Helicopter versus Free-range Mothering

Warning to those of you looking for a laugh in my typical posts – stop here.  This entry is a rant!


Maybe it’s because I figure Mr.Tot has it all figured out since he came with 2 kids, and therefore I got the Cliff Notes on parenting, or maybe it’s because I’m 40+, but I can’t get all upset about Tot eating off the floor, or taking tumbles, or not having a fixed routine, so Tot, in return, does not get upset about much.  She doesn’t seem to mind falling unless she really hurts herself.  If she cries, I know she’s going to have something to show for it.  Though maybe I am fooling myself, and it is just her nature not to be delicate and fussy.  Even Big Fat Cat’s nasty mangled face following eye removal surgery didn’t bother her – she just petted him and hugged him like he didn’t look any different.   I can post a picture if you really want to see, but most of us would cringe – I did.  


With that said, enter a relevant topic.  My mom and I were in some waiting room or other when she heard a teaser for a story on Helicopter moms.  She immediately brought it to my attention since I spent almost 20 years in helicopter research at NASA.  But really, how many moms have a career involving helicopters?  I’m thinking not many.   We didn’t get to hang around to hear more, but did speculate on the real content.   Must be about moms who “hover” around their children.   I occasionally try to step back and evaluate my parenting – nothing too deep, just on the order of – am I warping her permanently and should I bother trying to keep up with the Joneses regarding childcare methods?  Mostly I don’t worry about what everybody else is doing, but it’s nice to know about at least.  


Then I came across Cool Mom blog,  and her article on the subject and got sucked in even further to find – Helicopter Moms vs. Free-Range Kids.  I realized I do have pretty strong opinions on the matter and often feel like I’m swimming upstream with my opinions.  I hear about all these fancy birthday parties and the demise of Trick-or-Treating, and umpteen other things that rub me the wrong way.  Some of my favorite memories from childhood (yes, I do have a few despite my crappy memory) are of Trick-or-treating, choosing my birthday dessert for a small family celebration, wandering in the woods by our house alone, and traveling to France at 16 by myself.  Yes, I stayed with a family there, but I had never met them before, and it was not part of any program.  I always felt loved, never abandoned, but I had lots of freedom and encouragement to try things, and lots of alone time which has stood me in good stead.  I cherish my alone time.


And I hope to give my daughter the same encouragement, life skills, and confidence to become her own independent person.  Our job as parents is to make our children independent people able to take care of themselves, that is, to work ourselves OUT of a job.  


At the pool, of course I’m not going to let my 2 year old be on her own, but I did position myself in about two and half feet of water, and let her do her circle magic – walk into the zero-entrance water about 20 feet away, walk right up to me, climb out, walk back to the zero-entrance about 50 times.  I watched another mom stand with her 2 year old – about 4-6 weeks behind Tot, in about 6 inches of water.  Granted every child develops at their own pace, but it made me wonder about parenting styles and their influence on our children.  Kids capabilities expand to fill the amount of freedom allotted much like a gas fills a jar.  If we don’t give them any freedom, they won’t expand their horizons – their mental, emotional and psychological limits, let alone physical ones.  


I try, as often as possible, to teach Tot how to do something rather than do it for her, despite the fact, that at this age, I’m often creating more work for myself, when it comes to preventing dangerous situations.  She is heavily into the “I do it” stage and I try to let her do as many things as possible, despite the extra time, patience, and oversight required.  Because, the sooner she gets practice, the sooner she’ll be capable of one more thing.  I watch other 2 year olds, and she seems more advanced.  I don’t say this to brag, but to encourage other moms to realize that there’s a whole lot of capability in that tiny body that is not being activated if you don’t give them opportunities.  Now there are also parents who seem to just be delinquent in overseeing their kids. But every kid is an individual, and progresses at different rates in various skills, whether social, physical, logical, etc.  And every parent has to constantly evaluate that child for what they are capable of, and the world in which we live.   So, are those parents irresponsible, or are they placing a justified amount of trust in their child?   Now if you have a unstable ex in your life, or other shady characters, by all means, take extra precautions.


To put the world’s role into perspective, this quote is taken from the Free Range Kids website:

Had the world really become so much more dangerous in just one generation? Yes — in most people’s estimation. But no — not according to the evidence. Over at the think tank STATS.org, where they examine the way the media use statistics, researchers have found that the number of kids getting abducted by strangers actually holds very steady over the years. In 2006, that number was 115, and 40% of them were killed.  Any kid killed is a horrible tragedy. It makes my stomach plunge to even think about it. But when the numbers are about 50 kids in a country of 300 million, it’s also a very random, rare event. It is far more rare, for instance, than dying from a fall off the bed or other furniture. So should we, for safety’s sake, all start sleeping on the floor?

Lenore goes on to say:  We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence.

Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.


 Another article I read was this one:  Do ‘Helicopter Moms’ Do More Harm Than Good?  ‘Hovering Mothering’ has become common on college campuses  from way back in 2005!!!  In my opinion the woman in this story needs professional help!! 

In short, I’m not sure I’m as “Free-range”-minded as the parents on the Free-range Kids web-site, but my views certainly run closer to theirs than to the helicopter moms, despite my total responsiveness to Tot’s needs right now.  She is only 2 after all.  And her little brain is like a sponge – she is learning at a rate which is mind-boggling to me.


And one final note.  Helicopters are used to herd free-range critters, so this whole analogy thing is a little cock-eyed.  But in my mind, the parents who let their kids roam don’t necessarily love their kids any less, nor are they lazy, but rather they trust their own parenting – both their teaching and their evealuation of their child’s skills, and they have faith in their child to have absorbed the lessons, or to learn from their mistakes.  They are not going to let their child get seriously hurt if they can help it, but a few scapes and bruises are part of childhood.

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