I’m a worrier. Not one of my favorite traits, but I come by it honestly. Cultivated in my family for generations, worry has been handed down as lovingly as my grandmother’s mouth-watering Italian focaccia recipe and my grandfather’s tips for concocting near-lethal homemade wine.
I tell myself worry is part of my DNA, like the genes responsible for my crooked smile and propensity to grow wiry black hairs in random places. (That I never inherited the gene, dominant on both sides of my family, to cook like Ina Garten and sew/decorate like Martha Stewart is a bitter topic I’ll save for another post.)
Having children has only intensified my worry (and given me myriad ways to justify it). In the parenting department, I lean more “helicopter” than “free range.”
I remember when Ava (8) was a toddler and my husband, Mike, and I would play with her at the park. She was perfectly happy to wander off on her own. With every step away from me, I worried about her safety.
Instead of enjoying the sunshine and delighting in my child’s willingness to explore, I calculated how long it would take me to run to her if she fell or wandered too close to a dog. Or whether Mike could outrun a kidnapper if one swooped in and ran away with her. (Surprisingly, Mike’s assurances and recounting of his high school track career highlights did little to assuage my terror.)
As you may have gathered, I am no stranger to catastrophic thinking. Thankfully, Mike’s miraculous joie de vivre balances out my fatalistic anxiety. Mostly.
While my worry about random abductions has lessened over the years, I still tend to be overprotective. At the same time, I have my moments (okay days) of wondering where I can take my kids and leave them. Until recently, I never considered the local park to be an option. Last Saturday was the third annual “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day,” organized by Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free Range Parenting movement.
The event idea is literal – leave our kids (age 7 and up) at the park unsupervised for the day (or an hour, several hours, etc.); the intent laudable – provide an opportunity for kids to experience the joys of independence and self-reliance. (And to think I’ve been wasting thousands of dollars on babysitters all these years!).
My initial reaction to learning about this event was awe. The parents who participate must be brave, open-minded and fearless; unconventional advocates for their children’s growth and autonomy! (That this was the third annual event implies that the children who participated in the first two came back safely, right?)
My second thought: Ava is doomed. While I love the idea of her having adventures without parental constraints or interference (and god knows I love the idea of an extra week hour or two of “me” time), given my temperament, I don’t see this level of letting go in our near future.
I tell myself the benefits to Ava would not outweigh the toll such an experiment would take on me. I would need my entire support team (and a year’s supply of Xanax) to keep me and my binoculars from setting up a state-of-the-art observation post on the roof of the house nearest the park. I’d likely pay less attention to my child if I was sitting in the park on a bench texting on my cell phone like I usually do!
Perhaps free range parenting is for those blessed to be born without the insidious worry gene. While I let go every day, sending my children off to school, play dates, sleepovers and car pools, I do worry wonder what they are missing out on growing up in a big city with a black-belt worrier for a mom. If letting go completely is the goal, it will take generations to eradicate worry from our gene pool.
In the meantime, I need your help thinking of ways I can loosen my parental grip and bring more free range into my parenting (while at the same time increasing the benefits to me!). So far, I can only think of three:
1) Free Range Dining: (When my desire to write overrules my desire to give them nutritious food) “Girls, eat whatever you find in the fridge that doesn’t smell bad while I type up this blog post.”
2) Free Range Grocery Shopping: (When my laziness wins out over my fear of strangers): “Ava, I forgot the salsa in aisle six. Please run back and get some and I’ll meet you by the bananas.”
3) Free Range Library Book Drop-Off: (When I still have my pajamas on and don’t want to get out of the car): “Ava, run in with our overdue books and pay off our fines while I wait in the car.”
I need more than three options! Can you help? Is Ava doomed? How do you let go and foster your children’s autonomy and independence? Is a “Take Our Kids to the Park and Leave Them There Day” in your future?