Family life

5 times free-range parenting didn’t work the way I expected

Jennifer Pinarski didn't anticipate poison ivy, scratched floors and missing toilet paper.

Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

Photo: Jennifer Pinarski

As a stay-at-home mom turned freelance blogger, I’m in the (admittedly, enviable) position of being able to work from home this summer while my kids, eight-year-old Isaac and five-year-old Gillian, are off school. On the last day of school, I had a picture in my mind of what our days would look like. I’d wake up early to exercise or enjoy a cup of coffee and then the kids would study from the educational workbooks I bought so they’d stay caught up on their school work. Afternoons would be full of family fun.

Naturally, the execution of this picture-perfect plan failed almost immediately. I’ve basically let my kids have the run of the house while I desperately try to focus on a story assignment and they beg for another episode of Paw Patrol and a fourth bowl of cereal (all usually before 7 a.m.).

Rather than try to schedule our days as planned, I’ve opted to let my kids go free-range, with my only rules being that they can’t leave our one-acre property and they have to wear helmets when they’re riding their bikes on the driveway. Sounds simple, right?

Except that, just like my plan of scheduling our summer holidays, my plan to let my kids loose hasn’t exactly panned out either. Here are five times (so far) that free-range parenting didn’t work the way I’d anticipated.

1. That time I took away their screens and they turned my living room into a live video game
My rules for screen time are fairly strict: Isaac and Gillian each get 40 minutes a day, which is tied to how well they behave. One particular day, they woke up fighting with each other and, as punishment, I took away their TV and video game privileges. Rather than doing the school work I asked them to do, they pulled all the kitchen chairs, blankets, toy boxes and stuffed animals into the living room and recreated a scene from Angry Birds. Using the Angry Birds toys I handmade for them last winter, they took turns pelting each other—and the dog—while jumping off the couch and onto the rickety tower of chairs. The only thing damaged were my hardwood floors, but I guess I should be optimistic and say my floors now “have character.”

2. That time I bought eight pounds of fresh produce and it was gone in an afternoon
Each time I go grocery shopping, I wash and cut up all the fruits and veggies to make sure Isaac and Gillian can easily grab a snack when they’re hungry. However, this means that my kitchen has turned into a 24-7 all-you-can-eat buffet. Their most impressive accomplishment was hoovering five pounds of apples, two pounds of fresh strawberries and one pound of carrots in a single afternoon. Also related to this parenting fail: We go through a lot of toilet paper.

3. That time I had friends over and the kids decorated my deck with empty beer bottles
Last week, when my husband and I invited friends over for dinner, we sent the group of four children outside to play so the grown-ups could talk in peace. After 20 minutes, the kids tumbled inside, laughing hysterically and asking us to come outside to see their decorations. These “decorations” were the contents of my recycling bin, including all of our empty beer bottles, filled with mud and placed all over our deck. They also pretended they were bartenders and served us muddy bottles of beer. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to worry about hosting any more dinner parties in the future.

4. That time I told my kids to play outside and they came back covered in poison ivy
Having always lived in a rural area, my kids know how important it is to stay away from leaves of three. Even though I thought I’d sprayed herbicide on all the poison ivy plants on our property, Isaac managed to find a patch. For the past few weeks, Isaac has been covered in rashes from head to toe. And, of course, he can’t remember where on our property he came in contact with the plant.

5. That time I told my kids to wait “10 more minutes” at least 10 times—and then felt guilty
This is the worst part because, for all of my free-range habits, I love spending time with my kids. Projects invariably take longer than anticipated (especially if I’m looking for antihistamines and toilet paper) and, each time I tell my kids to wait 10 minutes, I feel guilty. The only thing I’m hoping for is that my kids will look back fondly on this summer and remember it as the one where they trashed the house and had the time of their lives.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.

Read more:
7 survival tips for stay-at-home moms>
Confessions of a free-range parent>