When Adversity Helps Launch a Free-Range Kid

Hi zhfkyftnbd
Readers — Maybe you remember this mom from a few years back. I sure do. And here’s what she and her family are up to now. – L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: A few years ago you featured a story I shared of leaving my 3 month old in the arms of two perfect strangers (or potential child predators as some may call them!) at a Starbucks so I could use the restroom.  Those two people were a mother and grandmother and it was quite a treat for them to be able to cuddle with a little baby for a few minutes.I have continued to try to raise my kids Free-Range, choosing to believe that most people are good and decent and that the best way to help my children be successful in this world is to avoid hovering and to allow them to encounter and tackle as many problems for themselves as they are developmentally capable of.
I now have two children, Jude is 3 years old, and Evie is 21 months old.  My husband has been battling cancer for the last year, and so we have had many times when I have had to rely on my trust and faith in my young children to be able to “fend” for themselves a little. I have never been so proud of them in the ways that they have shown me that they are capable of rising to the occasion.The kids spent 9 weeks this summer with family on the other side of the country, and had a blast touring around Los Angeles embarking on many adventures while I took care of my husband back home.  They grew and became more confident in themselves during this incredibly difficult (for me) time that I had to let go of them.  They didn’t spend every night crying for their parents, but instead were confident that they were loved and also capable of adapting to their surroundings.
Before the summer, the 3 year old had learned how  to prepare breakfast for himself and his sister (bagels with cream cheese… toasted no less!) and how to make me coffee (in our Keurig machine). He has never once spilled coffee or creamer, and is always sure to caution me that it’s “hot mommy… you must be very careful.”
He and his sister learned to play unsupervised in our playroom while I was upstairs tending to their father.  I had a video monitor where I could keep an eye on things, but I was constantly amazed at how they figured out how to solve their own problems without my intervention.Now my 3 year old is potty trained, and on a cross country flight last week, I sent him to the bathroom by himself because I was alone on the plane with him and his little sister (it seemed pretty impossible and frankly downright silly to try to cram all three of us into an airplane bathroom).  I mean really, if someone’s going to steal my child on a plane, where are they going to put him?  I have also encouraged him to use the restroom by himself in small restaurants with single private bathrooms when we are sitting in plain sight of the door.  I have gotten some strange looks from other patrons, but I feel I am giving my child confidence that he can handle something as basic as toileting himself without assistance.
There are many many more ways where I am seeing my children’s independence and amazing capabilities shine, and I truly believe that my children are not little “geniuses” but that we as a culture have so lowered our expectations of what young children can do.  I not only have seen the practical implications of my son and daughter being able to handle many of their own life skills, but have also seen their confidence grow as well.I continue to pray for wisdom to know what my kids can and can’t handle at any given developmental point, but also to keep letting go knowing that, statistically, they’re probably going to be just fine.
Thanks again for encouraging us to not give up the good fight! - Rachel Hill

Rachel — Thank you and yours for not giving up the good fight(s), either!  L. 

24 Responses to When Adversity Helps Launch a Free-Range Kid

  1. Backroadsem September 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    Thanks so much for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes.

  2. Linda Wightman September 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    “I truly believe that my children are not little “geniuses” but that we as a culture have so lowered our expectations of what young children can do.”

    I agree whole-heartedly, except that I would add that ALL children are “little geniuses.” As Buckminster Fuller is supposed to have said,

  3. Linda Wightman September 27, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Aargh, sorry, hit the wrong button.

    As Buckminster Fuller is supposed to have said, “All children are born geniuses, and we spend the first six years of their lives degeniusing them.”

    Or, in these days of hyper-extended childhood, maybe that should be amended to, “the first 26 years of their lives.”

  4. Dulcie September 27, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Wonderful update, though saddened to hear of the cancer battle in her home, it’s wonderful that her children are there admirably being part of the family unit. I noticed the same thing in my cousin’s children while she was nursing her husband through a battle with brain cancer. Things she offhandedly said she had her children doing would have sent other people into a tailspin. But you know what? If it’s expected of them, kids step up to the plate. During my own mother’s battle with cancer, one of the chores my 2nd grader sister had to do immediately upon getting home from school was to help my mom with the bedpan – when we older girls got home, it then fell to us to help her.

    We never thought of ourselves as burdened or special and it wasn’t because we were wonderful or noble, it was just something we did because it was life and it was expected of us.

  5. Nelly September 27, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    What a great piece. It is terrible that the father is battling cancer, but here is a wonderful mother, giving her kids the vision of what they can be. Really awe-some.

  6. sassystep September 27, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    I love it! I actually think that one of the biggest problems with this whole “child centric society” that we have created is that people feel so bad for kids when life isn’t perfect that it seems more logical in many families to have the kids not underfoot. I know many parents who will have their folks watch their kids during simple tasks like grocery shopping and house cleaning – I can’t even imagine how they would respond if they had something like this situation. Kids are resiliant and can adapt to difficult environments PLUS kids like being part of things. That’s what makes a family. At least it used to be.

  7. Warren September 27, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this update. These children that make you proud now, will only make you prouder. And you should be proud of yourself, for raising two wonderful kids, and for standing tall through all of this.

  8. mmm September 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    OK, I was with her until the end. My average-sized four year old is absolutely capable of taking herself to the bathroom, but is nowhere near tall enough to reach the sink and soap dispenser of a typical public restroom without help.

  9. Jenna September 27, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    I loved this line: “we as a culture have so lowered our expectations of what young children can do”. I field questions from people all the time about what kids should be capable of at certain ages and most of the time the kids in question can’t do anything because the parents won’t let them. I love having kids that are capable and responsible. I’m pregnant with my sixth and last child and my oldest is nine. I get super sick with pregnancy and one of the things I need the most help with is food preparation. I’m so grateful that I took it upon myself to teach my kids to help out in the kitchen from when they were small. Now I can tell my oldest that I really need an egg or some toast and he can go fix it for me.

    Kids really are capable, functioning people who can do quite a bit without help if we only let them.

  10. Christina September 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    @mmm – that’s what hand sanitizer is for :-). Seriously, though, I’ve been sending my boys, who are both on the small side, to the men’s room on their own since they hit three (they are now 5). Restaurant sinks can often be pretty reachable for the younger set b/c a number have lower sinks to accommodate customers in wheelchairs, or pedestal sinks, which allow the kids to move around to one side to manipulate the (cold) water handle. Mine simply learned to let me know when the sink or soap was too high (Target – I’m talking to you), and I just used sanitizer or wipes instead.

  11. Jenny K September 27, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

    As a now-adult (25) who was raised by a single mom who had to deal with her husband’s cancer for many years, I applaud this mother.

    Your kids ARE, in fact, capable. And they can tell when you need them to be good – when you’ve been stretched to the limit.

    I thank my mom all the time for giving me the opportunity to become independent – whether it was intentional or not.

  12. Bess September 27, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

    I could not love this story more, except for the part about the dad being ill. Cheers to you for raising such wonderful, capable children, and sending a hug your way.

    PS: My husband and I like to joke that the only reason we had a kid was so someone could bring us coffee in bed in the morning. We figured she had to be 4 before that would be possible – so I am forwarding this article to him!

  13. Havva September 27, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

    Rachel, I wish you well in this challenging time. I am sorry that life has thrown you such difficulties.

    Like many others here I loved the line “I truly believe that my children are not little “geniuses” but that we as a culture have so lowered our expectations of what young children can do.” I was in Montessori from a young age and learned many skills, both practical and academic. All to often I found myself telling adults. “It isn’t that I’m special, I was just shown how to do these things. [Your child] could do it too, if you just show him/her how.” This was back in the 80’s and 90’s.

  14. Lollipoplover September 27, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    This brought tears to my eyes too. Thank you Rachel for sharing and keep raising great kids.

    I’ve always wondered why the milestones that we were so eager to share when our kids are babies some how “taboo” when they get older. Like going to the bathroom by themselves at early ages. It’s great to be potty trained at 2 by someone can call CPS if your 5 year-old is capable of toileting independently in public.

  15. Havva September 27, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    @sassystep…In many ways we have a “child centric society” in that the parents are expected to be 100% child centric. But overall we have an age segregated society. Age group child activities, family activities (but only if all the kids are in a certain age range), adult (without kids) activities.

    My husband is head (volunteer) librarian at our synagogue, and I would like to do other volunteer activities. But I am unsure how, or even if, we could manage this. It isn’t something worth getting a babysitter over. Hubby basically pointed out that of the long list of volunteers he knows, he is the only one with a minor child. So, he figures, it may be impractical for us to squeeze anymore volunteering out of our family.

    It seems like a tragic waste, in my opinion. I’ve seen my daughter with her cousins. They start playing together, and suddenly parents become nearly superfluous. Seems like this could be leveraged to let parents and other tolerant adults work together, without needing a babysitter.

  16. EricS September 27, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Thank you for updating us on your journey Rachel. Your is just one of many proofs, of how children are far more capable than many parents these days give them credit for. Keep at it. 🙂 I wish your husband all the best. May he over come his illness, and enjoy many more years with you and the kids. Be well.

  17. Donald September 27, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    Excellent story!

    It was uplifting on so many levels.
    1. Your kids are gaining confidence.
    2. Their independence is very helpful
    3. The tide is turning.

    I want to thank you Rachel. Your story is a beacon that shows other parents the benefits of raising Free Range Kids.

  18. mollie September 27, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    Sending love and light to you. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful example of how many gifts there really are in life, if we look at it that way.

  19. Bronte September 27, 2012 at 10:35 pm #

    A few months ago I was travelling( flying) with my then 3 month-old. I needed to go to the loo and remembering your story looked around for a suitable person. I ended up leaving him for a cuddle with a man who I would guess was about 40. He was happy, my son was happy, and my visit to the loo was much much easier and quicker than it would otherwise have been.

    I also did it at the Lactation Consultants, and made a good friend out of it.

    Thank you for coming back to let us know how things are getting on.

  20. AW13 September 28, 2012 at 2:37 am #

    From the comments: “We did it because it was life and it was expected of us.”

    YES! When you have expectations, your children will try to meet them. Young children want to please their parents, they want to try what they see their parents do, and they want to be part of the group. This is how they become contributing members of society.

    And to the letter-writer: I’m heartened to hear of your children’s independence, though I’m sorry to hear of your husband’s illness. I cared for my husband while he was fighting cancer, through chemo and surgeries, and it is a scary, stressful time. Best thoughts to you and your family.

  21. Carol Everett Adams September 28, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    Although I am sad about your husband’s illness, I am thankful you wrote again to let us know what is down the road when we choose to raise our kids in the Free Range spirit.

  22. Scott September 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    Thank you. This is so encouraging. Especially when there are so many unnecessary examples of exactly the opposite behavior. Thanks again!

  23. Matt Weiss September 30, 2012 at 3:43 am #

    You sound like a great mother and a wonderful wife. Here’s hoping your husband is soon well enough to enjoy great times with his free-range kids.

  24. victoria October 8, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    OP, I hope your husband’s prognosis is good, and I think you’re a remarkable mother.