Dear Free-Range Kids: I recently came across your blog and read your book. I’d heard of your son riding the subway alone a couple years ago and didn’t know what the big deal was. I felt like mainstream media didn’t give the audience the entire story. If your son was raised in the city and was used to taking the subway, then it seemed to me like there wasn’t really any story at all.
Then I had a child. In the parenting books and blogs I read I started seeing a trend toward too much safety and security for children. We moved to India when our daughter was three months old. She’s two and a half now and we are known throughout the expat community as having a wild child. She runs around barefoot. She goes to a preschool and playgroups where she’s the only non-Indian child. She eats street food. We expected this kind of reaction from some people because we’ve lived overseas long enough to know that there are families that want to experience everything a new country has to offer, and there are those that want to stay in the house and pretend they are not really in another country.
I got the idea to write to you when your book mentioned something about parenting magazine articles that cautioned against running around barefoot and not flying kites. By the time my daughter was two and a half years old, she’d done both at the same time! I smiled when you said you may have to go to a third-world country to find a pre-safety-era playground. The playgrounds here are new, but I think all the old equipment was sent here when the upgrades started happening in the United States.
We’ve been in more than one restaurant where the waitstaff has taken her away from the table for a few minutes so we could eat in peace. She loves it. They take her back to the kitchen to watch the chefs. We’ve hired hotel baby-sitters and local baby-sitters based on friends’ recommendations. It’s okay for parents to have a couple minutes or a couple hours of peace and quiet to eat a meal together. We need it! Other cultures seem to understand this. When we hired our housekeeper in India, she said our daughter was the first baby she’d really taken care of. When her own children were born, her sisters and mother took the babies away except for when they needed to nurse because new mothers are expected to rest. (She seemed a little annoyed that I insisted on doing so many things myself rather than resting and letting her do it all! It took me a while to get used to having help.)
I’ve noticed that what’s been happening with much of the parenting world in the United States is happening in upper-class India now. When our daughter goes to the park, she’s not playing with our neighbor’s children, she’s playing with the children of their drivers and housekeepers because “rich” children aren’t allowed to play outside.
We’re sad that because of our lifestyle of moving to new countries every few years, our daughter is not going to have the same childhood we had of running outside all day long with a gang of the same neighborhood children year after year. But we’re confident that eventually she’ll be able to walk to the corner store at an earlier age than her American-raised peers.
Because of my husband’s job and the places we live, some of the worries of parents in the United States are slightly more realistic for us. My husband investigates some pretty big crime rings; it’s possible they’d want to retaliate by kidnapping our daughter. We live in a Muslim city with ties to Iran and Pakistan, two countries where anti-American sentiment runs high. There was a terrorist bombing here less than a month ago. The probability of us being harmed from any of these things is still tiny, it’s just larger than in the United States. We don’t let it stop us from going outside. But I’m looking forward to being back in the United States for a while, where I’ll be able to relax and not have to worry about them.
If Americans spent more time overseas they’d have a completely different perspective on danger. – Stephanie Smith Diamond