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.