careful and strong and independent. So much so that I have exceeded my mother’s expectations. She told me once, after I gave birth, that the things I went through, she wouldn’t have gotten through on her own. Coming from my mother who is the very essence of formidable, that was a huge compliment. Of course, she’s under estimating herself.

    However, I cannot imagine doing that to my baby just because my situation with my baby now is different from my mother’s situation with us. She had a husband, I had a father. When I hated her, which was most of the time, I run to him. My kid does not have that kind of luxury. Sure, I will apply some tough love every now and then, teach her how to survive and how to weather life’s challenges the hard way. But I’m gonna make sure that she knows that I am there for her all the time, sees that I’m there.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I can see the challenge the balance–you want your kids to know you’re always there for them, but that doesn’t mean always literally being by their sides every moment. Seems like you’re on a good path!

  22. I really appreciate this post. It is so difficult to push back against societal pressure to over-parent our children. It’s not just about letting them walk to school – it’s also about letting them negotiate their own friendships and playground interactions. Letting them make mistakes and do silly things. In public even, without putting on hand sanitizer first. I think a lot of it comes from fear of being judged by others, especially other parents.

  23. I’d really like to raise my daughter to feel strong and independent. I want her to feel that she can control her world, that she has the power to say either “yes” or “no,” and be firm with either one. I want her to learn to have faith and take justifiable risks, and also to be aware enough of the world around her to be smart about it. I want her to know how to get out of bad situations, and how to fight, and also how to be kind and give someone the benefit of the doubt. She’s two. All this might take a while. But the sooner she learns these things, and learns that she can be confident about them, the better.
    Still, if there’s a window to look in on her, I’ll probably never be able to pass up the opportunity to check on her, just to make sure.

    1. That’s really beautiful Neal. I actually find (purely anecdotal) that Dads seem to be more okay with letting go, with letting kids scrape their knees or climb the monkey bars or ride that skateboard. I don’t know if it’s that men are less worried about physicality in general, or less risk-averse, or if I’m totally crazy and there’s no gender-related patterns at all.

      What do you think?

      1. As others have noted, these are some of the best quotes ever. But I wanted to chime in that in our house, my husband is the hoverer, and I’m the one who gives our two boys more freedom, even if they might hurt themselves. My oldest son is risk-averse, so I don’t worry about him quite as much. My younger son is the daredevil. So there are different challenges with both of them. But I want them to learn to pay attention to the world around them, to have the freedom to work things out on their own, to make their own decisions, and to live with the consequences. I’m on a mission to educate our neighbors that that is my goal, mostly because I don’t want them to judge, but also because I want and need their help.

        1. I love that you’re enlisting your neighbors. That’s another quote to add into the “best ever” list! I’m also of the “it takes a village school,” and as Christina/Fairly Oddmother said above, when the community watches out for one another’s families we all win.

      2. My husband and I are on the same page when it comes to scrapes and monkey bars and such. We figure if they fall and get hurt, they will learn something about it. Maybe this is why I’m so easy at the park? I dunno. I’m not one of those – every bump is a crisis – parents. I know first aide. I’m an Army Vet.

        I just don’t trust people, I guess. lol

      3. To be honest, my wife has always noted that I was the softy in the family. She thinks my daughter has me wrapped around her finger. It might be true. Ultimately, I think it will still be harder for my wife to “let go” of our daughter, but in practice on a daily basis, I’m a little like putty and she’s the one teaching our daughter to “shake it off” instead of needing a bandaid and hug for every scrape and bruise.

  24. I have a fear of falling I try mightily not to project on my kids when they climb and slide and careen around on skates and bikes. My sister-in-law had a paranoia about choking but swallowed it (ha) to let her toddlers eat Cheerios. We work to recognize our irrational fears and properly examine and ignore them, and teach our kids to do the same, because they will grow their own. Like my little anxiety-prone 8-year-old, who kept herself up last night worrying about skunks. Yes, skunks. And stink bombs.

    Do we feel more out of control than our parents did? Is that where our anxiety is rooted? If so, why?

  25. When my second daughter turned 4, she stared a pre-k program at our public school that let the preschooler kids ride the school bus in the mornings WITH THE BIG KIDS. I had a heart-attack and said “no way” – and I drove her for the first week..and walked her to her classroom..and hung up her coat…

    So on the first Sunday night she BEGGED me to ride the bus. She was 4. There were 12 year olds on that bus. But I let her. (well and damn straight I followed that bus the first day – duh!)..Watching her skip into that school that day with that big smile. Priceless.

    Baby steps.

  26. You parent like the French/Belgians.
    But I agree it is a fine line to walk. So much depends on the difference between the situations, the level of maturity of the child, etc. etc. We are all just doing the best we can aren’t we.

  27. I am definitely on the free-range end of parenting. My new challenge is to stop saying, “Be careful!” to my kids in situations where the biggest thing that’s going to happen is that they get a bump. I let them climb trees, and bike around the neighborhood, and go to the bathroom in public (I like to have a pretty good sight line to the rest room). Sometimes I don’t have a choice with the 5 and 7 year olds, because I have to shadow the 18-month old a little more closely. And I totally let my 7yo walk into school on her own. Is it funny that I don’t think about what it’s teaching them? Or what it’s teaching me for that matter? I just do what seems to work — and that can change day to day!

  28. I have this incredibly vivid memory of being dropped off at my first sleep-away camp (where I went for a full month). My parents (and little brother) unpacked me into the cabin, hugged me and fawned over me with good-byes, and then pulled away in our family’s minivan. I remember leaning back against the green wall of the cabin and thinking… FINALLY.

    I was eleven years old, and I was 100% ready to be away for a month. (My parents insisted I write one postcard a week, even if it only said “I am alive.”) Looking at kids now, eleven seems so little! I can hardly imagine leaving an 11-year-old at camp for a month! But I’m so grateful my parents knew that I was ready and let me go on that adventure.

    1. My first summer at sleepaway camp I was 9 going on 10, and I remember that same feeling. It was a week with the option of a second week, and I seem to recall calling my parents the very next day and saying I’LL TAKE IT!

      There is still a huge sleepaway camp business. But I wonder if now, there are more parents who somehow find it unsafe or risky.

  29. I struggle with this all the time. I am also somewhere along your continuum in terms of parenting style, but I’m closer to the total free range side than the total helicopter parent style. My suburban town seems to be full of helicopters – very few of them drop their kids off to birthday parties, and we are talking about 6 year olds here. I’m usually the first one to leave (and, like you, I feel like I’m getting judgey looks for it but it could just be my perception). I had one mom decline the invitation to my son’s party because they had activities to take their other kids to and neither parent would be able to stay at the party with their son – and they didn’t want to drop him off and leave. Our elementary school does not permit any kids to walk to and from the school by themselves. Even the older ones (I’m not sure I’d let my kindergartener walk by himself, although I probably would let him walk in a group of older kids).

    The problem in my neighborhood is that since no one lets their kids roam free (or walk to school unattended on quiet streets), it really is kind of unsafe to let just one or two kids walk around by themselves. If they were walking around in a big group of kids, it would be safe. But until most parents allow this sort of thing, it will remain unsafe for all of us.

  30. just the same as so many others, i vividly remember riding my bike all over our neighborhood when i was little (elementary school age), and returning home for dinner. one day my sister and i were riding, and realized we didn’t know how to get home–we were lost. we rode around for ages, but couldn’t figure it out. knowing that we shouldn’t talk to strangers, we still stopped at a random house, knocked on their door, and informed the people that we were lost. they took a few moments to consult a map after we gave our address, and invited us to get a ride home from them. we declined, knowing not to get in a car with a stranger, so instead they drove ahead while we rode our bikes behind them, following until we got home. our mom was gone when we went inside, and we knew we were in trouble, so we started cleaning up the toys we’d been playing with before our ride. she’d been out looking for us, and after some scolding gave us the biggest, hardest hugs ever when she got home. to this day she tells us she was convinced she’d never see us again that day. but you know what? that wasn’t the end of our bike rides or our independence. having a kid of my own i can’t even imagine how horribly terrifying that was for her, and have a ridiculous amount of respect for the fact that we were still allowed out on our rides following that incident. i can only hope that i’ll be able to push aside my own fears for the well-being and independence of my children, as our parents did for us.

  31. Really enjoyed this post. I can’t believe that some parents would give you a hard time about letting your kids walk down the hall at school unattended. In our neighborhood it is the norm to let you kids walk four blocks to school on their own – even some kindergarteners do! Granted there are dozens of kids making the same trek and parents are everywhere and most of us parents (unbeknownst to our children) would stand on the sidewalk and watch our kids walk away until we couldn’t see them anymore but, still, the kids thought they were doing something really important all by themselves-and that’s the important part. I struggle with this every day. I have a 16-year-old who (hopefully) will be off to college in a couple of years and I want to make sure that he is ready to take some steps without always looking back to make sure I’m there. I’m sure I, like your dad, will never stop worrying about my kids – even when they are all grown-up – but our jobs are really to make our kids need us less.

  32. I love that you wrote this.

    We live over a Starbucks in Harlem, and Lucy (age 7) says she’s ready to go downstairs by herself, walk the half block to Starbucks, buy our order, pay for it and bring everything back up. She really wants to do it. And I want her to do it. I love how grown-up and confident she is feeling.

    But I’m pretty sure someone will call child protective services on me. The old ladies in the neighborhood will hate this, and will not be afraid to tell me about it. Or they’ll just call the police.

    I think it’s the judgement of others that sometimes make us think twice. But I’m going with my gut anyway. Glad you are, too. The girls are ready. 🙂


    1. Ugh, as so many have said…how awful that we fear the judgment of other parents (or possible legal repercussions) more than the harm that we know won’t come to our children.

      This is nuts. How does this get fixed?

  33. In the lower grades, we walked to school. In high school — and this will probably horrify readers — we took regular mass transit. Same as all the other commuters and city folk. MANY cities do not operate their own transit for high school students (and sometimes not for middle school students either). You want to attend that magnet school? You’re riding the 3, transferring to the 28 and walking to school. Even if I begged for a ride, we only had 1 car so odds were against me.

    We live in a city now that has a similar policy (neighborhood schools to walk to until 6th or 8th; bus for high school). If we elect to send our kid to public school, she’ll be walking and busing.

    She’s 4 now, so just learning to ride a bike. But I do let her wander at the playground and park. Some parents follow their kid(s) from swings to slide to climbing thing to… Nope, I chat with the other moms, keep an eye out but it is true that I can’t see her every minute. OTOH, the playground has two entrances/exits (gates) so she can’t wander into traffic or the parking lot.

    My parent (divorced) sent my sister and I out to play for *hours* We went to our local park (cities have those little pocket parks), rode bikes on the sidewalk to friends houses, and were generally expected to check in around lunch and be home for dinner. I wish I could give my kid the same freedom but (1) our city is more dangerous than the one I grew up in and (2) she wouldn’t have anyone to do those things with, as other parents are often horrified that I let her pee by herself in single bathrooms at our local lunch place.

    1. I also remember that if I wanted to get to the orthodontist in 9th grade, I took a bus 45 minutes and several towns over.

      In 5th grade I was taking Metro-North from the burbs to visit my dad in the city, and then soon after, hailing a cab to his apartment.

      I try to keep all this in mind as I raise kids in the same city; and with the knowledge that it’s actually wayyyy safer now than it was in 1978. Despite what seems to be an epidemic of parents now concerned with single bathrooms.

  34. Sigh. I am struggling with this too, but trying so hard not to give in to the pressure… my son is three and generally stays close to mama because he’s naturally shy, and he’s a rule follower (I’m lucky, I know). But I don’t want to perpetuate or compound his shyness, so anytime he wants to strike out on his own, I try to let him.

    His new thing is running around the bathroom building at our park. It’s a sizable building and he’s a little dude, so it always takes longer for him to clear the other side than I think it should (plus there’s a water fountain on the back side that just BEGS to be used). There’s also a parking lot on that back side and I panic a little EVERY time he takes of running, afraid that he’s in the parking lot, or that he took off in the wrong direction, heading toward the woods. He always comes right around the corner smiling, confident and happy that he’s done something by himself. But man, it’s so hard not to follow him.

    1. I think Marie, that there’s a big difference between 3 and 5 and 8. I think it’s reasonable that you should be keeping an eye on a toddler who doesn’t yet have judgment or impulse control. But as he demonstrates more responsibility, I bet you’ll start giving him more.

      (Also, running around small buildings is FUN! He has good taste.)

  35. Wow…when I first started reading this I thought you were being “tongue and cheek” until I realized you were as serious as a heart attack. Walking up the stairs…alone? Taking her sister to her classroom….while already in the school? And you got the look and nasty comments? Yikes!

    This stirred al kinds of memories for me. When I was a tween back in the 70’s (shudder!) I took the school bus by myself, rode my bike for miles (in the AZ heat no less WITHOUT SUNSCREEN) and did not have a cell phone to report in every 10 minutes. How is it possible I even survived?

    I went to sleep away Girl Scout camp at around age 10 and remember feeling such scorn for the girls who were homesick and incapable of having fun. (I know I was a bitch!) I thought getting away from my parents was the best thing ever. And now, parents my age and younger do not allow their kids to experience being independent, free thinkers.

    So sad…

  36. Our friend Sally Koslow (new book out today) was on the Today show this morning talking about the repercussions in young adults from not being let go by their parents over the course of their childhood…ouch. It is such a hard thing to do as imminent danger looms larger than lifetime dysfunction, but Sally explains how important it is to raise kids who will thrive on their own and finally leave the nest. I think you make a very important point, in many ways this is a safer world than we grew up in and they can reach us if they need us.

  37. I once had a mother walk my 4 year old back to me on the beach… where I was sitting right there watching her play a few yards in front of me. The lady left and I let her go right back and play.

    For the most part that has been the only time my level of parenting has been outright questioned until about 7 weeks ago when my 4 (almost 5) year old broke her leg while riding a horse. She has been riding a horse (with a helmet mind you) since before she could walk… However, while she was riding on her own horse –in her own saddle– another horse got startled and rammed into her horse, breaking her leg. My tough cookie insisted on riding the 2 miles home in her own saddle.

    When folks ask what happened you should see the horror on their face that I would let her ride a horse. I never realized how controversial horseback riding could be…

  38. And as so many comments already mentioned, world is lot safer then before, yet we (parent) are more scared of it?
    I remember a girl from my neighbourhood (we were both around 12 years of age) that was not allowed to cross the busy street on traffic light, and thus never learned to do it… we had to go across the street to fetch her, or plead to her parents to take her over. Until we gave up, and left her home. Even we as kids were surprised and amused that she was not capable of such a tack at that age.
    But at that time and day, she was one, and 99% of the kids were on their own, wearing hose keys on lanyards and roaming the neighbourhood on summer vacation days. What bothers me today is that we have reached tipping point on how many parents are panic-y enough to not let their 8 year olds into front yards, and my kids are completely lonely. I can let them be, and yes, I’ll teach them not to run out across the street, but there is nobody around – just empty sidewalks and frontlawns. There are kids at local park (just down the street) but kids got there only because parents brought them. And parents are hangin’ around (that is not bad talking to other parents, but hey, let the kids be). I still remember vividly being scorned by older lady passer-by when I left my 4 year old on my front lawn with partial supervision (through opened front door). She was appalled! And I was surprised with her reaction. So my kids are growing up thinking that it is normal to be driven to school (one km away) at 9 years of age? And there is a law not to leave kids younger than 12 alone at home. Talking about enforced helicoptering – my 6 and 9 year old will be just fine on their own while I run to the store, what is the panic about.

    It is always a question of tipping point – when enough people buy into something, it becomes expectation and self-enforcing loop. The surprising part is that percentage is not big – it was proven that 12% is what is needed for tipping over. Good when we are talking about recycling, bad when we are talking about reducing freedoms to our kids. Kids are only class/group of people that have seen their liberties taken away in modern times. By well-meaning parents themselves.

  39. I started letting my first grader and second grader ride scooters to school the last 2 or 3 weeks of school last year. It’s about 5 blocks. They have to cross one sort of busy street, but it’s a four way stop, so not too difficult. I got a lot of dirty looks but only one comment. And you know what? A bunch of other neighborhood kids starting scooting with them. This year, it’s a pack of them, usually at least 5, sometimes more. I love it, the kids love it. I also allow my 8 & 9 year olds to run through the neighborhood finding their own playdates. My son has one friend who will ring our doorbell too, the rest we have to plan for. But it’s a start.

  40. Oh, goody. I have so much to look forward to. Right now it’s just dealing with the breastfeeding in public (under my very discreet clip-down singlet top that exposes about 2 cm of flesh above baby’s head) and the “You use CLOTH?!” horrified looks accompanied by half an hour of how they could NEVER BEAR to do that…

    1. Ha, don’t worry om. For the most part it gets easier. I look back now and think about the diaper judgments or the breastfeeding looks and..

      oh wait. I don’t think about those things at all. Fuck ’em.

  41. Starting this year, my husband and I are both working full time. It’s the summer my kids are 10 and 8, the summer I’d imagined I’d give them the freedom of the neighborhood — but instead, they have a line-up of summer day camps. The camps are loosely structured and each week there’s a different one in a different place, some through local museums and some parks and rec, none with friends (as far as I know; this is a small town), so they’ll gain a lot of independence in that regard … but I am a little sad that they won’t be getting the freedom to explore w/o adults.

    And I don’t want to give them that freedom in the evening because *I* want to play with them!

  42. I am shocked at how many people don’t understand that if you never give a kid a chance to be responsible, they will never *learn* to be responsible. I have my helicopter moments, but I would like to think they revolve more around me trying to ensure that my kid is polite enough and kind enough, not that she can’t go to the bathroom on her own (something we did for the first time two days ago, because I had her sister and a cart full of groceries). She was finally over her fear of toilets flushing, it was time, we did it, I got to say how proud I was of her. Everybody wins.

  43. And to think that I was shamed last week because I have my ELEVEN and NINE year old put away their own laundry!!!!
    Clearly I am taking away 10 minutes of precious time that they could be playing video games to put their clean clothes away.

    I totally get that it is a crazy world, but what kind of young adults are we going to raise by not allowing them to do anything?

    I also read all of the Judy Blume books at a young age, walked to gymnastics after school, rode my bike for hours around the neighborhood with the other kids, and asked my mom what a BJ was when I did not know.

    Please don’t tell anyone but my 11 year old asked me if he could make his own scrambled eggs on a bagel this weekend and I said YES (if I turned on the gas burner)…shhhhhh. I hope he makes me one, too. Wouldn’t that be nice?

  44. How funny…I know everyone associates Texas with uptight people, but in our schools, for security purposes, only students are allowed past the front door. That meant, one the first day of kindergarten, parents had to say goodbye at the front door and let the kids find their way to their class. Of course, there was an open house the Friday before so we could show the kids where their classrooms were and there were plenty of PTO parents on hand the first day to help them to get where they needed to be.

    We try hard to give our kids an opportunity to be independent…while overlooking in the background 🙂 Sometimes we let Amelia go to the checkout at Starbucks by herself and pay for her own drink (and no, not coffee!). We sit at a table and watch her…but it’s up to her to make sure she pays the right amount of money and gets her change back. The first couple of times she was VERY timid about it, but she’s gotten a little more confident over time. Plus it helps her use those money counting skills she’s learning at school!

    Now crossing streets…that’s another thing! People drive crazy and I’m pretty sure I’m not letting them cross the street without holding my hand until they are out of college!!

  45. I so have this battle with myself – my son is 10 and growing up fast – I am so much more of a nerd/ worrier parent than I ever thought I would be on somethings but pretty chill on others. I still watch him walk to the neighbors house – my husband thinks I’m crazy! On the flip side, he has a lot of autonomy on other things that some parents would be absolutely opposed to. I think we find our zone. One thing that helps us is when I clearly explain to my son ‘why’ I may restrict certain things – it has far less to do with trusting him than trusting whatever else is out there!

  46. Agree with every word. I absolutely let my older girls (5 and 7) have a bit of freedom… going to a completely safe bathroom or letting the older one walk the younger one into an art class. How else will we teach them to have trust and faith in themselves?

  47. I have fun reading your posts and just can’t seem to stop smiling until the very end! This made my day, or my night since I am reading this near midnight. Thanks for posting!

  48. This is a topic that has been on my mind a lot lately — especially with the whole Jerry Sandusky mess going on. I have very different views on permissiveness than several of my friends and family — some of whom won’t let their gradeschool kids play in the backyard by themselves, or won’t let their 11-year olds walk to their friends houses around the corner. I remember the sense of pride and independence I had from riding my bike and going to the park — without parents — from about second grade on.

    I think it’s important to know where your kids are and who they’re with, but you also have to give them the tools to handle themselves in the world. I don’t want my kids to be scared to step out the front door and I don’t want them to think that everyone is out to abduct them, but I do want them to be aware that there are things to watch out for.

    There’s a great DVD called the Safe Side, which was made by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Baby Einstein people. Kids think it’s funny, but it’s a great way to introduce them to the concept of stranger safety. (See here: http://www.thesafeside.com/) I started watching it with my daughter when she was 3, and now that she’s 8 we still use some of the terminology.

    1. “90 percent of child molesters know their victims. Most are not strangers who lurk in the bushes, waiting to kidnap children.”

      You’d think it was reversed.

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