Minnesota Mamaleh: Meets THE “Free-Range” Mom

What if I told you to google “America’s Worst Mom?” Would you do it? Right now? If you do (like I did) you’d see many, many articles about Lenore Skenazy.
Dig deep. You remember.
She’s that newspaper journalist and fellow Mamaleh that let her nine year old son ride the New York City subway home. Alone.
Like you, perhaps, I thought she was just a bit loopy when I read about it. Since that “see you on the evening news” decision, things have been looking up for Skenazy.
In a lemons to lemonade fashion, she started a website, a movement and coined a term or two here and there. “America’s Worst Mom” turned parenting rock star and role model for many.
Skenazy is the author of Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry and is coming to the Saint Paul JCC this weekend. Now writing a book doesn’t necessarily up your credibility. Neither do two thousand responses on just one section of a blog or countless numbers of articles written about you. But then again, maybe I’m just a tough cookie!
However, I’m also a mom. And an educator. And Jewish for goodness sakes! I can appreciate differing points of view and learning from others. So I opened up my mind a bit and cracked open Skenazy’s book. And I started learning.
It’s well written, funny, poignant and chock-full of ideas.
Some of Skenazy’s main points are:

  • Crime is down. Skenazy has done her research and backs this up. Thoroughly. This was necessary because there are plenty of people trying to refute this one. Like you. Or me.
  • The said refuting happens because of media over-coverage of bad (although rare) things happening to kids.
  • In response to media created fear, parents are over-parenting (“helicoptering” if you will. Make the visual and it’ll make sense) in a misguided attempt to control our kids’ lives and to protect them from well, everything really.

She writes that parents need to relax and let kids do things independently. Like go to an ice cream shop. Or ride their bikes around the block. Or play at the playground. Alone. Without you. (Or me. I know! Gasp!)
Overparenting, helicoptering and controlling: bad. Freedom, a ton of good information and teachable moments: good. Surprisingly enough, agreed.
My parents were Free-Rangers because of their beliefs, their own upbringing and circumstances. Well of course they were! Would you expect anything less of a Russian émigré and an Israeli Mamaleh parenting in the States? They both had to work and we just didn’t have family or close friends nearby to rely upon at the time.
Jason and I? Not exactly Free-Rangers.
I will admit to walking (or driving!) Kayli to kindergarten everyday (we live across the street). I have never sent my kids outside to play by themselves. And I make them all hold my hand as we walk through the mall. Sue me. Worry and care-take, I can do. Relax and let go, not so much.
While my inner Jewish mom was rebelling against agreeing with Skenazy, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we’re certainly not at odds with each other. We’re both moms. We both love our kids and we both want to see them succeed. And although my actions might not have been backing up my beliefs, we both believe in fostering independence.
Today, my kids might wait for my input on what snack to have or whether or not to wear their hats and mittens. Good and good. But as they get older and need to make bigger, more important decisions like what faith to follow, who to befriend and who to go home with, I want them to have the savvy decision making skills and confidence in their own abilities to make smart choices. That’s just not going to happen if I don’t let them practice decision making, is it?
The paradigm shift, then, is in redefining what “protective” looks like. Could being protective mean teaching our kids (and letting them practice!) how to get through this world without us?
Now I’m not planning on letting my kids ride the subway alone anytime soon (Sorry, Lenore!). But in her very own words on her very own site, Skenazy says, “There’s a big range of Ranging, and the whole idea is to TRY to give our kids some freedom and responsibility. We want them to figure out who they are and what they like, and to grow up in the process.” Can’t really argue with that, can I?
So I went straight to the source and asked Lenore for a start.
For those of us parents who are admittedly in process, but are open-minded for sure, what can we try today (or tomorrow. Or this weekend at the very  latest) to give our kids a taste of freedom, an ounce of independence and a whole lot of confidence and life skills to make it in this (not as scary as we may think) world? And here it is, straight from The “Free-Range” Queen herself!

Lenore’s To-Try Free-Ranging Ideas:

Free-Range Baby Step: Try one day of leaving your cell phone at home. That means that at some point, your child will NOT be able to get hold of you to ask you what to do. He or she will have to decide, all alone, if it’s time for a snack, okay to stop at the park, or how to start his essay. This gives your kid a little bit of practice growing up and making decisions!
Free-Range Brave Step: You are waiting with your kid for the school gate to open, or the bus to come, or soccer to start. A half dozen parents are doing the same. Turn to them and offer to watch ALL their kids. Release the parents to go about their day. It’s your way of saying, “I don’t think anything so terrible is going to happen in the next 10 minutes that each kid needs his own bodyguard.” It’s also a way of creating community: we’re all in this together, let’s lean on each other! If the other parents are wary, flip it: ask if they’d mind if YOU ran a few errands and left your kid in their hands. Once again, community is being foisted upon the group. They may start to like it!
One Giant Leap for Free-Range Kind: Try a day of going out UNPREPARED. Do not shlep with you the extra juice, the electronic this or that, the wipies, the Purell, the sun block — leave it all at home. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we were put on earth without ANYTHING and that our species survived for hundreds of thousands of years with very little in the way of diaper bag “must haves.” We get so sold on so many gadgets and precautions that we start to think of our kids as very vulnerable: they NEED this or that just to get through the day.
No they don’t.
Realizing that sort of frees you up as a parent (and makes you more skeptical to marketers’ claims). Plus, it’s fun: you are relying on the universe and the kindness of the mom on the bench next to you (the one with extra tissues) and maybe even a higher being, at least till you get back home. It’s nice to stop trying to be so in control all the time.
Food for thought, right? To learn more from Skenazy check out Free-Range Kids or come hear her speak. Or better yet, do both!

Author event with Lenore Skenazy:

“Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had

Without Going Nuts with Worry”

This Sunday, January 24th, 3: PM at the

St. Paul JCC Martin and Esther Capp Building

1375 St. Paul Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55116

Registration:  $6 St. Paul JCC members; $9 community

www.stpauljcc.org or 651.698.0751

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