Last weekend, my five-year-old asked to show her elementary school to a dear friend, a ten-year-old visiting from out of town. The girls wanted to walk to the school themselves. The ten-year-old is the most responsible kid I know, an independent sort who walks to school each day on her own through her New York City neighborhood. I trust and adore this girl and know that she would make smart decisions, keeping an eye out for my daughter.
Yet, I hesitated.
My daughter’s suburban elementary school is a ten-minute walk (seven if you avoid getting distracted by squirrels). Each school day, we walk there together, along with her brother, crossing only one street at an intersection with a clearly marked crosswalk and easy sightlines in all directions. Together, the girls would be safe; I wasn’t worried.
But, still, I hesitated.
Long gone are the days when my brother and I, especially my brother, would disappear for hours in the woods behind our house to play and explore, without our mother hovering about or even knowing exactly where we were. We were 1970s and 1980s kids, raised with lots of love, not a lot of television, and a push to be outside and be happy. Today, you might call that free-range parenting. I don’t raise my kids the same way my parents raised me.
Oh, I love my kids the same, and I restrict their television viewing, suggesting books instead, just like my mom did. I also want my kids to be outside, exploring, learning, and having fun. But I’m more aware of where they are at all times. I don’t let them go off by themselves. I worry a lot more than my parents did. I admit it: I hover a bit—maybe even a bit more than my husband would like. Free range describes the eggs I buy at Whole Foods, not the way I parent.