Free Range Parenting Is Only for Chickens


free range kids
Next time, I ride the Metro by myself.
Let's start another parent fight! Who wants to let their kid walk to school, and who isn't even comfortable with drop-off at the pre-school door that doesn't allow parents to get out of the car and walk their kiddo inside? Who thinks that toddlers should fight it out on the playground, and who steps in to negotiate the "red car" conflict?

Like most parents, I find myself on either side of the helicopter/free range argument at any given moment. Different situations call for different reactions, and while one person may see me hovering, another may be shaking her head at my lack of supervision.

Which is what recently happened to me when I let my daughter go to the bathroom by herself at a restaurant.

Let me start by saying I don't frequent Denny's in Hollywood, and I don't think that the middle of Los Angeles is a great place for a pre-schooler to hang out unsupervised. However, last weekend we were moving and I had to get the kids out of the house early in the morning. Solution -- family-friendly restaurant where my 2-year-old can climb the walls and his older sister can drink chocolate milk and eat pancakes to the point of submission.

So there the three of us are in Denny's, and my daughter has to go to the bathroom. My son was still eating (and it's tough getting that kid to eat, so I didn't want to interrupt him in the middle of his kid-sized Grand Slam), so I decided it would be a great time to let her exercise some independence and go to the bathroom -- all the way on the other side of the restaurant, out of my sight line -- by herself. But it seems no one else was going to allow me my free-range parenting moment, as I caused an uproar among the staff.

No less than THREE Denny's employees stepped up to supervise my daughter. Our waitress went so far to come over to me and tell me she was going to go inside the restroom with her, leaving her post, and I'm assuming some unfilled coffee cups in her wake. This lady helped my daughter wash her hands and accompanied her back to my table. Yes, it was totally nice. And of course I left her a big tip. But was it necessary?

It just made me realize that even if you want to be a free-range parent, you can't. People won't let you leave your children unattended in a public place. I do appreciate this village at Denny's that helped me take care of my children on a stressful day. At the same time, that kid could have gone potty without assistance. I know it, but she may not since no one will let her do it.

Are you a free-range parent?

safety, toddler development


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momof... momof030404

I have a very vivid memory of the news story years back a McDonalds where a little boy around 4 or 5 went into the bathroom unsupervised and was molested. They showed that grainy, security camera tape on the news for weeks trying to find the creep guy that came out after him. I know this isnt the "norm" but it is something that has affected my parenting :/ I am with you...I fall on both sides depending on the topic.....but this one for me is a hover moment! My girls just turned 10 and 11 and are JUST getting to go unsupervised and thats IN my line of sight! It was nice of the waitress tho either way....added eyes and all that it takes a villiage stuff :)

niami... niamibunni

Being molested really messes you up and it stays with you for the rest of your life. I'd rather just watch my kid and help him avoid going through the hell I went through. kthx.

jpfsmom jpfsmom

I don't know if I'll be a full on free range parent for the reasons you mentioned, society seems to have a serious problem with it but I loved my childhood where I rode my bike everywhere, took the city bus to the mall, walk to school and this was all before turning 12. I don't think crime is much different than when we were growing up (I was Adam Walsh's age after all) however I think media coverage has us thinking it's a child predator/doomsday for the under 18 set and we must shrinkrap our children and protect them 24/7.

kjbug... kjbugsmom1517

This is a really tough situation. Being a mom of 2 I've found it easier as well to just send the older one. I tend to hover a bit but I have young girls, they talk to everyone and don't have the whole "that person is creepy" instinct. My oldest is 6 and my girls won't walk to school till my youngest is at the very earliest 2nd grade. When they can walk together and or with a group of neighborhood kids.

meatb... meatball77

I've had to teach my daughter to say I don't need any help or I'm fine and to walk with confidence.  She was always being offered help when she didn't need or want it places that I allow her freedom.

We've had our moments where she's needed help (I lost her at target once when I sent her to the bathroom, she wasn't lost but I was worried) but for the most part she really enjoys the freedom and responsibility that she has and realises that it's more than even most kids her age has.  I was very proud of her this weekend when I didn't need to come back and help her at all during her dance recital (when some of the other parents refused to leave the dressing room because their seven year olds can' t put on tights without help apparently and barely got to see their kids dance).

nonmember avatar FartsOnFire

Its not the fact that u let your child go to the bathroom alone. I think that's great that she can do that at 2 years old. But, save that for when u are AT HOME. Anything could have happened to her, and u admittedly said she was "out of (your) sight line". So, call it "free-range", I call it irresponsible. You'd feel like crap (hopefully) if she got kidnapped. The Denny's employees freaked out because you made YOUR child THEIR responsibility. What would the news say about Denny's if a child was abducted there?

nonmember avatar Elle

I also hover between helicopter and's one of those things that staying specifically on one side of - EITHER side - is unfair to the child, because it short changes them on either guidence or freedom, both of which they need. Bathroom trips though...there, I am a helicopter. I understand it being hard to get a kid to eat (I have 3, the middle has supplemental tube feedings via gtube because she wont eat enough) but a closed area like this with I was severely molested/abused as a child and it's one area I am super wary of now that I am a Mother.

nonmember avatar Gertie

Ooooo how do you know the waitress wasn't a creepy perv?

nonmember avatar Sara

Fartsonfire- she didn't say how old her daughter is- her SON is 2, and he is the one eating at the table while his older SISTER went to the bathroom. Most 2 year olds can't even reach the toilet by themselves, so I seriously doubt any sane person would send their 2 year old in alone. =S
That said, I've let my 3 year old go into the bathroom by herself while I stood outside the door- only because she was insisting on being a big girl. I'm really not worried about molesters, I was more worried that she couldn't reach the sink to wash her hands! And I tell you, if there were more public bathrooms with step-stools or low sinks, I'd probably let her do it more often, just to build her independence.

deser... desertsage

Her son is two, not her daughter.  She never mentions how old her daughter is other than she's older than her two year old son.  So I'm guessing she's in the 4-5 range.  I let my kids use the restroom w/o me being present when they were about 6 years old as long as I could see the restroom, and if there wasn't an outside door near the restroom.

I don't think it's a horrible thing to let a child go alone at a younger age, and I wouldn't judge another parent for it either.  But, to each their own.

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