If you've never heard of Lenore Skenazy's blog, let me be the first to recommend it. Lenore is the voice behind Free Range Kids (www.freerangekids.com) and also the author of a book by the same name. "Free Range Kids" is a delightfully witty and refreshing commentary on how incredibly absurd modern parenting has become. Lenore describes Free Range Kids as: "Fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape."
As I watched my own kids last weekend, tromping through the snow in the pasture, pushing their kid-sized wheelbarrow, off on some spontaneous exploration, I thought to myself, as I have many times before, that farm kids are the original free range kids.
Dan and Monika have reached the age of (mostly) unbridled freedom to roam the farm. We trust them to follow a couple rules, like not going by the road and not walking on the frozen ponds without an adult.
They use this freedom for all sorts of fun: exploring in the pasture, around the ponds, and in the grove that serves as the farm's windbreak; climbing the old silo to catch pigeons; building mines, forts, cat habitats and chicken egg incubators.
I, mostly, am relieved to see that the years they spent buckled in strollers or otherwise contained did not stifle their imagination and spirit of adventure. I worry at times about their whereabouts, but, as I'm sure most farm parents do, I believe my kids are capable of taking care of themselves. And if something does go wrong, I trust that they know to quickly find Glen or me for help.
Maybe this relaxed style of parenting - the opposite of the helicopter parenting that has overtaken much of our society - is a result of my own upbringing on a farm. My sisters and I were given the freedom to play by the river, ride our bikes around our country block (or even to town), and jump from the haymow, among other activities.
Maybe it was born of necessity: As a farming mom, I simply cannot keep my kids within eyesight at all times. And I've learned that kids don't self-implode if left unattended.
Sometimes this free range parenting style is challenging. Sometimes you come in from the barn and find your kids underneath the kitchen table with a box of food coloring. Several years later, there are still red stains on the linoleum and the kids will still tell you just how mad I got and that I locked them in their rooms afterwards.
Sometimes the kids break the rules and the vet calls to tell you that he found your kids walking on the road. Or you find your kids and their cousin climbing up one end of the ag bag, running across the top, and sliding off the other end into an enormous mud puddle. Or, like last weekend, when I watched as my pasture-explorers slipped under the fence that surrounds the pond and tiptoed out onto the ice.
This parenting style requires lots of explaining and a fair dose of consequences for bad choices. But at least my free range kids get to make choices, because, how else would they learn?
But free range parenting comes with great rewards, too. We have kids who are capable of entertaining themselves, who have great imaginations, who aren't afraid to get dirty or go out on a limb, and who experience some really cool things.
This fall, Dan climbed up the silo to look for pigeon eggs and found a Great Horned Owl looking back at him. Last weekend, Dan reported that there was a new kind of animal track in the snow by the pond.
And I believe that free range parenting instills responsibility. The more responsibility we place upon our children to look after themselves, the more responsible they become. Responsibility also leads to confidence, competence and inclination. At 7 and 5, our kids can make themselves breakfast and bring the cows in from pasture without my help. Our 5-year-old can change her sister's diaper all by herself. These tasks were self-initiated - I didn't ask for help, they took it upon themselves to do the job.
As Lenore says on her blog, children deserve a life outside a cage. An overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.
I'll add this: There's no better place to be a free range kid than on a farm.