The Inner Battle of Free-Range Parenting Versus Helicopter Parenting is Real


For years I have read article after article about free-range parenting versus helicopter parenting. I read them over and over trying to figure out how I could be the best mom possible. Although I always leaned away from being the helicopter-mom I found that there are times it can be necessary; as parents, we all should know where our children are and what they are up to because as highly as we think of our kids they don’t always make the best or safest choices.

The idea of raising my children as my parents raised me has always been very appealing. I would love to see my kiddos head out the door for a day of adventure all on their own. Just like my parents, I would have a general idea of where they were headed and what they were up to, but I wouldn’t need to send them with a phone or have them check in multiple times throughout the day. They would just know how to act, how to behave, and they would be expected to be home by dinner time. Their feet would be black from running around barefoot, and the stories they would tell at the dinner table would be exciting.

Oh, how I wish that the world I was raising my kids in still allowed for this. But unfortunately, it doesn’t.

So I struggle daily with finding the balance between being a helicopter-mom and free-range parent.

My children would probably say that I helicopter more than I free-range. But I don’t think that expecting them to tell me where they are going, who they will be with, what adults are around, and asking for contact numbers is unreasonable; to me, this is just good parenting.

I, on the other hand, feel like when they were younger, I did gave them freedom to do things like walk to the park around the corner from our house all by themselves. They could play for an hour or so all alone. I, of course, would always time it so that a meal or event that I needed them home for would be taking place a short time after they left. But they had no idea that was my plan, and I got the peace of knowing they would be home soon. This was a great exercise for both myself and my kids in letting them grow up and giving them freedom to experience the world unsupervised.

As they got older and more responsible they earned the right to more freedom. In fact, now that I have three in high school and one in his last year of middle school, I pretty much let them come and go as they please with the expectation that I know where, when, and who. Sure I say no to things like going to the lake for parties or sending them to places I know will end up in trouble, but I think overall they are getting to experience the world on their own and grow from those experiences.

But just when I thought I was getting to a point where I could be more of a free range parent (with boundaries of course), I have a morning like today.

Yesterday my oldest came home saying “some kid wrote on the wall in the bathroom ‘everyone will die on 9/2/16’ so I am going to take a switchblade or something to school with me.” He was joking, but he does have a hero complex so I am sure he had contemplated how he could save everyone; which by the way causes its own set of stresses as a parent.

I proceeded to ask him about the situation, and he said it was nothing. There was a bunch of rumors going around. The custodial staff had erased the message off the wall, and someone rewrote it on the wall. But he was sure it was just a prank.

At first, I didn’t think too much about it because our oldest has a tendency to say things for a reaction and this type of conversation is not a-typical for our household. However, about 10 minutes later our daughter came in to show me her phone and the things that were flying around on social media and group texts about this imminent threat. Now on the contrary to our oldest, the girl in our home often takes a much more dramatic approach to things and can be a bit over the top emotional, so there is that to consider as well. But at this point, I started taking it more serious. I still didn’t want to overreact. I just said “don’t worry, I am sure the administration is on top of this, and nothing will happen.” And the truth is I really did think that if the custodian had erased it, he also would have reported it; who wouldn’t in this day and time?

Privately, I began texting friends and scouring social media myself looking for answers. While I don’t believe there has ever been a mass shooting when it has been massively publicized, how can anyone take a chance with their children’s lives? The few adults I had spoken to had also heard about the threat but were under the impression that authorities were on it, and nothing was going to happen.

Then at 5:30 this morning I begin receiving texts from our daughter with pictures of her social media accounts. These pictures had messages from an anonymous person stating “Some of you guys are alright. Don’t go to school tomorrow if you are in the northwest. Happening thread will be posted tomorrow morning.”

Great way to wake up, don’t you think?

The next comment read “weapon?” with a reply of “AK 47.”

Now I was out of bed, calling the school and rechecking the internet for any and all info I could find. By 6 am I had decided that my two children who attend the threatened school would not be going to school.

Oh, how you would have thought I was the worst person in the world. I had my oldest pissed off at me because I was ruining his plans to ask his girlfriend to the upcoming formal dance. And our daughter was teary and kept contradicting herself with what she thought or wanted. One second she was saying “but everyone is going” the next it was “I understand, and I don’t want my brother to go.”

No one ever said being a parent was easy. So I put my foot down. I told them that I was the parent and although I believed that there was no real threat I was not comfortable with them going to school.

The social media frenzy continued. I heard this parent said this, and that parent said that. Secret witness says “Go to school.” It was honestly crazy around here.

I tried calling the school multiple times, but I am sure like most other parents, none of us were getting through. So I called the school district’s police line. They too were being inundated with calls, but someone answered. I was told that yes they knew about the threat. They had additional officers on site, and they were suggesting that kids go to school. The lady who answered was very careful to state that it was my choice, and she would not tell me what to do under the circumstances. That was just great, because all I really wanted was someone to tell me ‘Yes it was safe’ or ‘No it was not.’

By then, school was starting, and the few kids that did go to school were reporting to our children that there were officers at every entrance, and multiple patrolling the grounds.

Finally, an email came from the school principal stating the awareness of the situation. They too believed that the whole thing was a hoax, but out of concern and precaution, they were adding the extra security today.

Still, as a parent who has to make a choice to send your children to a potentially dangerous place, this is a tough decision. After lots of contemplation, I decided to keep them home for the morning and then send them on their way after I felt like there was enough time for things to calm down a bit at their school.

So far things are just fine and nothing has happened. But I can’t help it that I now am sitting waiting by the phone, and writing this post and hoping that I have made the right decision. I also am reflecting on all the years I have spent battling the inner fight of helicopter vs. free-range. I don’t think that battle will ever end, but in looking back I have learned a lot:

  • Follow your gut. No one knows your children like you do and in every circumstance, you get a gut reaction. When you trust that reaction, things typically work out just as they should.
  • Everyone has an opinion. Between friends, social media, and strangers you are going to hear a laundry list of opinions. Take it all with a grain of salt and decide for yourself what is best for you and your family.
  • You can’t parent afraid. Every day your kiddos are exposed to possible threats whether it be a car accident, a bully, illness or worse. But you can not live every day in fear.
  • It’s okay to revert to the classic parenting style of letting kids be kids. Let your children enjoy some freedoms of visiting safe places in your neighborhood alone. Don’t always be checking in on them and driving them crazy with being over protective. Have pie for breakfast and ice cream for dinner. All of these things are what make for great memories.
  • Our children need to experience independence. If we constantly hover and protect them from the elements of the world, they will never learn to be independent and do things on their own. As hard as it is, you have to let them try things and experience things on their own without their helicopter mom.

Yes, I would love it if I could strap a GPS to my kids at all times as well as a radio receiver so that I could continually monitor them — I know that will never happen. All I can do is raise them to be strong, independent, kind, loving people and hope for the best. One day I will probably look back at this time and think to myself “what was I worrying about?” Hopefully, I will smile and say “I did the best I could, and they all are better for it now.” Oh and don’t worry — no hero like actions from our oldest were needed today.

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