Keeping in posting some of my favorites, here is an entry that was also one of my favorites published in my parenting humor column in the Newburyport Daily News, Free-Range Parenting, which ran from 2008-2010. Keep reading for some original work mixed in with the oldies-but-goodies.
Bad Mommy Rises Again
So, lately I have been wondering if I am a neglectful, bad mommy who allows her children to run wild with no boundaries. I have always worked very hard to teach my children what’s right, and was once called “draconian” for making my kids say please and thank you, enforcing bedtimes and refusing to run a catering service for my children – they must eat what is in front of them or go hungry.
However, when we are outdoors, they are given a very wide berth. As long as I can see them and they are doing no harm, they may travel as far as they wish. If there is a tree they may climb it; if there is dirt they may play in it; if there is a stick they may hold it (within reason). If they want to make fools of themselves by wearing a cape in public or running around on all fours because that day they have decided to be Little Foot the dinosaur, so be it.
It is my firm belief that kids these days are forced to spend far too much time in square spaces with so many other kids with every second structured by an adult – from before school care, all day in school, after school care and then activities. Not unlike chickens in those “bad” farms, I always think. I want free-range, home-educated kids, free to roam and learn and nourish their minds with what they discover. But I digress.
It seems that everywhere I go, someone has something to say about the doings of my three kids, all of whom are extremely bright and energetic with what some might consider divergent imaginations. Just this morning, one of my boys (who is 4, by the way) was running freely around pretending to be Spiderman, shooting fake webs from his little hands to catch the myriad imaginary felons inhabiting the Inn Street Playground. Lo and behold, a mom I have never met rushes over to him and starts talking to him, finger in his face. Horrified that he has hit or pushed, I go over just in time to hear her tell him, and I quote, to “stop making aggressive hand gestures at the other children.”
Huh. I briefly considered making an aggressive hand gesture myself, but showed remarkable restraint by just picking my dumbstruck little boy up and assuring him he was doing nothing wrong and attempting to explain the nuances of pretend play to the other mom.
After a cooling off period, I let my little guy back into the fray. The same mom, helicoptering over her own child, who desperately seemed to be trying to get away, proceeded to let me know everything my son was doing (as well as a running commentary of the misdemeanors being committed by other tots to their moms). His offenses included: climbing up the slide, jumping from too high, hugging (his twin brother), and bumping another child.
Unsure of how to proceed, I just banned him to the area of the playground with the trees to climb, and asked my friend to tell me honestly if his behavior was so horrible we should leave and if I just had blinders on because of my love for this child, or if the helicopter mom was just being way too concerned with the affairs of others.
She assured me that there were way worse things he could be doing than pretending to shoot webs at people, and we both got a secret thrill when the meddling mom finally left in a huff and her son had a full-on tantrum on the ground.
I also recently had a neighbor knock on my door to chastise me for allowing my children to play outside in the yard without my hovering presence (they could get kidnapped), heard comments about letting them catch, study and release frogs at a pond (they could get a parasite or worse, get wet/muddy), told the dangers of letting my daughter go on a body board in the ocean (riptides, even though it was a calm day) and received looks of horror because my children like to go very fast on the zip line at Moseley Pines (they could fall).
Perhaps I should vacuum-seal them in a bubble right now!
I am guessing that most of these helicopter moms had childhoods like mine, where we were practically locked out of the house in all but the worst weather, left to roam neighborhoods and the woods looking for our own fun. If we got thirsty, we just went to the nearest spigot for refreshment. We had FUN, something children are apparently not allowed to have anymore.
When did we become so scared, and moreover, why do we feel so free to make comments about what other parents allow their children to do, which is what I am doing myself on some level by writing this? Why did the mom I encountered this morning care so much that my son was allowed to hug his brother, pretend to be Spiderman or jump from high up? I know my child’s limitations, thank you, and will keep their boundaries for them until they can do it themselves.
So back to the bad mommy question. I am far from being a perfect mom. I have yelled at my kids, dragged them around when they were clearly tired and then punished them for meltdowns, I have fed them McDonald’s twice in one day (but only once). I have allowed the TV to be a babysitter, I have made up reasons to go to the grocery to escape from them, and they have been known to lash out at random kids on the playground. But they also know to be contrite and say sorry when they have offended and they are still learning, free to become whoever it is they are supposed to be.
I guess there are two camps. Those who would say I am a bad mommy and those who say I am not. I prefer the latter, of course, the other free-range mommies with free-spirited children who would never tell you to hem in your child’s passion for living. Just my opinion, but I’d rather hang with the no drama mamas who have better things to worry about than my personal choices for my own fabulous kids.
Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.