Watch a Terrified Mom Change Before Your Very Eyes!

Hi zthainsskn
Readers — Here’s an email exchange from my mailbox. My comments are in red:

Hi Lenore!  Happy Wednesday I hope you are having a good one.

I am writing to you from northern Alberta, Canada with a question I am really just hoping to get your advice on.

I have a 9 (going-on-19) year old, very smart, free range daughter.  One of her friend’s mother asked me if my daughter could go camping with them this weekend and I so want to say yes but I am really struggling with this one.  The two girls have gone to the same school since kindergarten although they have only been visiting each other at home this year.  Each have slept over at the other’s house a couple of times and it has gone well.  But a weekend away – only 40 minutes from our home with cell service – seems different considering I do not know these parents well at all in fact I have met the husband once and my husband has only met the mom.  So I asked myself “What would Lenore Do?” and I would really like to know!  Thank you for all you do!

Have a great day — Tamara

hi tamara! the only thing i’d worry about — because it’s what i always worry about — is the driver. but 40 minutes? that’s like carpooling to soccer. of course the decision is totally up to you, but once i taught my kids the 3 r’s:

recognize, resist and report abuse (i outline them here)

i’d feel happy my kid was going to have this cool experience.

but, again, it is up to you!

let me know how it goes! – L.

dear lenore: yes, the driver thing I worry about too and don’t have any real way of knowing she is a safe driver.  the 40 minutes away too I agree is nothing!  but….apparently there is no cell phone service where they will be and how does a 9 year old, even knowing the 3 r’s – get away from a situation it’s necessary to get away from without being able to call home or leave the campground?  I know it’s unlikely, I know it is probably my fear (what IF I am wrong?) that I need to overcome.  Do I just need to trust that it is extremely unlikely they are bad people and let her go?  We are still undecided but I must decide by tonight!  I will let you know how it goes…

thanks for taking the time to chat. – tamara


Hi Lenore – a quick update.

We have decided to let her go on the camping trip.  She is so excited and let me tell you, I get the feeling everyone involved was surprised that we said yes – my daughter especially – and even her friend’s mother I believe was shocked I actually said yes.  I kept repeating what I learned on Free Range Kids – honestly, you have helped shape my current beliefs in no small way – I truly struggled with this decision and I almost took the easy way out.  I decided I would not be setting a very good Free Range example if I said no and that it was time to stand up and walk the walk: do the hard thing in order to make a positive change.  And I do believe she will be just fine and have a blast!

hey tamara — can i print this exchange on my blog? it’s very cool you are facing your fears. i have a feeling i know exactly how you will feel once your daughter goes off.

Hi Lenore,

Wow, absolutely! I would be pleased to have you print whatever you would like of our exchange.  I am now actually excited for my daughter to go and will definitely let you know how well it went.  Ironically – or I suppose as it should –  this experience has really made me feel “Free.”

yep. that’s what i thought you’d feel. no one expects it and everyone does.

A terrified mom considers letting her child go off for the weekend.

A very scared mom tries letting go. 

P.S. Readers, one of my many sidelines is actually making Free-Range Kids housecalls to parents who’d like a little help (or push?) letting go. Here’s my housecall site. If you know of anyone who might want my services, spread it around!

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26 Responses to Watch a Terrified Mom Change Before Your Very Eyes!

  1. Buffy May 30, 2014 at 10:31 am #

    Maybe I’m misreading this, but I get the impression that the main problem is that the husband might be a child abuser/molester? Seems very worst-first to me; why wouldn’t the first assumption be that he is a loving father taking his family in a fun weekend outing?

  2. E May 30, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    Yeah, I’m confused about how this kid is considered “free range” yet the Mom was so worried about this. What is she afraid of? Drugs? Molestation? (if so, why did she let her stay at their home overnight?) I can’t even think of anything else?

    Is there some reason she doesn’t trust another set of parents with a child the same age…a child that her daughter has known for several years?

  3. SKL May 30, 2014 at 10:52 am #

    I hope the mom posts here to tell us how the camping trip went.

    It’s great that she took the plunge. Let’s not pick on her for having fears. I have fears and scary thoughts too. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s moving ahead despite fear.

  4. lollipoplover May 30, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    I don’t think free range is an all or nothing approach to parenting. We all have our individual hang ups and fears that we pass on to our kids so at least examining your own particular fears is a healthy approach.
    Mine would be the bears!!! But around here, they just spotted one outside a convenience store and I have my own personal issues with bear encounters in the woods. But sex abuse? That’s way down my list. And not knowing the parents well is just a phone call and a plate of cookies away from easing your mind that if your daughter likes their daughter a lot, you probably will like the parents as well.

  5. E May 30, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    Perhaps I was too harsh, but it’s hard to know what changed her mind when we don’t really know what her concern is. Is this a campground or a backwoods campsite with no other people around? If it’s a campground, other people are literally right next to you.

    If a parent is will to allow the child to play and spend the night at her friend’s home, I don’t understand the reluctance for a short trip (in regard to the ‘trustworthiness’ of the hosting parents). If it’s the safety of camping in general (bears, etc), then I presume the hosting family love their kids equally as much and would make sure precautions in that regard are taken.

    If the parent has never ever camped and it’s just unfamiliar to her, maybe that makes sense?

  6. Vicki Bradley May 30, 2014 at 11:22 am #

    I think it’s great that Tamara consulted with Lenore in order to figure out whether she should allow her daughter to go on the camping trip (and I definitely think she made the right decision to let her go). We have a cottage and my 12-year-old daughter has invited a good friend of hers up a number of times over the years but the friend’s parents have only allowed her to go once (even though my husband and I have met them on a number of occasions; I quickly figured out that these parents are NOT free range). Fortunately, my daughter recently befriended a girl who is new to her school, and they have already had dinner at each other’s homes, and the girls’ mom is allowing her to come to our cottage this weekend after meeting me just once – yay for free range parents!

  7. Backroads May 30, 2014 at 12:30 pm #

    Glad she went! But I also get the fear. I am a big believer in building community and the importance of that community, so sending away my kid with people I didn’t have that sense of community with would be nerve-wracking! Of course, what better way to build community.

  8. Donna May 30, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    A couple months ago, my 8 year old asked me to go to sleep away camp for a week this summer. I agreed, made plans with one of her friend’s parents to send them both to Girl Scout horse camp together and then totally freaked out for no apparent reason. Other than the fact that I worried that she would hate camp as much as I did at that age, I can’t put my finger on any particular fear. It was just a generalized “oh my god, my baby is going to be away from me with strangers for a whole week and anything can happen and I won’t be there” fear. A completely irrational and anti-free range panic attack. My head knew that it wasn’t rational. It didn’t stop me from freaking out a bit for no identifiable reason.

    My daughter is going to horse camp in July. She is excited. I’m still a little fearful for no particular reason, but that is my issue, not hers.

    I suppose that some of you just leap 100% and never second guess yourself or, for even a moment, wonder “but what if….” The rest of us, maybe not so much. Can’t we applaud the fact that doing what is best for her kid won out over the irrational fear instead of knocking her down for having the fear to start with?

  9. Lisa May 30, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this! Very interesting exchange. I think I would make the same decision, but I wonder why the mom couldn’t try to get to know the parents a bit first. Not so much to “vet” them (you can’t really spot a predator in a couple of coffee dates!), but more just to build connections and community. I would want to let my daughter go camping with a friend, even if I didn’t know the parents, but I would also want to get to know the parents, just because that builds community and raising kids takes a village and we’ll all be better able to empower our kids together if we parents are connected and on the same page. Like another comments said — community is just a phone call and a plate of cookies away. 😉

  10. Wendy W May 30, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    Kudos to the mom for letting her kid go!

    I totally get the “fear of the unknown”, whether the “unknown” is the other parents or the camping in general. It’s normal, and the mom was able to squash her fear in order to let her daughter have a fun weekend.

    Years ago, when my boys were elem. age, the homeschool co-op we belonged to had a new family with boys of similar ages. One day early in the year, that mom invited a whole van-load of co-op kids to come home with her for lunch and an afternoon of play. I had the same kind of fears of not knowing ANYTHING about the family, and they lived 30min in the opposite direction. I let them go because this mom was a long-time friend of another friend of mine (whose kids were also going) and I trusted HER judgement. My kids had a great time that day, and that mom eventually became one of my best friends.

  11. Tamara May 30, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    Hi. I’m the mom who wrote this. First I wanted to say “hey yo, Lenore! I was not terrified” but then I realized what else could it be that would cause me to be unable to make this decision just instantly and on my own without even having to ask Lenore or anyone else. So perhaps terrified is justified but so is the changed part.

    I do consider myself a free range parent. My kids are young 9 and 6 – so there are limits to what they, especially the youngest, can do alone, but this was the first time she would have ever been out of my “care” for more than an overnight trip to auntie’s or the afore mentioned sleepovers without being able to contact us in any way. Even that wasn’t true because there was cell phone service there. The first sleepover was a birthday party with 6 or so other girls attending so I figured for her first sleepover – pretty much low risk, and she had fun.

    The whole problem here was that I honestly couldn’t really understand where my fear was coming from and what I was afraid of – it was like a free floating anxiety that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. The dad? No not specifically, molestation, of course, that’s worst case, except death or never seeing them again. but again these thoughts just floated through my head and I kept realizing none of them fit. I LIKED these parents, I felt like we had a lot in common and our kids got along great. I WANTED to say yes but I kept getting the stupid “what if I’m wrong” thoughts in my head.

    So I wrote Lenore and talked with my family and my husband and really thought hard about it. I am a logical person and logically, everything was going to be fine. I knew that but didn’t trust myself. We are inundated with “what ifs” in the media and I know this and I constantly and consciously work to avoid these messages – I don’t have cable tv, I quit Facebook – too much judgment, I seek out varied and independent sources for my information. The fear got to me anyway, but it didn’t win. Taking this step has made me feel free. I certainly don’t think my “free range parent” status is in jeopardy. I have the fears, I acknowledge that, but I don’t have to pass them on to my kids or anyone else. That is what I think this website is here to help with.

    And the trip went great by the way, thank you for asking! The outcome was awesome and the worst that happened was the river was too high for swimming. Thanks, Lenore, from the bottom of my heart.

  12. lollipoplover May 30, 2014 at 1:24 pm #

    “The whole problem here was that I honestly couldn’t really understand where my fear was coming from and what I was afraid of – it was like a free floating anxiety that I couldn’t quite pinpoint.”

    Tamara, thank you for articulating something that ALL parents are faced with. I also get weird fears over stupid things (bears, sharks, large insects) that the logical part of my brain says will be fine but a nagging feeling pushes my imagination into overdrive and smart, logical mommy gets pushed to the side. Confronting fear(and understanding it) is so much more difficult than just saying no to our kids and limiting their life experiences.

    I am so glad she enjoyed the trip!

  13. EricS May 30, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Another parent who has broken the shackles of fear and paranoia created by society these days. Well done Tamara!

    Fear can be a positive driving force. ie. fear of having a bad life, forcing to make things better for yourself. Fear of people seeing you as meek, and afraid, causing you over come these negative traits. Fear of your children being left behind, mentally and emotionally, making you encourage them to better themselves.

    But most times, people use fear to justify their paranoia and helicoptering ways. Like you said, “the easy way out”. Which has proven does not do children any good. We are a species of adaptability. This is how we’ve survived for thousands of years. We adapt and over come all that is put before us. When we take that natural instinct away from our children, we live them completely defenseless as they get older. Ill equipped to deal with life’s every changing and challenging ways.

    For many, it’s easier said than done. But once you start doing, it becomes easier and easier. Fear of the unknown has always held people back. But we only know, by doing. I’ve used my “free range” upbringing in my parenting as well. I allow mine to experience pretty much everything I got to when I was his age. Including disappointments, excitements, and wonder. And always there when he has questions and doubts. But pretty much letting him figure things out on his own first.

    The more you allow yourself to fear less, and TRUST your children because you TRUST yourself as a parent and what you’ve taught them, the more you will realize the world is not as scary as many make it out to be. Just remember, many of these fear driven tactics are companies, institutions, and governments way of controlling society today. It’s a very easy and effective way of controlling parents, who in turn control their children based on those fears. And when those children grow up, they are primed to be manipulated as well by future companies, institutions, and governments.

    We survived in an age where crime and crimes against children were much higher than it is now. Given the right guidance and tools, our children will survive as well. We just have to let them. Remember, it’s not about how WE feel, it’s about how THEY feel growing up. It’s all about the kids. What’s best for them, many parents don’t always feel comfortable with it, because society has got it in their heads that it isn’t a “good thing”.

  14. pentamom May 30, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    The mere fact that this woman contacted Lenore to help her work this out is evidence that, whether her fears were rational or not, she is on the right track. I don’t think we need to judge her for fearing the wrong things, when she is making an effort to make sense of things.

    As Free Rangers, we don’t want to eat our own. As lollipoplover says, we all have our comfort zones. Maybe she was being worst first and having an irrational hangup — so what? The point of Free Range Kids, as I see it, isn’t to draw lines about who belongs in the club and who’s “allowed” to call thmesleves Free Range when they have this or that different or wrong idea; it’s to help one another make choices that will 1) overcome or eliminate any false fears or misconceptions we have that tempt us to restrict our kids and 2) enable our kids to have fun, independent childhoods so they can grow into independent adults with a reasonably well-developed sense of risk and adventure. “She shouldn’t have had that problem in the first place” just seems to me not to be very constructive, even if you can make a good case for it.

  15. Sharon Davids May 30, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    I was comfortable with baby steps. My daughters first sleepover was four floors above us in the high rise where we live. My daughter said if I call you in the middle of the night will you come. I said yes. She didn’t call.

    My daughter keeps reminding me some of the best experiences of her childhood are those she can’t tell me. Now that I banned from field trips by my daughter (6th grader) I know she will have some wonderful memories.

    I also hope your daughter that an amazing time on her campout.

  16. lollipoplover May 30, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    OT (but definitely worst-first thinking), has anyone seen this?

    “Someone could have taken them”
    “They could have drowned in the canal”
    But they didn’t.
    They successfully walked home from school and disobeyed school rules by leaving the recess yard. I’m bothered that the escapee kids aren’t found at fault for their own actions and instead the finger points to the school when nothing happened. Years ago, kids went home for lunch and no one batted an eye. Now, it makes the news. Grrr.

  17. Donna May 30, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    I don’t know, lollipoplover. My opinion of the school depends on how long these kids were gone (unclear from the article). I certainly don’t blame the school for the kids deciding to take off, but the fact that the school didn’t even notice is more troublesome. If it was only a short time, fine; but if it was a longer time, someone should have noticed.

    That said the “anything could have happen” and the failure to find fault in the kids are both ridiculous.

  18. SKL May 30, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    My 7yos are also on their way to their first sleepover camp. In our case, it’s only 2 nights, but it’s the first time they will be spending the night with caregivers whom I don’t know well. (I’m not social with their friends’ parents, who all live in other cities, so we don’t visit.) I never went to a kids’ sleep-away camp, just old-fashioned camping with my folks. So it’s not something I can really visualize. Though I did take the girls there for an open house to check the place out. (It seems quite nice. Indoor toilets and everything!)

    I was pretty gung ho, considering they will be together, not “alone.” But one of my kids’ reaction to the news was fear. So then I started worrying that they would not enjoy the camp / be miserable there. Were they too young? Though they seemed happier when I told them they could take their special doll and bear :P.

    Then I started wondering how my younger daughter’s very long, thin, easily tangled hair was going to get done. Would they remember their hygiene?…

    Now last night I just filled out the medical releases etc., saying that I consent to them performing all sorts of horrible sounding medical treatments if necessary, my kids aren’t allergic to lice shampoo (as far as I know!), my kid reacts horribly to skeeter or spider bites … UGH…. and agreeing not to bring guns, drugs, etc. to camp (so, some of the kids may do this?)….

    But one thing about me – I’m mean enough to make my kids tough it out even if I’m a little unsure about some things. 🙂 I believe they will have a blast and come home all dirty and sweaty like kids should. 🙂 Next year they will be old enough for the week-long theatre camp etc., so I hope they will like this and it will become a fun tradition.

  19. SKL May 30, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    I should note that the camp my kids are going to is only about half an hour from my house. So it’s not like I’m being all that brave. This short camp for the younger kids is designed to be a baby step – better than no step at all.

  20. Havva May 30, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    Tamara the lack of cell phone access seems to be the big hang up. In the original you said:

    “how does a 9 year old, even knowing the 3 r’s – get away from a situation it’s necessary to get away from without being able to call home or leave the campground?”

    And you mentioned again in your note the lack of cell phone reach.

    Be it a bad actor in the host family or a wild animal hurting/killing the adults. A 9 year old gets away however they can. And of course they *can* leave the campground if things are that bad (This isn’t Hansel and Gretel being abandoned in the forest…and even they got out). Possibly a kid hides for a time. When safe they try to find a different adult to help them. Possibly they go to a neighboring camp site for help. Or they find a park ranger. Or they head out to the nearest highway and flag down a passing motorist. And with the help of an adult they get to a phone and call home, call 911, or whatever is needed. Same as kids before cell phones. The unfamiliar/uncivilized environment probably doesn’t help, but a 9 year old can note the layout of a new place fairly well and understand where they can get help in such an environment.

    I’m glad (but not the least surprised that) your daughter had a blast. I quiet enjoyed camping when my school friends talked me into it.

  21. anonymous mom May 30, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

    @lollipoplover, my brain would have gone immediately to “Bears!”, too. 😉

    I don’t think it’s those amorphous parent fears that are the problem, but whether we let our kids do things in spite of our fear. I’m not sure it’s possible for most people, in our culture, to not have nagging fears about the safety of their kids. I don’t think successful parenting means not having any fears, but just not allowing irrational fears to dictate your behavior and your child’s boundaries.

    Most of the time, if I waited until I wasn’t at all worried about my kids doing something to let the do it, I wouldn’t let them do anything fun, ever. What usually allays my fear is allowing my child to do the thing anyway, even though I’m nervous, and then realizing, after they do it three or five or a dozen times, that they will be okay.

    Good job, Tamara! I’m considering sending my 10yo to sleepover camp this summer (it really depends on how he feels–we have a new baby coming, and he could be totally into the baby and want to be home, or he could really need a break from babies and little kids) and I’ve definitely got some amorphous apprehension about the idea of him being away from home for a week. But I just plan on letting his needs determine whether we send him or not, rather than my worry level.

  22. Meg May 30, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    I just had to copy this, because I think it’s funny and it talks about the stuff we say to ourselves in our heads sometimes……kinda sorta like the irrational fears. So, just for your enjoyment:

    Lissa Rankin
    4 hours ago
    You have inside your head what I like to call your “Inner Crazy Person.” This voice talks nonsense to you 24/7, let you allow it to give you advice. If someone took dictation of your thoughts, it would probably look like this:

    Imagine if someone was taking dictation of what your Inner Crazy Person was saying. The transcript would probably look something like this:

    “This job sucks. I should quit my job. My boss doesn’t respect me and keeps stealing my ideas. I deserve a promotion, but Bob got promoted instead of me. Bob is a schmuck who just kisses ass to get ahead. But wow. It worked for Bob. Maybe you should suck up to get ahead too. No, that would make me as much a schmuck as Bob is. I don’t want to be a schmuck. I should just quit my job. But you can’t quit your job. How would you pay the bills, you idiot? Plus, you’d be crazy to quit your job in this economy. Don’t you know how lucky you are to have a job at all when unemployment is this high? You’d be better off sucking up like Bob and trying to get ahead so you don’t have to work with that asshole boss who doesn’t respect you. But Bob is a douchebag. Do I have to become a douchebag to get some respect around here? I really want to be a musician instead. What if I could play my guitar all the time and get paid for it? Now you’re really talking crazy. Nobody gets paid to play the guitar. You think you’re Carlos Santana all the sudden? Who do you think you are, all high and mighty, thinking you might get paid to play the guitar. Nobody makes a living playing the guitar. You should be grateful you have a good, stable job and a decent paycheck so you can feed the kids. But I hate my job. I should quit…”

    And on…and on…and on it goes. Imagine if this voice was coming from someone standing next to you. Would you take advice from this insane individual? NO!

    What we must realize is that your Inner Crazy Person LIES. Some of the things it thinks might be true. Most of the thoughts aren’t.

    Try this. Stand back and witness what your Inner Crazy Person is saying. When you have a fearful thought, ask yourself, “What’s true and not true? How is this thought true? How is it not true?” By putting space between yourself and your thoughts, you’re able to realize that your Inner Crazy Person is not YOU. You are the part of you who is witnessing your Inner Crazy Person. From this witness position, you’re better suited to make healthy decisions that aren’t fear-driven.

    Try it. What is YOUR Inner Crazy Person saying? Is it true/ Is it not true?

    The good news is that there’s a whole other voice in your head, one you can always trust, which I call Your Inner Pilot Light. Do you hear this voice, or is it drowned out by your Inner Crazy Person?

  23. SOA May 31, 2014 at 7:08 am #

    Good for you. I am sure it will be fine and she will have a blast. I was regularly spending the night at other kids houses by preschool. So I don’t get the way people act now about not wanting to let their 2nd grader go to a sleepover at people they have known for years house. SMH.

  24. SOA May 31, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    I just had one of my 7 year old sons go on his first overnight slumber party at a house 45 minutes away from us. I have known the family about a year. It is one of his friends from dance class. I was nervous mostly due to his food allergy but it was handled fine and he had a great time and it was great. In his words “Mom there is a first time for everything.” I was worried his twin would be scared to sleep in their room alone but he also was fine sleeping in there alone. Go figure. They are more capable than you think sometimes.

  25. E June 2, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    @Tamara, thanks for writing! I noticed the use of “terrified” in the subject line and didn’t think it was necessarily an accurate description from your words. Perhaps that’s what influenced my original reactions. It sounds like you were “concerned”, not terrified.

  26. railmeat June 2, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    “I am now actually excited for my daughter to go . . . Ironically . . . this experience has really made me feel “Free.” ”


    A thousand times this.

    You will discover just how wonderful being a parent can be.

    Good good GOOD for you Tamara!