I was raised in a teeny tiny town in Southern Minnesota. My parents lived on a dead end street. At the end of the street was a huge wide open field. Throughout my childhood whenever me or one of my sibling started getting too rowdy in the house my dad was famous for saying, “Go out to the field if you’re gonna wrestle.” And out the door we ran.
We spent hours in that field running around like wild animals. There was no shortage of kids on our block and we terrorized the neighborhood. A few blocks down and just a short walk was a small creek encased in dozens of huge trees. Some of my best memories growing up are the long summer days we spent down at the creek with no adults in sight.
There’s no field at the end of my street. Just a busy intersection. And a few blocks down the street you’ll find a beautiful outdoor shopping center. It’s got a large water fountain filled with koi, but there’s not a creek in sight. So, when I want to give Gus the freedom to let loose and play, I take him to the park.
The park is Gus’s field. It’s his creek which means that I let him be. You won’t find me micromanaging Gus’s behavior at the park. Not a chance. It’s his chance to figure it out. It’s his time to be a kid. It’s my time to sit back and let him handle things. I’m not being lazy. It’s intentional.
It’s called Free Range Parenting. Although, I don’t really like to call it that. Mostly, I get hung up on the name. It sounds too much like I’m raising chickens. But it boils down to letting kids be kids and I couldn’t be more in favor of this.
The park is Gus’s space. It’s his time. His friends. His place to be a kid. Run! Jump! Scream! Tackle his friends. Play whatever he wants to play. Do what he wants to do. It’s the one place he doesn’t have to follow my agenda.
The park is where city kids learn who they are without their parents and I won’t take that away from him. Which means that I won’t be following him around in the sand and admonishing him to do this or that. Or stop. Or be gentle. Or be careful. I let him figure out what happens if he is mean to another kid. He’ll learn quickly that other kids don’t like mean kids. I let him figure out how to take turns and share. He’ll learn quickly that if he wants kids to share with him then he needs to share with them.
I let him jump off things and take risks. Part of childhood is skinned knees and bumps on the head. And I don’t want him to miss out on this piece.
And when he needs me at the park? Well, he knows when to get me. He knows when to get me just like we knew when we had to run home to get one of our parents. I can’t tell you the number of times I had to run home to get my dad because my brother was stuck in a tree.
But we always had a group meeting before the parents were called in. We had to reach a consensus that it was indeed a situation that required parental intervention because mostly we avoided the parents at all costs. Why? Well, we knew the parents were fun killers. We had to make sure we were willing to give up our fun.
So, I let Gus have his fun at the park. If you see me at the park, I’ll be on the sidelines. I’ll be on the sidelines chatting it up with a friend or sipping on a cup of coffee.