Man Day Post: Jen’s Guy vs. Free Range Parenting

In Man-day, Parenting by Jensguy37 Comments

Time for another installment of Man-day from Jen’s husband, Jen’s Guy.

I’m going to admit something that Jennifer probably doesn’t even know.

Things that my friends and I did when we were kids would probably get our parents arrested in today’s world.

I’ve mentioned that I grew up rural.  School was a 20 minute bus ride.  It was probably about three and a half miles if you walked it straight through the scrub and the small canyon bisecting the route.  It took about 2 hours on elementary school legs, shorter once you became familiar with the topography and the proper hand and foot holds on the canyon face.

We lived on the edge of civilization.  Half a block from my home was miles and miles of desert, jagged lava rock, and rattlesnakes.  Additionally, the dirt was probably irradiated.  We knew every square inch of that territory five miles out, all by the time I was 12.  Very little to none of that exploration was adult supervised.

This mountain?  Climbed that when I was 9.  We may have had a 12 year old along for supervision. . .

We built a clubhouse further in the desert from plywood and building supplies that we would filch from construction sites.  Carrying them out into the wilderness like ants. Our downfall came once we went with the second story and it became visible from the highway.  Suddenly the builders started realizing where that lumber came from.  We never got to use the brick cart that we constructed to transport the masonry needed to finish the outside sheathing.

We discovered the location of three lava caves and six ancient Indian petroglyph sites.  We would sometimes leave at 7 in the morning and not return until dark.  Once in a while we would actually camp.

Yep, my childhood was like Huck Finn without the river and the racism.  Now imagine kids doing that today.

As a parent now, my children walk to school across the desert.  It takes about 5 minutes and is ALWAYS adult supervised.  We have seen rattlesnakes, javalina, and best of all, Jennifer’s coyote.  When my foot was broken and Jennifer walked the kids to school, she tangled with a coyote that she swears was following her.  She returned home with the children for an aluminum bat (because that is the girl I married) and began walking them again.  She took the bat with her the next two weeks.  When they would leave, I would hum the wolf theme from “Peter and the Wolf.”  I guess I am lucky that she never used the bat on me.

Last week I read an article on “Free Range Parenting” that piqued my attention.  It was “Why It May be Impossible to Raise ‘Free Range Kids‘” by Michael Brendan Dougherty:

Lenore Skenazy, who is sort of the spokeswoman for free range parenting, says she is fighting “the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” Finally! A movement that sets itself against the notion that a kid who isn’t being actively surveilled by parents or a paid professional is in danger. Finally, a reaction to the parental fear that becomes an excuse for omnipresent intervention and control, to the absurd point of mistaking a cultivation of self-reliance with neglect.

The “free range kids” movement speaks exactly to what I want for my children: a childhood that teaches independence and self-reliance, a childhood like my own. And yet I’m worried that I can’t avoid the helicopter. I know that crime is way, way down from when I was a free range kid. (Back then it was just called “childhood.”) I know that the chances of stranger-danger are infinitesimally small. But I already have some of the anxiety that motivates over-protective parents. I want to imitate the free-rangers, but am afraid to do so. And I think I’ve discovered one reason why. Free range kids, and the parental trust that enables them, are at least partly dependent on a feature of American life that is dead or dying in many areas: the neighborhood.

So yeah.  A lot of truth to that.  Free ranging depends on community.  What we did was available because we went in packs.  Send kids in ones and twos, they will either become Bear Grylls or javelina chow (possibly.)

So in order to get free range parenting you would almost need to do a “Children of Free Range Parenting” meetup group, which is kind of “Not The Point” of the whole thing.  The x axis of the “free parenting” and “helicopter parenting” scale turns out to be a zero sum game.  Too many protective parents and the free rangers become road kill. Too many free rangers, the child with the mother sitting in on every birthday party he or she attends becomes a freak.  We had one of those kids growing up, I can’t even remember his name.

The thing is, that I don’t really have an answer.  I guess having 4 children is a good start since they kind of form a base of diversified skill sets optimized for survival and acclimatizing to whatever challenge is set before them.  Also, when that neighbor girl comes over and rings the doorbell and asks the kids to ride bikes, I should probably allow them to go and stay up a little later to do their homework.

That, and teach them archery. . .

Go ahead and share this post, you know you want to!


  1. That’s the way I grew up too. I worked a lot because we lived on a dairy farm, but I did a lot of exploring all over our property and beyond. Yes and parents would probably got to jail today because they didn’t supervise their kids all day.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane. Have a fabulous day. ☺
    Comedy Plus recently posted…Silly SundayMy Profile

    1. I spent some time on a dairy as a kid. I’ve also milked cows AND goats. When Jennifer and I first got married she drank 1% and complained that whole milk or 2% was just too rich. Honey, you don’t know what rich is until you have to scrape the cream off the top of the milk before you are able to drink it.

  2. When we were kids, we walked, skateboarded, biked and caused kid-trouble without parental supervision all day – heck, all summer, really. The parental units would supply us with food, water, and cash and let us go exploring. In the woods. In Texas. They taught us how to manage ourselves and expected us to do so.

    Different times, indeed.

    I don’t have a problem with free range parenting for older kids (not my 3 yr old) in our neighborhood, but other parents do… It’s not necessarily about what WE want for our kids, but what society (and our neighbors) will deem acceptable. Or should that be allowable? It’s definitely something to shake a head at. Great post – I’ll definitely be thinking about this more.
    Sarah Nenni Daher recently posted…Skinny Strawberry Banana BreadMy Profile

    1. OK we absolutely HAVE to have pictures of Sarah as a sk8ter girl. But yeah, it has become very difficult to achieve free range parenting because of the prevailing mindset. There are parents that won’t even let their children travel on the bus to the class field trip and insist on driving the child there themselves and staying with their child the whole time. How is that going to be healthy by high school? Part of the issue is that families are having less children. Jennifer and I had different parenting philosophies with our 4th child than we had with our first.

  3. I grew up in NYC believe it or not and was definitely some free range parenting with taking public transportation on my own at a young age and more. I know it may be different than country living, but still I was navigating trains and buses at a pretty early age myself, which was whole other beast unto itself! ;)

    1. Traditionally city kids have been free range also. Parents used to send their kids to the market to get stuff, and the neighborhood bonds were strong because you actually had neighbors. Today however, more neighbors could mean more people to rat you out to CPS should your children take the #9 to the park.

  4. I was totally a free-range, (and unfortunately) latch-key kid. I learned a lot on my own and I gained so much confidence and independence. Our society/village today just doesn’t lean this way. Everyone lives in their own bubble. We’re not looking out for one another but rather, many people are ready to tweet and post status updates about the “neglected” kid playing at the park by themselves instead of simply keeping an extra eye open for that kid.

    Very thought-provoking things you’ve shared here.

    Thank you.
    Jennifer | The Deliberate Mom recently posted…The Dances of ParentingMy Profile

    1. What it comes down to is that even if it isn’t letting your children wander across the desert unfettered, there are opportunities to challenge your children, and to sometimes let them fail. One of the valuable lessons our daughter learned was the time that she didn’t want to do her homework and we said OK, but be sure to let your teacher know that it was your choice. It tuned out that when she didn’t turn her homework in and she ultimately knew it was her own fault, she discovered she didn’t like that feeling. It is a good thing to bring up when she grumbles about homework.

  5. I think the way you grew up is awesome. Honestly though, looking at that mountain and thinking of you climbing it at age 9 makes me absolutely shiver. I guess that’s the overwhelming helicopter mommy in me. I did pretty much what ever I wanted growing up so I have gone the extreme opposite way with my kids. I truly believe somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is the way to go. This is something I’m really working on right now. Kids need a level of free range in their lives to learn independence and so many other things. My son does at least love archery! Great thoughts here :).
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    1. On top of that “mountain” is an expansive mesa with a 3000 year old Anasazi camp that probably only a couple dozen people know about. I has hard sandstone pockets where water was stored when the rare rainfall comes. Though much of the camp has been worn down, you could still find pieces of rudimentary tools like arrowheads and the hard volcanic rock they used to make the arrowheads. We were told to never tell people when we found these things because treasure seekers and vandals would destroy the sites. In retrospect, that kind of stuff is fully awesome! So if your children get the chance to be Indiana Jones, you should probably let them.

  6. Your childhood sounds kind of freaking AWESOME. No joke!

    My childhood was a bit more supervised. My parents kind of had a built in cause for worry – my dad was the lead detective of the sex crimes division in our county for a decade, and then he was the coroner and captain of the SWAT team. I guess I can see how after spending a career handling every case where children have faced every possible assault / crime / death in our county, one MIGHT get a little overprotective and jaded, haha!

    I like the concept of free range parenting, but I guess I have too much of my dad in me. Just this past weekend, Tessa kept running off and climbing into strangers laps. I was pulled her back into “beat the crap out of someone if they do anything inappropriate to her” range, and my hubby was laughing at me. haha. But then right down the road from the convention we were at, a two year old was kidnapped and raped. (We got to the hotel at night and saw all the news reports.)

    It’s probably a good thing my husband is relaxed, to counter my being overprotective. But I can’t help it!!!! lol!
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    1. So your dad holds every law enforcement position in town? You were either raised in Mayberry or Forks.

      Seriously though, events and large gatherings are not a good place for free range parenting. It is also why it is important for children to travel in packs. Sorry to hear about the child.

  7. I like the idea of free-range parenting, but you’ve hit on my issue with it too. Too many hovering parents! I feel like they’ll turn me in if I let my kids play in my yard without me there to watch them. In my own yard!! I’ve got laundry to do, I can’t sit out there and watch them yell at each other and sit in the sandbox!
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted…Chores I’d Gladly Give Up Forever {#TuesdayTen}My Profile

    1. “I can’t sit out there and watch them yell at each other and sit in the sandbox!” If I was a journalist, this would be my money quote.

      Yeah, I suspect that at some point the free range movement will grow just to spite some of the scary parents that intend to sit in on their child’s first job interview.

  8. I too was raised rural and love the idea of free range parenting but not in my current city. Hoping to move further East in our state and be able to build that community and place where my kids are able to diversify and discover. Great post BTW

    1. Yep, Free Ranging was one of the motivating factors in where we ended up moving. We have the big backyard and access to the desert. We are easing the children into the thing. Also it has a big balcony from our bedroom overlooking the desert where Jennifer can sit with her binoculars and aluminum bat.

  9. I recently read an article about a couple in my state who were charged with neglect for letting their kids walk to the neighborhood park alone. We’re talking a half mile walk. By the time I was 8, I was grappling with 4-lane traffic on my bike about five miles from home. We ran through the woods, creating paths to our friends houses on different streets and generally just went all over the place. I only remember one Halloween when my parents were actually there with me. Usually I was under my brother’s supervision, and it wasn’t just a few block walk. We would be out for at least a couple hours. These days there’s no way I could let my kids do that…and I desperately want to. It’s beyond frustrating. Love the stories of finding the ancient treasures and building the clubhouse.
    Leslie recently posted…Easter Fun and FoodMy Profile

    1. As I mentioned those treasures were no joke, and were likely 3000 year old artifacts. Only recently have I put them into perspective. But, yeah, there is magic out there everywhere and sometimes if children aren’t able to get there by themselves, a little parental direction doesn’t hurt at all. You would also think with the advent of technology like lojack and wireless phones society could move closer to the other end of the scale and let kids be kids. I guess society boils down to you and me eventually though. . .

  10. It is so different raising children in today’s society when compared to the past. I was raised with a much more “free range” type of parenting but I almost have a fear of allowing my children the same because of the way that the world is these days. I think this can still happen, it just depends a lot on where you live and where your children are raised.
    Joanna @ Motherhood and Merlot recently posted…Is Being a SAHM a “Job”? | Validating Choices as A MomMy Profile

    1. Yeah we are doing our best. My next goal is to move into phase 2 where camping becomes a regular thing. Phase 1, “Introduction to camping” was a qualified success, but we haven’t went as an entire family since the baby was born. Part of that is the cultural resistance from Jennifer. In her childhood “camping” was having to stay at the Motel 6 rather than La Quinta. She did really well on the last Humphries family campout however. . .

  11. I grew up in a safe community as well and remember being able to roam alone or with my friends for hours without checking in at home. Sadly, even though I still live in a fairly safe community, I don’t allow my own children to roam free as often. We have rules and check-ins, and certain places that are safe. I do allow them outside without my continual presence (thank goodness) and want them to gain independence and confidence. It is a balance, I think, in our present world.
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    1. But really, outside of social pressure, is the difference between then and now? I would think with wireless phones and such, it would be even easier to free range. Until I read the article I referenced I wasn’t able to put my finger on it as I am no great example of allowing free range children. I guess it comes down to I would like to live in a community that I had as a child and because of that, I probably need to do more to make that happen.

    1. Heh, in Southern Utah, right next to the Pacific Time Zone border, it wouldn’t get dark until about 8:30 at night during the middle of summer. That is quite a span.

  12. I can handle javelinas and coyotes better than I can handle scorpions. They’re quieter. They sneak into your shoes. It’s not an aluminum bat situation!

    I grew up totally free range. We lived on a mountain top and the five of us would go out from morning until street lights on. We’d get into every kind of trouble you can imagine. Dirty magazines in tree houses. Egging cars. My brother broke into my neighbor’s car…

    You know. Childhood.
    Tamara recently posted…How I Got My Groove Back.My Profile

    1. Jennifer checks every single pair of shoes she puts on, every time, for scorpions. If they are hard to see like boots, she makes me check them too. I don’t believe we have encountered a scorpion in our house since we moved to Arizona. Snakes, yes, but no scorpions.

      Are you sure that was your childhood or your bachelorette party? As I get older, those past events may start to run together. . .

    1. But who defines “not OK/” Were our parents just uncaring Philistines back then? I’m not convinced it isn’t just as dangerous turning kids loose unsupervised with technology in their room then it was to let us run around the desert. . .

  13. I love this post! I remember roaming the swamps in S.C. when I was only 8 or 9….no one worried about the snakes we came across, the tree house we built, the deer paths we followed…just be in the house by the time it got dark!
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    1. OK, I’m gonna draw the line anyplace that might have alligators. Those things freak me out. If it was possible for my children to encounter an Alligator, I’m not sure I would allow them to leave the home. Active volcanoes, possibly, but Alligators, crocodiles, or Komodo Dragons? Not a chance. . .

  14. Years ago I read an article in Salon about a mom who left her 4-year-old in the car for 5 minutes in the parking lot at CVS. Some helpful stranger called the police and it was a legal nightmare for her for the next several years…. what makes me so mad is, if the person was really concerned for the welfare of her son, why didn’t they just stick around until mom came back to make sure there was no real neglect going on instead of calling the cops on her and leaving??
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    1. See the thing is that Jennifer and I actually had a case where there WAS real neglect going on with some children in our neighborhood, I mean some scary stuff, and Child Protective Services couldn’t have been more disinterested. It took A LOT for us to decide to intervene (basically feeding the children as their only source of food for a couple of weeks, while the mother was on an extended drug binge.) he government officials told us that maybe we were overreacting and that sometimes it was better to “mind one’s own business.” Lovely. Fortunately the children ended up in a MUCH better situation. Eventually.

  15. I grew up able to travel the neighborhood and the woods with the various kids I grew up around, but there was still some worry involved with that, so it was a bit more free-range than today I suppose. But yeah, I think a community is definitely needed for that; most parents aren’t going to just let their single child roam free.
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    1. And that may be another factor. Parents having less children would lead to the free range gang becoming much smaller. Our big expeditions had a dozen kids or more of around the same approximate age. I wonder if that type of dynamic exists much of anywhere today. . .

  16. Your childhood sounds AWESOME! I had one just like that…only a peanut field/ vines in the woods version, in rural Alabama, until age 8 when we moved into the city. Life became way more civilized, language became cleaner, and bicycles were suddenly not allowed to leave our own street. There’s definitely a balance. I try to find that. Then the boys and I both learn from it when they end up covered in poison oak. Oops.
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  17. Interesting to think about. I think there is always a discrepancy among parents about how much freedom they give their kids. Seems you are more strict with your first child and loosen up after each child. You also brought up a great point about cell phones. As a parent I think, when my kids get older, if I gave my child a cell phone I might be much more apt to let him free range around more than if he didn’t have a phone. (My oldest is 5, so no one is free ranging anything right now) Thanks for linking up to #BigTopBlogParty
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  18. Loved reading that. My kids have probably been a bit overprotected, but we do let them roam our neighborhood pretty much unfettered. I remember as a kid we had to stay within distance of the “whistle.” When it was time for us to eat or go home, my mom would blow a whistle 2-3 times. You had to be home within about 5 minutes of hearing the whistle. Haha.

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