Yesterday evening we left the children (aged 9 & 13*) home alone while we drove a couple of blocks to a quiet bar to indulge in half an hour of desperately needed couple time. We’ve been working up to this for a while, and we’ve left them alone for longer once or twice in order to spare them from unpleasant errands, but this is the first time we’ve left them unattended purely to see to our own pleasure. It felt wonderfully decadent.
I guess you could call us free range parents – our children often come home from school on the city buses, take their snack to eat in the park round the corner, or walk to the shop to buy a bottle of milk – but I find it hard to align myself with a movement whose proponents often take a stance against the attachment parenting style that coloured our earlier years.
I find it perplexing how frequently free range and attachment parenting are placed in opposition to each other when, for me, the attraction to both comes from the same instinct to trust my child in his assessment of his own needs and abilities.
Any philosophy will attract rigid adherents, people brimming over with self satisfaction at being purer than the rest of us and parenting, being both high-stakes and low status, suffers from this more than most pursuits. What we do as parents does matter, and there is value in going about it in a thoughtful, informed manner. There is less value in setting up false dichotomies and straw parents to reassure ourselves about our chosen path.
My parenting has always been about trying to meet my children where they are at – whether that’s an infant who is only settled when pressed against an adult chest, a toddler who prefers to sleep in the big bed with mum and dad, an eight year old who wants to ride his scooter around the block solo, or a thirteen year old bussing to the movies – I try to start with their expressed need and fulfil it as much as I can without intruding too greatly on the needs of other family members. I don’t see any substantive difference in accommodating needs based on closeness or independence or rank one more highly than the other – while the balance shift as we grow, both are lifelong needs. None of this is radical parenting but I’ve been told “You mustn’t let the baby rule the roost”, and “I’d be far too worried to let my kid do that” enough times that I do wonder sometimes.
There are times when I do overrule my kids, when I’m tired and touched out, when my experience tells me something is important in ways that aren’t readily apparent to a child, when I’m just not comfortable with something. It’s important that the relationship between parent and child is a two way street and I am certainly not anyone’s martyr.
So my babies, who clung to me like velcro and were convinced the cot was made from snakes and lava, now actively look forward to having the house to themselves, and hug me when I get home. As they grow from children to young adults there will be new forms of independence to negotiate and new ways of expressing connection to discover, and some of it is going to be quite challenging, but I think we’re going to manage.
*The law in NZ States that children under 14 can’t be home alone without reasonable provision for their care. This law is open to a degree of interpretation and we believe we are fulfilling our responsibilities by making sure the children feel comfortable, always being contactable and able to return promptly, and by keeping our absences relatively brief.