Free-Range Parenting From the Helicopter

Please join me in welcoming my friend Liz, of Eternal Lizdom, to The Risky Kids today! Liz is a mom of 2 and a fellow blogger. Earlier this year I posed the question: what do you do when you and your spouse disagree on kids’ activities? It’s a question I get asked a lot, and while Mike and I have the same basic philosophy when it comes to our parenting style and tolerance for independent play, I know many of you struggle with this. Liz has some experience on the topic, and I think you’ll find her perspective helpful and enlightening! 

I’m not usually one to adhere to labels when it comes to parenting. But in our household, we do have 2 different styles when it comes to the independent play and living of our kids.

I’m something of a “free-range parent.” I encourage my kids to be independent and not constantly under my rules and supervision. My husband is more of a “helicopter parent.” He prefers to always know where the kids are, be able to see them, and have direct influence over their decisions. In some ways, this could cause a lot of conflict in a family. These can be very different styles.

When we go to the park, I’m more likely to bring a book and sit on a bench and enjoy the sunshine while the kids run off and play. My husband is more likely to stand on the playground and patrol the borders, keeping an eye on the kids as they play.

At the grocery store, I will send my 9-year-old to pick up something I forgot a few aisles or sections back. My husband will circle back and take everyone along to pick up the forgotten item – wanting to keep an eye on everyone and also wanting to make sure that the correct item is chosen.

When playing outside, I let the kids have the run of the street with their friends. My husband prefers that they play in one set location so that he can check on them at any time.

The interesting thing is … we don’t really fight about it. I can easily see where we would. These can be very different styles, especially when we are all out together. But I think we both see the value in our differences. So I bite my tongue sometimes when he insists on doing things that I see as controlling small behaviors. And he sometimes has to bite his tongue when he thinks I’m letting them have too much freedom.

When it comes to “biting my tongue,” the thing I do to help with that is to stop and think about my kids in the future. I think about how they will describe their childhood and their memories. And my hope is that they will see our different styles in a positive way – and when I try to project to the future and look back, I can see how dad’s style has a lot of benefits for them in the long run (even if I find it frustrating right now).

He’s driven by wanting them to learn how to make the best choice now. He wants them to benefit from his life experience, to accept his knowledge and adult perspective. He wants to protect them from making mistakes and getting hurt. I want them to learn by making mistakes and getting hurt. Not that I want my children to hurt – it’s horrible to watch your child suffer in any way. But I also know that my kids learn when they are in a more difficult situation and have to think it through. My husband wants to be the main source of knowledge and wisdom and answer for our kids. I want to be a place they can safely come and talk to, someone who can offer guidance and other perspectives but the decision is still left to them.

The bottom line is that our kids benefit from both of our styles. They learn from dad that sometimes there is a need for caution, there is a reason to be careful with how we proceed. From mom, they learn about responsibility and to use their instincts and sense of caution to make their choices.

And in the end, all of our choices are made because we love our children. As long as that is the message that comes through to them, I think we’re doing just fine.

(Ironically, as I finish writing this, my husband is taking a big step by allowing our 9-year-old to stay home alone while he runs to the grocery store. I’m proud of him!)

Also – a book that really has helped me develop into this more-allowing-of-freedom parent is “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin DeBecker. I know a lot about what there is to fear in the world and this book helped me to realize that my instincts are very trustworthy. I highly recommend it to all parents.

Thank you so much for sharing with us, Liz! It sounds like your kids have the best of both worlds! Have any of you ever experienced the same thing – one of you is more “free-range” than the other parent? What’s your best advice for parenting with respect for your partner’s differences and concerns?

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