Family life

Free-range parenting: Stop doing everything for your kids

Learning to choose your battles is all a part of free-range parenting for one mom.

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Photo: iStockphoto

“Oh!” Rowan slapped his palm against his forehead. He turned to me, on the street corner, half a block from school. “I forgot to print those pictures for my project again.”

I inhaled, smiled at him, and then shrugged as I called up some wording from parenting books. “That’s too bad. What do you think you should do about it?”

He paused. “I guess I’ll have to do it tomorrow,” he said after a moment, and I nodded, and we continued our walk.

I’m trying really hard not to rescue my kids these days. It’s hard work, though, to shut up and not help, not jump in to try to make a situation “right,” or “better.” I don’t always succeed—like just a couple of weeks ago, when Rowan announced, again on our walk to school, that he needed two dollars and for me to sign the permission form for Sports Day, which, of course, happened to be that very day.

“Oh,” he added, “and I need to have shorts and a T-shirt and a water bottle and running shoes.”

I had no cash on me. He didn’t know where the permission form was. He hadn’t mentioned Sports Day to me or to Rachel. And I had to make the call: let him learn from the error of his ways by sitting by himself at school all day, or find a way to get him to a healthy, active day of fun with his friends?

Read more: How to help kids keep track of their stuff>

Reader, I chose Option B. Which meant that we went to the office and the secretary found a permission form for him, which I filled in. And then I texted Rachel and asked her to get together some sports clothing and a water bottle and a toonie. And then I went home and collected those things (fortunately, we’re minutes away from the school). (“Did we miss the permission form?” Rachel asked me, handing me the bag. “There is no ‘we’ in that sentence,” I grumbled. “There is only ‘he.’” “Good point,” she said.) And then I walked back to school and handed Rowan his stuff, and he had a great day playing football.

You choose your battles, right?

Lately, though, I’m choosing more often to battle with my impulses to cajole Rowan and Isaac out of bed, to remind them (as often as I’m compelled to) of all the things—get dressed, pajamas away, breakfast, make bed, brush teeth, empty dishwasher, go-go-go!—that happen before school. They do the same thing every single day: it’s not like they don’t know how it works. I’m resisting the urge to cut up pancakes or French toast, even though a certain nearly-seven-year-old would very much rather I did so. I’m resisting the urge to suggest that, really, Rowan’s hair could be neater or Isaac might want to wear his shirt frontwards rather than backwards. I’m resisting the urge to tell the nine-year-old playing ball hockey in the driveway that he has to drop what he’s doing right now and get to school or he’ll be late. “I’m leaving now with your brother,” I told him a couple of days ago. “If you want to play a bit longer, and you want to get to school on time, you may want to follow us soon.” He nodded, and Isaac and I walked on ahead, and I admit that I didn’t resist the impulse to look back every 30 seconds to see if Rowan was on his way. And just when I was thinking, “He’s going to be late,” there he was, walking to school.

Rowan remembered to print the pictures for his project before it was due. I’m trying to remember to ask if the boys have any important papers in their backpacks. It’s not a perfect process, my ongoing experiment in letting go. But I notice that when I do bite my tongue, resist the urge to cajole or do stuff for the kids because it’s quicker and easier, they rise to the challenge more often than not. Sometimes we’re a couple minutes’ late, and sometimes hair is messy or shirts are on backwards. Sometimes, the kids resist, or are pokey, or use too much maple syrup, or are too cold because they didn’t want to bring a jacket. But these are minor things, not things they need to be rescued from. And even as I fight with myself not to interfere, I know this much: fighting with myself is so much better than fighting with my kids.

Read more: How to raise a self-sufficient kid>

Thunder Bay, Ont., writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences. Read more of Susan’s The other mother posts and tweet her @MamaNonGrata.

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