Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the spectrum

No - not the SPECTRUM, as in the Autism Spectrum... that is one I am quite familiar with through my work and one that has received plenty of attention. Nope - I'm talking about the "little-s" spectrum. The "where are you between Free Range and Helicopter Parent" spectrum.

Let me explain...

I thought terms like "free range parents" and "helicopter parents" were universal at this point. I've been using these terms to describe parenting methods for the last couple of years, and I thought they had made their way across the nation (see, I am nothing if not in my own eyes, your 'average Jane').

That was, until my mother stopped me and exclaimed "I have no idea what you are talking about!!!"

So - A Free-Range parent raises their kids much like a free-range farmer.. very few boundaries, allowing them to have freedom. Riding bikes without adult supervision. Going to the bathroom alone at McDonalds. Walking to the school bus (or, dare I say it - even to SCHOOL) alone. Being able to walk out the door and not come home until dinner time - you know - how WE were raised. Too much freedom?? Maybe - depending on how entrenched in the Free-Range concept one becomes, I suppose.

A Helicopter-Parent hovers. There is little or no autonomy for the child of a Helicopter Parent. I've heard stories about HPs going on their child's college interviews.. actually IN THE ROOM... with them. These are the parents who call the school/Principal/teacher and complain about grades, because "Johnny is just NOT a B student.. he deserves his A and you will give him his A". All the while, the parent ignores the fact that Johnny has not turned in any homework in 3 months. This is the same parent who insists on going to the Pediatrician appointments with their child - even at 18.

So, that leaves me wondering, reflecting.. where am I on this spectrum? How does one find middle ground?? Because regardless of which way you lean, there will be hoards of well-intentioned parents telling you that you are doing it all wrong.

I suppose I lean more toward the Free-Range idea. I am OK with letting my boys walk to and from the bus stop. I trust them to GET ON THE BUS when it arrives, and to GET OFF THE BUS in the afternoon. These are not monumental tasks.. I am OK with my oldest saying "Mom, I am going to go ride my bike for a bit". I know he knows to wear his helmet. He knows to not cross a certain street. The likelihood of him being picked up off the street by a stranger are about as good as him being struck by lightening.

But then, I go and drop my middle child off at sleep away camp. In a different state. A five hour drive from home... and I fight the urge to call, to check up and see how he is doing. The camp even sent home a letter, aimed directly at parents like ME - that said, 'you need to trust us to take care of your child'. Yeah - I get that - in theory.

In practice, well, I feel my inner Helicopter Mom coming out! But I know that he IS ok.. that he IS having fun.. that he IS eating well, and remembering to take a shower and brush his teeth. I've done a good job with him so far. I need to trust myself that he will take what I have given him, and apply it.

And is not that exactly what we want for our kids? And if we don't ever give them a chance to try out their skills - will they ever really, truly, learn them??

See - testing boundaries can be a learning and growing experience for EVERYONE involved!

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