My parents were the ultimate "free-range" parents. I grew up in a suburban town in New Jersey with six siblings. I was smack in the middle of two girls and four boys. Boy, did we have fun growing up. I remember during the summer, my mom would tell us to "go play and come back when you are hungry and then we can all eat dinner." We would play kickball, kick the can, swim at our neighbor's house, visit the lake -- all unsupervised by a parent or other adult. I had two older brothers who loved to come up with scary things to do. After dinner we would take our bikes out in the dark and play tag in the woods down the street. Dangerous? Maybe. Did we ever get hurt? Never a single one of us.
We had a long driveway and in the winter, we would make sledding trails down our backyard through trees right out into the street. We had someone watching for cars at the bottom. We sled down a steep driveway and right into the street. Dangerous, yes. Did we ever get hurt? No. I remember making huge bumps to sled over and at night pouring water over them so they would be all icy in the morning.
We did dangerous things (especially me) because I was a much younger girl. But what did I learn? I learned to be brave to try things that scared me. I learned to be independent and how to problem solve. When I needed help, I asked for it. There was a time when I was bullied by some kids: I was in Kindergarten and I was walking home from the bus stop. One of my brothers came to the rescue and escorted me home. I asked for help and I got it.
I remember that no other kids in the neighborhood were allowed to do what we could do. I always wondered, did their parents not trust their kids to make good decisions? Did they think the world was a dangerous place? Yes, my mom was a very happy person, she did believe that the world was a wonderful place. I remember my dad saying things like, "you're smart, I trust you to make the right decisions." I knew that they really meant it. They let us all figure out where our limits were on our own. Our neighborhood was a place for us to learn. We thought we were having fun, but through play, we were taking a life skills class taught by life itself.
What I learned most if all is that my parents trusted me and I lived up to that trust. I also knew that they had faith that everything was going to be fine at the end of every day. Energetically, that gave me confidence in the world. My siblings and I went on to be over-achievers and to live highly successful lives. We all have the same ability and willingness to take chances and go for it. I can do it! was the underlying motto in our house whether we knew it our not. Free-range parenting taught us to believe in ourselves and have faith that he world is a safe place. And no we never got hurt...