mom lets her daughter walk home. The girl’s new friend, an older, taller boy, walks home with her…and starts talking about weird stuff. One mom’s surprising and Free-Range story:
Dear Free-Range Kids:
My daughter is 10, our only child. She was born when I was 43 and I did not fit in with my mothering peers. I felt constantly judged, simply because I believe that kids are lot more capable than we give them credit for. Besides that, I was just too tired to micromanage her! I needed her to be strong and independent. As an older mom with health issues, I needed to know she’d be fine without me.
So first of all, I just want to thank you for how your work has helped me to be the sort of mother I want to be. Secondly, I’d like to share a chapter in our Free-Range life with you.
Our Divine Miss O goes to a school about 15 minutes away on foot, down a very busy city street, past a strip mall and across a city park with a deep pond. Since Day One she has begged to walk alone to school. At age 6, without older siblings/friends, I just couldn’t see that happening.
But rather than saying no, I outlined for her what I had to see that let me see she was ready to walk to school by herself: Looking both ways before crossing the street, crossing with confidence, being aware of time, etc., etc. We role-played every conceivable situation from the cute kitten in someone’s yard, to the older kid who tries to push her around. It was fun, funny, maddening and enriching for both of us.
Finally, to the absolute horror of all the other school moms, Miss O started walking to/from school daily, alone, rain or shine, at age 8.
She’s made some friends in our neighborhood… she met them walking. Prior to that, we had no idea which kids from her school , if any, lived near us. We’ve had a steady stream of kids into the house after school ever since.
She dealt WELL with the strange woman who wanted to put lipstick on her (seriously!). I almost cancelled walking alone from there on in, but read a few more Free-Range posts, and calmed down.
She learned just how close she could get to that pond in the park without falling in, and that your pretty new boots don’t look so pretty after they are soaked in sludge. (They don’t smell all that great, either.)
She learned to stand up for herself when boys started taking pictures of her with their cell phone… and that knocking them down may not be the BEST way (“I just got so MAD when they wouldn’t STOP, Mom!”)… and that going to another kid’s house to apologize is not as scary as she thought it would be… and the boys learned to not mess with The Divine Miss O!
She also learned you can carve an animal out of a block of snow as you walk!
Recently, the opportunities for learning grew in magnitude.
About a month and a half ago, a Grade 8 boy from her school started walking home from school with her. From my after school seat by the front window with my coffee, I’d see them pull into sight… she striding along in her relaxed way; he twice her height, matching his stride to hers. She burst in the door happy and full of chat… they talked about Minecraft (an internet Lego-type world she loves), sports, school… and The Divine Miss O felt as though she’d made a new friend. I figured he had to be a pretty nice kid to pay attention to my little girl that way. It was so cute… until she burst through the front door a week or so later, indignation radiating off of her like steam.
While the Divine Miss O had been enjoying his company, this day she took great offense to The Boy’s attempts at conversation… it was all sexual (my characterization, not Miss O’s) in nature: Was she learning Fully Alive in school (our Family Life Program taught from Grade 1-8)? How old is she? Does she have a boyfriend? Does she know what boys and girls do together (“You know you’re almost 12 and boys are going to try and do things to you!”)... a parent’s absolute nightmare.
With my heart pounding, I nonchalantly explored with her how she responded to all of this, and how she felt about it. She wasn’t phased at all, though she thought it was pretty weird that he would talk about this stuff when he doesn’t even really know her, and she repeatedly told him she didn’t discuss personal stuff outside her family (YEAH!)… “I didn’t want him to know I was uncomfortable, Mom… but I did walk a little faster!” Mostly she was just confused about why he’d start talking this way. Didn’t he know it was inappropriate?
I truly don’t know what most other people would have done under the circumstances, but I told her I was very proud of how she handled herself and we began a new set of role-playing exercises: how to discourage an unsavory conversation, how to discourage someone from following you, how to find out more about someone without appearing to pry (I wanted to learn his last name)… and we made a plan for what she should do next: don’t walk with him if she can help it, and use the skills she learned in role-playing. In a calm, casual way (though I felt anything BUT) I did my best to give her insight into The Boy’s motives… to help her see him for the manipulative person he is… not a potential friend.
Before Christmas, The Divine Miss O had several opportunities to put our role-playing practice to good use, as we continued to discern just how serious this situation was… he didn’t always make the conversation weirdly sexual… maybe he’s just a really immature, awkward kid who is flexing his ‘man’ muscles… I didn’t want to escalate the situation without being certain there was any need to do so.
Then, this past Monday, it turned: The Boy tried to convince The Divine Miss O to leave the busy city street and to walk instead down the alley that runs parallel. When she refused to do so, he asked he if she was scared… she told him, “No!” and she really didn’t seem to be… she just already knew from past conversation that we would not approve of the alley route. He also made comments with sexual undertones to her in the hallway at school in front of other kids (which offended her greatly… she wasn’t exactly sure why, but she knew it sounded wrong). I didn’t want to overreact, so I suggested that her next step should be to invite him to come and meet her Mom (she knew exactly what I was up to and was delighted by this suggestion)… while I did some investigating of my own beforehand.
I called the school principal to ask his opinion as to how we might address my concerns. I discovered that he knows who The Boy is. He checked to confirm that The Boy has no reason to be walking all this way with my daughter… he doesn’t live anywhere near us. The principal offered to handle the situation from his end, but once again, I felt this might create fears where there weren’t any yet, so I told him I’d speak to Miss O and then get back to him… if she felt that she needed adult help to get rid of The Boy, I would let him know.
When The Divine Miss O got home from school (alone — The Boy didn’t approach her this day), we sat down together and I filled her in and expressed my concerns… particularly that anyone inviting her to stray from her usual route, and pressing her further when she declined, was up to no good… asking her what she thought.
Her first comment was, “WELL! I don’t like that he’s been lying to me!” When her Dad asked her how the The Boy had lied, “Well Dad… walking with me like he’s just going home when he’s not is LYING!” “…And he seemed nice!”
Her new plan is to tell The Boy that she no longer wants to walk with him, and then simply walk away. If he makes any more comments to her at school she will tell principal. “He’s kind of bullying me. Right, Mom?” “Yes, if he persists even though you’ve told him to stop.” “Well, I don’t need THAT kind of friend!”
We then asked her what she’s learned from all of this:
“Get to know people really well before you tell them any personal stuff.”
“Get to know people really well before you decide if they are good, or not.”
“Be careful around people until you know them for a long time.”
I didn’t think it could get much better until she scooted around the table to give me a big hug and said, “THANK YOU, Mom, for not leaving me out of the solution!”
WOW! For me, that one comment explains why Free-Range parenting is so important.
This situation could have instilled debilitating fear (in both of us). Instead, her confidence has grown, as has ours. AND her innocence remains intact. I want my daughter to have the world. I think we’re off to a good start.
— Divine Mom in Saskatchewan
Lenore here: You had my heart pounding there. Kudos to you and the Miss O, who handled the situation divinely!