Why I'm converting to free-range parenting

This is how a parking lot confrontation made one mom rethink her helicopter parenting style.

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

I’ll admit it. I’m a bit of a helicopter parent.

Aren’t we all? I make complicated, bento-style lunches free of packaging, peanuts and high-fructose corn syrup. I organize all my kids’ playdates—they are seven, eight and 10—then take them over to the friend’s house. I’m still often choosing outfits for my kids in the morning. And as for letting my 10-year-old bike to the park, walk to school or take transit on her own? Forget it.

But one cold winter morning, my outlook changed.

It was the end of a hectic week and we were low on lunch groceries. I threw together some fruit, turkey pepperoni sticks, sugar snap peas and carrot sticks, then hustled everyone out the door so I could pick up bagels and cream cheese on the way to school.

“Do we have to come in with you?” whined my 10-year-old as we drove into the parking lot beside a Tim Hortons.

If I was going to be more than a few minutes, I would have made them come with me. But I took one look at this bleary-eyed bunch, and thought twice about hustling everyone in and out.

“No,” I said. “You can stay here. Lock up the car. No talking to strangers.”

I got the sandwiches and returned to the car in under five minutes.

“Nice job taking care of your kids, mom.”

No, the voice dripping with sarcasm wasn’t my own inner critic. It was just some guy who was standing behind me.

I turned to face him—a man in his late 40s, clutching a cup of coffee. He gave me a look of disdain, then turned to walk away.

“Excuse me!” I said.

“Don’t leave your kids in a parking lot,” he shot back.

Was this a TLC show? Moms Who Leave Their Kids in Parking Lots, Exposed!

I began explaining myself.

“One of them is babysitting age! And they didn’t want to go in!”

“So what? Take them with you,” he yelled back. I felt like I had walked into someone else’s marital dispute.

“You certainly have an opinion on it,” I said. “Who are you, anyway?”

“Yeah, you’re welcome for being a concerned citizen,” he said, and walked away.

After I dropped my kids at school—with their wicked-awesome lunches—I sat in the car for a moment, feeling gutted.

A stranger thought I was an awful mom for letting my kids stay in the car alone. Was I?

I Googled the legal age for kids to be alone in Canada. Turns out there isn’t one. The law understands that there are many variables in deciding at what age your kids are capable of being left on their own. It’s up to parents. And parents usually make a decision that’s in their child’s best interest.

Knowing that fact helped me let go a little. I had lived in fear of judgement, but judgement happened anyway. Meanwhile, I had been denying my kids an important part of their childhood—a part that helps them mature—which is, the freedom to make some of their own decisions.

Heck, tomorrow I might even let them walk the dog to the park.

Raizel Robin is a freelance journalist and writer in Toronto. She keeps a blog (somewhat sporadically) at relaxedparenting.blogspot.ca.

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