Free Range Kids: Interview with America's Worst Mom Part 2

Free Range Kids Lenore Skenazy

Photo by Carrie52280

I want to be the mom who doesn't toddler-proof every single surface of my home, who doesn't have a panic attack when I drop my kids off at a playdate and leave, or who can confidently ask the woman in the checkout ahead of me to watch my daughter while I run back for milk.

And Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry, has been helping me.

Yesterday she talked about some of the fake or way overblown risks that parents really don't need to worry about. And today she gives specific tips on how to take a breath, step back, and let our kids have fun being kids.


Is all the hovering we do over our toddlers really bad for them?

I don't think helicopter moms are harmful to toddlers because at that age, kids need a lot of supervision, which is what "helicoptering" boils down to.

What I do think is harmful are the TV shows and product peddlers trying to convince moms and dads that their children are in terrible danger every second of every day. For instance, one of the baby monitor makers suggests that it is not just babies who need a monitor in their room but every kid, every age, up till, I don't know, graduate school.

This plants the notion in parents' minds that even when a child is well past the danger of SIDS and the need to cry for feedings in the middle of the night, they still need to be attended to every second, lest something terrible happen. This gives the parents the very opposite of what the monitor says it provides, "Peace of mind."

Now there is NO peace of mind because no child is considered safe, ever, even a 3-year-old asleep in her bed. The impulse to helicopter is reinforced to the point where parents are hovering/smothering rather than simply taking a reasonable amount of care. This wears everyone down -- the kid AND the parent.

Does helicopter parenting result in broken down, whipsawed, mollycoddled, dithering nincompoops who can't cross the street, go to college, start a family or even make a peanut butter sandwich?

That's a bad example -- as if peanut butter is allowed in the house! In fact, most kids end up fine no matter what kind of parenting they get, so long as it's not abusive. Parents THINK they mold (and warp and ruin) their kids, but actually a lot of factors go into making kids who they are: Genes, environment, siblings, an inspiring teacher. And for the most part, they all end up okay.

So then, what's the point of going Free-Range if hovering makes us feel better and doesn't hurt our kids?

What you GAIN by going Free-Range is a self-confident kid who can really enjoy childhood. What are the magic words of childhood? "I did it myself!" Not, "My mommy helped me do it!" Think how you felt when you rode your bike without training wheels. You want to let your kids feel that same exhilaration -- even if you know that, once in a while, they're going to fall.

What are some tips for allowing our toddlers more independence -- without killing themselves?

1.     Do not buy all the gear that is supposed to "help" your toddler through this very normal stage of life. They don't need knee pads -- they have baby fat. They don't need Walking Wings, even though the lying-through-its-teeth advertising copy promises that this is a more "natural" way for kids to learn to walk. Right -- it is more "natural" to buy a product than to hold your kids' hands. Please.

2.      I don't think parents have to worry so much about a "toxic" environment either. The BPA in baby bottles has been in there for 25 years. If this plastic hardener was really screwing up children's hormones, we'd have seen a generation of boys turn into girls. That hasn't happened.

3.      I also really don't think parents have to be so concerned that their every decision -- Co-sleep or not? Gymboree or not?  Day care or not? -- is going to make such a huge difference in the end. In fact, that's the name of one of my chapters: "Relax! Not every little thing you do has that much impact on your child's development."

And that's not just my opinion. Scientists, sociologists, shrinks and brain researchers agree:  We have misinterpreted the lessons of Freud. Freud said parents influence children from the get-go. He was right. BUT we are not the only influencers. That means we don't have to talk every second to our kids lest they never develop a big vocabulary, or face them toward us in their strollers lest they never learn to communicate, or worry that we are encouraging them too much or too little in every sphere.

Are you saying it's okay for us to be imperfect?

Yes, because it's not that tit-for-tat. You don't "get" a certain kid just because you did everything "right." You don't ruin a kid by being less than perfect (whatever that is). Once we realize that our kids are people who come into our lives, not lumps of clay we can mold, make or break, it's a little easier to accept them as they are -- and accept ourselves, too. We're not the destroyers. We're not God. We're just parents. Tired, grateful parents, probably with some applesauce on our shirt.


Do you make yourself sick with worry over your toddlers' safety and development, or are you trying to be more like Lenore?

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