Will I Ever Let My Kids Roam?

When I became a parent, I didn’t think about what kind of parent I would be. I might’ve been too busy nursing the baby, cleaning up blow-outs, and figuring out some sort of feeding/napping schedule.

But mostly I just jumped right in and assumed I’d raise my kids as my parents raised my sister and me. Basically, I assumed I’d do what I know.

There’s a lot on the internet about everything parenting styles. Apparently you can be a helicopter parent. Alternatively you can raise free range children. There is attachment parenting. Toxic parenting. Authoritative parenting. Authoritarian parenting. Etc., etc.

For the record, I haven’t labeled myself (have you?). I don’t really want to, either. I’m just going to parent. I’ll do what we – my husband and I – think is best for our girls based on what worked and didn’t work in our childhoods … and hope for the best, basically.

I got to thinking lately about a parenting topic that I didn’t even consider until now because Toddler will soon be at the age when she can play outside by herself. And the topic is how much will I let my kids roam free?

I grew up in pretty quiet, very safe suburbs. There wasn’t much traffic or any scary places (except some alligator-filled lagoons when we lived in Florida, but I was old enough by then not to get too close) or even tales of scary predators (the human kind, I mean). Naturally, I grew up not worrying too much about my safety – you might call that naive, but it wasn’t in a purposely sheltered way. I guess it was a lucky sort of naive.

We didn’t have a fenced-in yard, but my parents let us play outside on our own from at least kindergarten onward. They let us take long bike rides around our neighborhood (in Wisconsin and Florida), which sometimes meant a 5-10 mile range.

(I remember one morning my sister, her best friend, and I took a long, long bike ride through an area called the Niagara Escarpments. We were gone for hours! We packed little baggies of Trix cereal and tied them to our bike handles with twist ties. No water bottles back then, though – this was circa 1992. Uphill, downhill, around … what a trip that was! I recall crying at one point because I was so tired and couldn’t keep up with the other two, who were four years older than me.)

The point is, will I let my kids do that? I already feel my stomach starting to churn just thinking about it. Boy, that was a loose leash!

I never would’ve imagined myself being overprotective. In fact, I relished being able to come and go as I pleased as a kid and always assumed my own children would happily do the same.

Yet … that makes me nervous and my oldest child isn’t even 4! Could I let her ride a bike around this neighborhood? Be responsible for her little sister?

It might just be the New Jersey influence (the is NOT the Midwest!) with its wild drivers zipping down the somewhat busy road behind our backyard. Despite us being in a relatively clean and safe county, I don’t think we have the same kind of safe setup I had as a kid.

Yet my husband tells me when he was growing up in Brooklyn he took a city bus by himself to school! He was maybe 12 at the time. Well, his mother was protective and I know she wouldn’t have taken undue risks with him, yet she still let him have that freedom and responsibility – and he turned out fine.

So I guess there’s hope for me.

Maybe it’s a matter of getting used to things slowly, by degrees. First let them play in the backyard alone. Then across the street by the pond (once they can both swim). Then on our road. Then the surrounding roads. Then a bus into NYC. (Just kidding – NO WAY they’re going into the city alone!)

Can I let them roam? We’ll wait and see. I think I need some help letting go first.

Will you let your kids roam?

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24 thoughts on “Will I Ever Let My Kids Roam?

  1. This is a very timely and thought-provoking blog today. (not that your’s aren’t usually) Because I grew up in the Midwest during the fifties and sixties {man what a time that was!}, I was free to roam from about six on, and took care of my little sister every day from about ten! We left after chores after breakfast, took an apple with us, and came home before dinner. Amazingly free, free to learn from those around us, about nature, and about ourselves; freedom to discover. I’m sad for those kids today, they are held back, refrained from such a roaming childhood, because our country, and the world mostly, is no longer safe for our kids. What can we do to compensate for this? We can’t change the safety factor, but what can we do?

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    • Yeah, I remember you saying how free you were; I almost mentioned it in the post actually. I don’t know what the answer is. I can only suggest having a bigger playdate and one parent around to supervise. Or keep them in a controlled setting. Or bring them to a park. Just not sure…. It is frustrating. Maybe it’s just the locale we’re in, and maybe a more rural setting would be safer.

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  2. I let Little Man go outside by himself starting in second grade. I doubt I’ll let him ride in the road with his bike anytime soon, though, just because I know some people drive a little faster than they should in our neighborhood and between that and lack of any other kids biking around on this narrow road, I don’t trust that they’d see him. I definitely can’t imagine letting him drive off elsewhere or roaming around all day like my husband did as a kid!

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  3. What’s really funny is that I was allowed to take the train to Milwaukee when I was about twelve with just my girlfriend! Two hours on the train, alone!! And I remember those long bike rides you three went on, I never worried, I felt you all were responsible, at least at the end of the day. I do agree with the at least one parent supervision now, it’s become an unsafe world in so many facets. Play dates too are a great answer, but what can we do so that have that time outside to just dream, lay on the grass and stare up and think big thoughts? No pressure to ‘do something’.

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    • Oh. My. God! Grandma and grandpa must’ve really trusted you! Or just trusted the world. But Milwaukee?! That’s a big city to be alone in! It is unsafe, but wasn’t it back then as well? I guess it’s two generations of change, but I don’t know. I like the idea of not supervising our kids and giving them space to grow and dream, yes. We’ll have to see how it goes and see if we can find a safe place for them that doesn’t have crazy traffic at least….

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  4. My husband tends to be less helicoptery than me. He gives the kids a little extra leash and it is amazing the confidence it builds when they accomplish something they thought they needed a parent to do. (Like buy their own snack from the gift shop in vacation). I will always be the voice of reason when he lets it go too far though!!

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    • That’s very true that they can accomplish a lot if only we let them try! I see that even at the playground when Toddler (who is very clingy and not apt to climb much on her own) goes off and tries to do something she previously claimed she “couldn’t.”
      Kudos to you both for being the ying and yang for your kids! 🙂

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  5. I feel like I have a decent helicopter/free range ratio. I am *extremely* watchful and don’t feel comfortable with them unsupervised. (Although, they’re both very young still.) But I do keep a lid on Mommy Interventions. When they encounter a bug or get hurt or fall face first into a puddle, I let them decided on the follow through instead of rushing over to fix it. I let them test their limits and they often draw their own line of comfort before I need to step in. I do feel kids these days are more restricted in their roaming freedom, but that just means we have to find other ways to nurture confidence and decision making. Order your own food, go introduce yourself to the new family at co-op, you tell me if it’s safe to play that close to the street. I also believe it’s important to let kids find their own purpose in normal, daily life. Let them be bored and figure out how to handle it.

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    • Yes, that sounds like a good mix – safe but letting them live in their own limits while constantly pushing them. Kids do need space to grow and figure out how much they can accomplish on their own – and if things hurt rather than us rushing over and assume a worst-case scenario. Great point about nurturing confidence! Well said!

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  6. ahhhh i haven’t thought about this just yet. we live in a very nice, safe, friendly neighborhood in the midwest. so it would probably be safe. i definitely was raised in a way where I was allowed to roam…but had rules as to where I could/could not go. My kids are so young that it’s hard to imagine them being out of my sight ANYWHERE right now! but, something to think about!

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    • Gotta love the Midwest! It is SO much different than the Northeast. I hope that as our kids get older we can help them find their own boundaries while letting them explore on their own. They need to develop their confidence, but boy, it’s tough to let them go! I never thought I’d be that mom saying that….

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  7. I’ve been wondering about this ever since giving birth to Charles. I live in a really quiet neighbourhood (mostly retired folk with some young families) and our street is kind of like a cul-de-sac so only people who live here drive through here. There’s a park in our street but my house is only just too far to allow me to see it from the windows of my house. I’ve gone about it rather slowly, first letting my kids play in the fenced backyard. I’ve recently started allowing Charles leave the house alone in the morning to put the daycare bag in the minivan and come back inside after. Then, when I’m just about to leave and all that’s left is putting a coat on the baby and putting my shoes on, I let both kids wait for me outside. I think, I’ll mostly follow their lead. I think that when Charles will ask me to go play in the park alone/ride his bike alone around the street…then he’ll be old enough to do so, but I know that the first times, I’ll be out of the house every 5 minutes to check on him from afar.

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    • That sounds like a nice set up! It’s great that the park is close – really though, if it was close enough to see from your windows you might end up irritated at loud kids yelling there when you’re older (in true “get off my lawn!” fashion). Or is that just me?!
      I think that’s a good idea to let your kids take the lead on determining when to get more freedom and how much. Most kids are good enough to not run away, at least by that age. I know some young boys, maybe 2.5-3yo, who bolt at the slightest opportunity, and that’s scary!
      They say something can happen in just two minutes’ time, so that’s scary – but eventually we have to let them leave the nest, so making sure they are responsible and FEEL the responsibility is the important step.

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  8. Love this post! I live in WV on top of a mountain with only our driveway near enough to our house to matter. We are surely blessed! I have boys whom are 16 months apart 1 is 5 and one will be 4 in September. I can’t imagine a busy city and now it’s got my mind turning. What would I do given that situation? I have no experience in anything but living in pretty small towns to base it on. Thanks for making me think. Thanks for sharing
    !

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    • Thank you for stopping by! 🙂 I wish sometimes I could live in a place like that (my parents live in a very rural part of VA, and it’s great to visit them). It would take my mind off worrying about them. Here we just have to be careful. I’m still working through things, as you can tell!

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