How to Vanquish “Mom Guilt” and Raise a Free-Range Kid

Readers — This story speaks for itself (as does the son!). It comes to us from Aimee Turner, who says she and her husband are “happy to know we aren’t alone in the fight against BWCS: Bubble-Wrapped Child Syndrome.” She blogs at The Maine Page Turner . - L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:This summer, instead of going to municipal rec camp (daily, highly supervised….. and so “safe” that it’s kind of boring), we talked with our spunky and independent 12-yr-old son about what he might enjoy better.  So this summer he is taking daily group tennis lessons as well as twice-weekly group golf lessons. 

His father and I both work, so in order for him to do these lessons, he has to get himself to and fro.  On the days he has both tennis AND golf, he has one hour to get across town (on his bike, about five miles).  He has to be sure he has everything he needs for both sports (he is able to store his golf clubs at the course – that would be difficult on a bike!), a lunch he has packed for himself, and appropriate clothes (he needs to wear a shirt with a collar at golf) etc. My husband (his dad) did a practice run with him on a Saturday before the sports sessions started, taught him how to change the bike tube, and they packed a repair kit, in case he gets a flat!

Yesterday I realized how easy it is for “mom guilt” to overtake Free-Range-ness.  DS and I were hanging out, and I almost said, “You know, I’m sorry you have to get yourself to all your stuff and that neither Dad nor I can drive you.”  And then I CAUGHT myself.  Yes, I thought it for a brief moment, but I didn’t say that, because I realized how ludicrous that line of thinking is!   What on earth would I be apologizing for?  That I’m not his chauffeur service???  For goodness sake, he’s 12, and he’s perfectly capable of taking a 20-min bike ride on a dedicated bike path in a bike-friendly town. I said what I really believe: “You know, I’m very impressed by how responsible you are with making sure you have your things, and that you are riding your bike safely the way on the route Dad showed you, and how you are getting everywhere right on time!” 

Instead of infantilizing him, I empowered him.  And his summer days are a lot more interesting than they would have been at rec camp.  (Other side benefits: these activities are 1/3 of the price of rec camp, he’s getting a LOT of exercise, and we’re not increasing our family carbon footprint with lots of unnecessary car-based kid schlepping.)

This morning – no lie – he said to me, out of the blue, “Mom, thank you for not being a smother-y, helicopter-y mom who wouldn’t let me do golf lessons just because of the bike ride there.  I love riding my bike there!  And my coach thinks it’s awesome!”  (He really used the words “smother-y” and “helicopter-y”.)  Not many kids actually thank their parents for driving them around…. But mine thanked me for NOT driving him around.  Imagine that! - Aimee Turner

An old equation. Kids + bikes = joy. (Even in the parents.)

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