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I Want To Be a Free Range Mom

But would I put my kid on the subway alone? Hmmm...

by Jenny  |  3406 views  |  8 comments  |        Rate this now! 

I saw an article in Newsweek the other day, about the anti-helicopter parenting of New York freelance writer Lenore Skenazy as she allowed her 9-year-old to ride the subway home from Bloomingdales alone and got an uproar from both supporters and haters. So she started Free Range Kids, a new blog which promotes the idea that our children will probably not die if they're not wrapped in bubble wrap and constantly watched like a hawk. I... I like this idea. I like it a lot. I am one of just a few mommies in my neighborhood who allows my kids play outside without being out there with them. They have a pretty wide swath of freedom, within 10 to 12 houses in either direction mind you, and they know to call if they go inside someone else's house to play, they know to let me know where they will be. Sometimes they forget, and pay a consequence. They learn from it.

I live in the suburbs. In Kansas. No, its not Mayberry, but it ain't Gary, Indiana either. It's green lawns and big, fenced yards and lots of Keeping Up With the Joneses, with a little splash of Desperate Housewives. It's pretty safe. Yet there are children who live within direct line-of-sight of my yard who are not allowed to come play in my backyard, even while a parent is outside doing something like lawnmowing or washing the car, because then that parent doesn't have an eye trained directly on that child. This, I do not understand.

I was a latchkey kid in the '80s. I went to after-school care when younger, but by the time I was in fourth grade, I had my own key to the house on the same chain as my bike lock key. I was responsible for my first-grader brother, and I came home every day after school and watched TV and beat him up and ate white chocolate baking squares for snack out of the pantry. My brother and I called my mom at work half a dozen times every afternoon to tattle on the other one (the rule was we could not leave the house, she could call us at ANY TIME and if we didn't answer our butts were toast. This was before caller ID and even answering machines, at least at my house.) It may not have been the arrangement my mother preferred, but it was the arrangement that fit in her pocketbook at the time, and we all survived.

When my kids were younger, yes, I watched them outside more carefully. I wanted to be there in case they fell off a bike, or to make sure they weren't riding out into the street in front of a zooming teenager in a giant SUV. But also, I wanted to be out there because I didn't want to be the mommy letting all the other mommies watch my kids, since they were all out there being paranoid anyway. Although, the mommy camaraderie, and for a few blissful minutes of not doing anything else but standing around, was fun in a busy world. But now, I have stuff to do, people. My kids, age 5 and 7, are quite capable of taking care of themselves outside.

About the Author

Jenny is mom to two little boys she calls Chaos and Mayhem, and a recruiter in the advertising and marketing industry. She blogs on careers and advertising at, and life in general at

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8 comments so far...

  • Hi Jenny,
    I hope you have time to write more stuff. I enjoy a lot your writing style!
    Cheers to more good articles!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Lorena on 7th May 2008

  • Wonderful article. What I don't think most parents realize is that the lack of independence as children and young adults will lead to an inability to easily become independent when they're off to college and to see the world. Part of the work of childhood is learning to problem solve and understand how the world works. I hope I am able to raise my son with as much freedom as his father had, so he can become the same kind of man that his father is.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by anastasiav on 6th May 2008

  • Your post made me think of riding my bike to my friend's house when I was 9 or 10. And I was bunking my 6-year old brother and neither of us wore helmets and there was no specified time we had to go home. It makes me laugh to think about it. Same thing with sports. I used to go to gymnastics after school at my school and then get on my 10-speed and go to soccer practice (I was 11) and then I'd ride my bike home in the dark (no helmet). And I never had any snacks with me and I drank water out of the water fountain at the soccer field. I coach soccer now and you should hear these kids huffing and puffing after one lap around half the field. And the shock when nobody brings snack.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by AmyE on 3rd May 2008

  • Kids vary so much in the amount of freedom they can handle. My younger one, blind and high-functioning autistic, can not stay alone. He's not in danger, but his anxiety leads him to panic. He needs not a sitter, but a companion. He's 16.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Daisy on 1st May 2008

  • Growing up I took public transportation to and from school, by myself every single day. I survived... but looking back, It really surprises me that nothing terrible happened. There were men who lived in the corner house near the bus stop who always talked to me and were later arrested for being pedophiles. Life can be scary. I do not want to over-protect my children, but I would never forgive myself if something happened to them that I could have prevented. I wait outside for the bus to drop off my 6 year old at noon every day... she is perfectly capable of walking into the house alone, but I want to see her get off the bus and come inside. The kids are allowed to play outside in our yard if they are together, one kid cannot be outside alone... ever. We live in the suburbs, everyone on our street has 1-5 acres... we have an occasional cougar spotting and frequent coyotes. People drive too fast on our 30 mph road so the kids can't ride their bikes out there... we don't have sidewalks. I feel safe dropping them off for Church functions... I don't allow my 15 year old to ride the Max train alone. Maybe I am parenting out of fear... which isn't a good thing, but there are things I can control and things I cannot. Being vigilant is one of them. If we lived in a different area, more Desperate Housewife layout, I would be less restrictive assuming I knew the neighbors and their children. Our neighbor kids are always welcome to come play at our house... but my kids aren't going anywhere unless I know the family well. I'm the Mom who is pushing other peoples kids in the swings at the park because that parent is no where to be found. I became a parent because I wanted to. Raising these children, being a parent... that's who I am, it's a decision we made. It's not always convenient and there are plenty of other things I could be doing... but my kids need me.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Yes, Mommy has to work today on 1st May 2008

  • The description of you as a latchkey kid is it perfectly describes me and my brother! Wacthing TV and baking ingredients for snacks (brown sugar out of the bag for me)...good times!

    I can also remember being allowed to ride my bike to a friends house about a mile and a half away around 8 or 9 years old. My husband (youngest of 5...his mom was tired by then) pretty much biked anywhere his legs could take him. I do agree that some kids may be a bit too sheltered.

    For me...we live on a country road in the woods, no neighbors, and a road out front down which cars fly. I'm going to have to find some creative ways to let my daughter navigate on her own, as walking out the front door probably won't cut it...but I got time...

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Hope on 1st May 2008

  • Good article. I really agree with you.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Amanda on 1st May 2008

  • While I, personally, think it's insane to put a child on the NY subway alone, I heartily agree with your message. Let's give older kids a little more freedom to explore!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Diane on 30th April 2008