Free-Range Parenting And Why I Still Hover.

In a culture that has taught us to always be looking over our shoulder,  and never lower our defense, how involved should you be in your child’s every move?

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Hover [verb]– to keep lingering about; wait near at hand.

Mike and I have been wrestling with the issue of freedom and responsibility with our children for years. Within our home we allow much freedom and encourage a high level of responsibility. We teach our children to use the stove, cut with scissors, babysit, run a dishwasher, wash, dry and fold laundry, answer the phone, feed the animals, change diapers, and the list goes on. Outside of our home is a different story.

Just a few weeks ago, I allowed my daughters (age 13 and 14) to ride bikes to my office a few blocks from home. They wanted to come for a visit and in the moment it sounded like a great idea. As I hung up the phone, I began to panic. I had never let them ride bikes that far. In fact I couldn’t think of a time I had ever allowed them to cross a busy street. I began texting instructions to my husband. “Remind them to look both ways,” “Tell them only to cross at the crosswalk,” “Make sure they know not to talk to strangers.” For the next 10 minutes my heart pounded. I could see them through the office window as they parked their bikes. Their laughter filled the parking lot. They were ALIVE!

As I breathed a sigh of relief, I realized how silly I had been. They weren’t just alive, they were actually living. They were empowered by that small taste of freedom, the wind blowing through their hair, and the potential danger of the busy street. I had trusted them and the joy of that felt-trust was beaming out of them.

My husband and I began to explore more deeply why we keep our children so close to home. Were we really afraid they would be abducted? Did we think they would do something wrong? Were we worried that they would harm themselves or someone else? We are a family of faith, did we not trust our God to care for our children? We answered “no” to every question. We also realized we didn’t see anyone else letting their children play outside. The neighborhood children play in their yards under the watchful eye of caregivers, and our parks are mostly empty. After some honest conversation we admitted it all boiled down to the perception we have of other families. We’re afraid they will judge our parenting if we are not present to defend ourselves. We are afraid they will judge our children if we are not hovering over them ready to pounce at the first sign of trouble.

Our fear stems from a desire to cling to our reputation more than a legitimate concern for children’s safety. Our fear has been preventing our children from practicing the independence they will ultimately acquire.

One day she will disagree with a college roommate and we will not be there to mediate.
One day his coworker will not want to be friends and we will not be there to make him play fair.
One day a mom on the PTA will talk behind her back and we will not be there to set her straight.
One day he will need to pay the electric bill and we will not be there with a checkbook in hand.
One day she will encounter someone who wants to harm her and we will not be there to speak words of caution.
One day, very soon, they will be adults and we will have neglected to teach them to cross the busy street.

One day. It’s not far off. It’s right around the corner. Our children’s safety is top priority, but so is teaching them to navigate through life. What better time to teach them than now!

Question: What are your thoughts on free-range parenting verses hovering? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • jaklumen

    Kristin- here by way of one of Mike’s submissions to the Good Men Project.

    I’ve seen this from a few angles: I had parents that hovered, or rather, rescued me from a few too many consequences. One day, I got into a situation I realized I just couldn’t talk myself out of– I had to take things as they were.

    The other angle is that I think strangers are quick to judge my parenting– I mean situations with a son with autism. I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with this. I feel like I have to explain to all of them, “Gee, sorry I’m crippled; I’m chasing after him as fast as I can” after he’s gotten into some trouble and I wasn’t quick enough to stop it. Because I actually do deal with chronic pain and some physical ailments.

    • Hey so glad you connected with us. I have to agree with you on your point about strangers judging. We’ve experienced that and even given in to the pressure in our parenting. It’s an uphill battle at times!

    • Kristin Berry

      Hi! I think that raising children with special needs adds a whole new level to this discussion. We have been in a similar situation with our sons who have FASD. The judgment from others can be rough but we’re doing our best! It sounds like you are too:)

  • Jill Ann Morehead

    You both are wonderful parents. We all struggle with our kids independence. I’ve told my kids from a small age, “If I can trust you with the small stuff then I can trust you with the big stuff.” My 17 yr d daughter has driven to Ball State with a friend twice this year…to ask a boy to prom and watch a friends play. She has always respected our curfew even though she didn’t agree and always communicates with us….change of plans, etc. I told her the other day parents wonder if there children are going to thrive once they leave their home. She graduates in 2016; I told her she is going to do great! Proud of her!

    • Jill thanks so much for your kind words. So glad to hear that your daughter communicates and respects the boundaries you two have set in place for her. That’s a true blessing!

    • Kristin Berry

      Thanks 🙂 I think that’s such good advice, “if I can trust you with the small stuff then I can trust you with the big stuff.” It’s crazy to hear how grown up your children are!

  • Janes Chiarelli

    Hello. My husband of almost 7 years, cheated on me and left me for her and is living with her now. He said he hasn’t been happy in years but never told/showed me he was unhappy. We have a 4 year old son that missed his daddy so much and cries for him to just come home. Our son even crawled all over his car crying “daddy stay home with me.” And he still left. He just keeps saying “he’s never coming back, no matter what.” I didnv’t know what to anymore..he left me 5/7/15, the weekend before mothers day this year and it broke my heart and I keep praying to God and he keeps telling me “be patient” I was still trying my best but it was hard when this was hurting my son so badly. I have told my sister about this and she gave me some advice to contact a very good and powerful prophet who can help me pray for my husband to come back and be happy with us again which i did and i contacted the prophet. he prayed for me and my husband cam home begging me to take him back and now we are happily living together and a family. all thanks to the prophet and his email is (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com). May God bless you abundantly!

  • Janes Chiarelli

    Hello. My husband of almost 7 years, cheated on me and left me for her and is living with her now. He said he hasn’t been happy in years but never told/showed me he was unhappy. We have a 4 year old son that missed his daddy so much and cries for him to just come home. Our son even crawled all over his car crying “daddy stay home with me.” And he still left. He just keeps saying “he’s never coming back, no matter what.” I didn’t know what to anymore..he left me 5/7/15, the weekend before mothers day this year and it broke my heart and I keep praying to God and he keeps telling me “be patient” I was still tryinsg my best but it was hard when this was hurting my son so badly. I have told my sister about this and she gave me some advice to contact a very good and powerful prophet who can help me pray for my husband to come back and be happy with us again which i did and i contacted the prophet. he prayed for me and my husband cam home begging me to take him back and now we are happily living together and a family. all thanks to the prophet and his email is (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com). May God bless you abundantly!