Letting my kids roam

I recently found this site written by a mother who made headlines fairly recently. She is the woman who let her 9 year old learn how to take a NY subway alone to teach him how to find his way home. She was labeled “abusive, crazy, reckless and neglectful” by many who read the story. “How can a parent in today’s day and age think this would EVER be a good idea? What was she thinking?” I’ll admit that while I didn’t have these exact thoughts I was a bit shocked that a boy so young was given sanction to do this. But the thing that caught my attention was that it was actually sanctioned….intentional. She was involved in his process. Teaching him. Trying to help him to take a risk, problem solve and find his footing. There was no neglect involved.

I’m not yet lying awake at night thinking of ways to let my little ones figure out how to walk to the library alone. They are still a bit young for that. Likely my son would get lost following a run away squirrel or something. No bueno! But I do agree that we have to give our kids more space to roam, play, explore, wander, learn and figure life out without us hovering all the time. Most of us grew up in an area that we thought was safe. By the early mid eighties everyone knew the name Adam Walsh. After the media frenzy no child was allowed to play outside on his/her bike anymore. It wasn’t an overnight change but it did change over time and the change seemed pronounced. Now you hear about all of the child kidnappings and exploitations. Oprah (God bless her) devotes networks and entire weeks of programming to this topic.  The web, TV, billboards, magazines are all telling us the world is a terrible place to raise our kids. And if you do let them venture outside, they must be clad head to toe with protective gear, sunscreen and a tracking devise. I’ve seen children ‘playing’ in the sun wearing full body, UV blocking suits….as if they are playing in a field of plutonium. They’re outside!!! Slap a bit of SPF on them and off they go! Ok, I’m being snarky and you may comment away on how fair- skinned your little freckley child is and why they need to be protected from the melting ozone. I understand that. Sometimes our protection can be a bit excessive.

A few weeks ago I let my son wander down the street to a neighbor’s house for the first time to see if they boy wanted to play. I bundled him up for the snow and sent him off. I’ll admit it was a bit strange not to walk over there with him and ask if his friend could play instead of my son asking. But it gave him confidence and excitement. He was out without mom for the first time. What a thrill! I also encourage him to give cashier’s money when he wants to buy a toy car and we have been known to let him ride his bike without a helmet on. I also think his cheeks have even been a bit sun burned here and there. Oh, and he eats food that falls on the floor.

Of course I have horrible thoughts of some car speeding off in front of my home as I look for one of my kids. Rumination is a slippery slope though. I worry like any mother and I NEVER want my kids to go through pain. Yet I remember playing outside for hours upon hours as a child, unleashing my imagination, making friends, cultivating new interests and dreaming of what I wanted to be when I grew up. These moments happen less and less as a child stays inside, watches movies or TV and is constantly being hovered over by a fearful parent.

I definitely say, YES to books and letting kids get lost in them but I also say an emphatic YES to letting our kids roam a bit, playing with sticks, learning how to start a campfire while we show them how and maybe even eating mud-cakes. Maybe even cooking in the kitchen and venturing outside ALONE to take out the garbage. Or riding a bike and falling occasionally. Getting hurt and learning about pain seems like a rite of passage for kids and we just can’t protect them from pain forever. Swimming in the ocean, jumping off of really high stuff, playing with mud, getting really dirty (it washes off) and eating the occasional piece of dirt off the floor are elements of being little and I’m trying to allow my kids to experience life and the amazing outdoors with small bits of freedom while I let go of some major fears. My husband is great at this. He has been the biggest motivator in helping me see how great it is to give your children small bits of independence. Incidentally, he actually inspired this post in an article he passed on to me a few days ago. He’s my biggest supporter.

Have fun with your little ones today. Let go a bit (I’m learning how to) and toast to the whole of life!

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10 thoughts on “Letting my kids roam

  1. I have thought about this alot. I agree with wholeheartedly! I have been reading called ‘When Your Body Gets The Blues”. It refers alot to our natural hormones and their effect on the body. It goes into natural solutions for the blues and weight gain. Light, exercise and vitimins. As men and women tested what the authors were discovering, being outside in natural light and getting exercise they felt better and lost weight w/o trying! As I thought about this I thought about our children today. They are fat, lacking vit D, and many are addicted, cutting, etc etc! They need to be outside getting exercise. It goes right along with what you are saying. We have protected our children from what we fear will happen and they are now depressed, fat and antisocial. Maybe I am pushing it alittle. But it shouldn’t take government to help our kids we just gotta think! I could go further down this road but…

    • Mary, I couldn’t have said this better. There is also some sort of weird blood thickening in a lot of youth and doctors refer to it as “blood sludge”. Seems like there is a severe lack of oxygen in the blood these days and I’m sure a huge culprit is being cooped up indoors. I just got back from the park with the kids. It’s snowy, cold and wet. Sort of lame, if I’m honest. But it’s so good for all of us to get out. I even let the kids fight with each other a bit so they will work it out. That’s a hard one for me since I feel I can offer a solution. But they need to learn to develop skills to problem solve on their own. Not always easy for me to step back.

      Great thoughts Mary.


  2. This is great. I didn’t expect that this process would come up so soon. Obviously Harper isn’t taking off down the street by herself (though she is starting to want to go outside) but at 7 months she started crawling off to playing in her room on her own. I didn’t know what to do with that at first. She’s still so little and there are too many ways that she could get hurt. But it also seemed to express confidence and that’s something I want her to have. So I let her roam at home and away from home, touch things, touch people, put things in her mouth (I was hoping she would find the dog food disgusting but no luck there). I keep thinking about a statistic I heard once that by the time a child is 5 years old they have developed 80% of their world view. I think part of a child learning that the world is a safe place involves being allowed to fall down and get back up.

    Also, the comment of Oliver getting lost chasing squirrel, so true. That made me smile. I love that kid.

    • I know, it’s a hard one to let them explore a bit. I’ve found tacks, hair, dirt, cat food and even a few bits of glass in Chloe’s mouth form stuff she picked up off the floor. She’s an oral child for certain. When I was a nanny I use to let one of the babies I watched sit in the playground and eat sand. When she ate over a pound of that’s when I had to cut her off (just kidding) but I felt it was not going to kill her or even make her sick. It did make for some scratchy diaper changing though.

      Wait till Harper starts walking, then the fun will really begin.

    • It was babe. Afterwards I thought I should have mentioned it. It’s not to late to edit. Thanks for sending it. You are actually very inspiring for me in this area. YOu were the one who originally let the boy wonder to the neighbor’s house. Thanks babe. You’re a great dad

  3. I think dad’s are better at this stuff. I really have trouble in this area. I can imagine 101 ways my children could die in any given situation, from driving down the street to jumping on the bed. It makes me crazy sometimes. It’s to the point where I can’t even watch when they climb trees. Ezzy actually did fall out of a tree from really high, he just tumbled all the way down – and you know – he only had a few scratches and otherwise he was fine. It’s like they’re made of rubber or something! And I hate the crawling stage, I just dread it – I would rather skip that stage altogether! So in that sense I am really thankful for Scott and I’m glad there’s two of us to balance out. And believe me, Scott really does balance out!!! He’s crazy with the boys, like a dad should be.

  4. I totally agree trace, For some reason I find letting emma go to the neighborhood park with friends or over to a friends house on her own really easy but with Adi she is my child that makes my heart skip a beat, she will run into a wall while looking at a fuzz on her finger.. she is so unaware of things around her that to let her go with emma to a park I just cant and wont do it.. i envision her getting up on the 8 ft high monkey bars and getting stuck, falling down into the scratchy mulch, Its true that dads are better cause sams always telling me, “its no big deal, give her some freedom” Ive started letting her go with Emma to friends houses and not freaking out if they play outside of our yard area.. with the whole idea you were talking about, letting them get some healthy street skills.. so hard to shut off the mommy voice sometimes though! Your a great mom..

    • You know, Beth. I totally agree. I think you have to know that your kids are actually ready to roam a bit. When they are really little it’s just too weird to let them go somewhere alone. I think some kids may even take longer to let out of our site because they are so adventurous and have a huge desire to explore. My son is one. It’s only recently that I could let him go outside to the front yard alone while I peeked out the window occasionally just because he use to run off anytime I gave him a bit of freedom.

      I think the mommy voice is God’s way of helping us protecting out kids. I’m very in tune to it. I’m just trying to let go of fear. Caution is good for me but I ruminate with thoughts of my kids getting abducted and never finding them again. Then I have an inner panic moment. Those are the things I’m trying to let go of. Matt is great in helping me relax about this too. Thanks for the comment

  5. Pingback: Carrying my kids « Tea and Chopsticks

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