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Free-Range Parenting

The new mommy wars
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By RENEE DEINKEN  |  Moonshine Ink

There’s a sign outside the locker room at my gym that scares the bejesus out of me. It reads: “Children 6 years of age and older should use appropriate gender locker rooms.”

This means my older son, who’s almost 5, will soon leave the safe haven of sweet old ladies dressing for water aerobics and will enter the rugged landscape of eye-level old-man genitalia, where he will surely splash around in the urinal with every opportunity.

This means I have exactly one year to 1) make my son stop gawking at other people (and their body parts), and 2) teach the kid to stop losing his mind when the toilet auto-flushes mid-poop.

Now don’t get me wrong. While this looming deadline makes me anxious enough to consider birth certificate fabrication, I don’t like the idea of being categorized as an overprotective parent. I like to think of my brand of child rearing as a combination of empowering yet militant, meaning I’d like to give my boys the opportunity to be self-reliant and navigate the world freely, but I still want them to know who’s boss.

However, finding this balance is challenging and confusing. My son has to venture into a locker room with a bunch of strange dudes by himself, but I could do time if I leave him in the car for 90 seconds while I run into the post office on a cloudy, 50 degree day. This is no joke: A Michigan woman was sentenced to 120 hours of community service for leaving her 5-year-old in the car while she ran into the store for a couple minutes.

Further, a Maryland couple was recently under investigation for a second time because they allowed their 10-year-old and 6-year-old to walk to and from a park less than a mile from their house. As a result, those parents have become the poster parents for free-range parenting.

That’s right. In the year 2015, allowing your 10-year-old to walk a few suburban blocks alone is a specific style of parenting — a “parenting movement” some call it — not just, um, parenting.

And just like everything related to raising kids, people have their opinions. For the moment, the media and blogosphere have pushed aside the stay-at-home versus working mama drama for the free-range versus helicopter (or hover) parenting wars. On one side, there are the parents who want their kids to enjoy the freedoms they experienced in their own childhoods — playing in the street until dark, walking home from school, and splashing around in the urinal unsupervised. On the other side, there are the parents who feel their children need more protection these days. These are parents who see a world that has changed significantly since their childhood, and not necessarily for the better.

I would guess the guidelines of acceptability are a bit different in the Tahoe/Truckee area. I live in Kings Beach where it’s common to see kindergartners walking home from school with their slightly older siblings. At Music in the Park in Truckee, I often see preschoolers running around the amphitheater stage, out of view from their parents who are lounging and chitchatting on the lawn. Legit or not, there’s a sense of safety here in Tahoe.

Perhaps this locker room deadline is the nudge I need to give my older boy some space to be independent and spread his wings, but I can still bark at him to use his damn manners and hold the door for the guy with the cane who’s on his way to water aerobics.

And a quick note to you dudes in the locker room: If you see a kid with sandy blonde hair splashing around in the urinal, please do me a favor and tell him to cut it out.

This column is a partnership between the KidZone Museum and parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and Moonshine Ink. The purpose is to hear the voices of families and their funny, wondrous, difficult, and adventurous life experiences. Do you have a parenting story to share? Contact Carol Meagher at director@kidzonemuseum.org. To learn more about KidZone Museum’s summer camps, programs, and events, visit kidzonemuseum.org or call (530) 587-5437.

 
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November 9, 2017