“Free-Range” Meets Real World Parenting – by Cara Potapshyn Meyers
I consider myself a more “free-range” parent. My parenting style probably originates from my hyper-controlled, over-protected, suffocating childhood. I despised being parented in that kind of world and vowed that I would never raise my own child in that manner. Thus, my “free-range” tendencies. Well, my personal parenting choices overstepped the bounds of being a responsible parent this past weekend. Let me explain.
To start off, I was dreading this past weekend for weeks. Self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe? It began with a mandatory religious obligation, on Friday night, that my son and I had to attend. I know how much my son hates going so I spoke to the the coordinator of the event, explained that my Lyme’s condition wouldn’t allow me to sit through three hours of this event, and could my son and I “bow out” the last hour, which would be a dinner. I was given the okay. My son was still the worst behaved child out of his entire grade at this event. I unfortunately expected that. Thankfully, we did leave early, as we intended.
I must admit, I was blindsided the next day. The. Whole. Day. Was. Near. Perfect. Already drained from the night before along with the setting in of Lyme’s exhaustion, I predicted slogging through the day. We were to go to an event at a Science Museum with a close friend of mine and her son. Although the event was a disappointment, the kids otherwise had a terrific time at the museum. My friend and I also had a lovely time catching up with one another. Most important, my son was displaying super behavior! He was polite, considerate, asked permission to do things, was happy, played nicely! What a relief from not only the night before, but from what I was anticipating! It was like fuel for my already drained body. I was so delighted that I invited my close friend’s son to come over for a playdate the next day. We made plans and were all in good spirits.
From the moment I woke up the next day, I could tell it was going to be the antithesis of the day before. Still, I said to myself, it would be just a day at home. How bad could it be? Famous last words.
My house was awake at 6 am, not to my desire. I was hurting and exhausted from the day before, but I figured I could rest a little before the playdate, which would be in the afternoon. No such luck. Between my dog’s request’s to go out (which is a production, since he tore a ligament in his leg a couple weeks ago and needs extra care and time for him to “do his business”), to my son’s non-stop requests for certain things, to just the daily care and maintenance of my home…by noon I could have crawled back in bed and slept the day away. Guilt and my conscience got the better of me and propelled me to keep going. How could I disappoint two kids who were so happy to be together the day before? It was chilly outside anyway, so they would have to stay indoors. I would stay downstairs and try to keep my dog resting, as per Vet’s orders. The day would be managable.
Chaos ensued before the playdate even began.
My son was skateboarding and scootering up and down our driveway and in front of our house by 10am. The dog wanted to watch him, either outside or from the door, standing. I was trying to make our house as tidy as possible. My son was in and out of the house. Dog was constantly looking for him, limping away. As the playdate time came close, I told my son that his friend would be arriving soon, and to play outside, closer to our house. All of a sudden, into my house walk my friend’s husband and my son’s friend…but not my son. I mentioned that my son was playing outside so as I escorted the father to his car, I went out to look for my son. He came running down the street from around the corner. Once his friend’s father drove away, I told my son that the end of the street, at the corner, was the limit. I asked why he came running from around the corner. He explained that his Nerf darts went that way and he had to retrieve them. I told him that Nerfs and their darts were to stay on our property ONLY. The kids went inside to play…along with the poor, limping dog. I was becoming fit to be tied.
Less than an hour later, the boys wanted to play in the backyard. We have sunny property, so I went out to check the temperature and the sun had heated our property to a decent temp. My only request was that the boys wear their jackets outside. The next thing I knew, they both came in pleading to wash my car. I told them I had it washed a week ago, but they insisted. Even with a premonition of “DON’T EVEN GO THERE!” blaring in my head, my stupid mouth said, “okay,” and I pulled my car out of the garage. I already knew the outcome: Two soaking wet boys in chilly weather, me racing through my son’s closet and drawers looking for warm clothes that would fit my son’s friend, and soap, bucket, hose, etc, that I would have to put away, along with a reprimand from my close friend, allowing her son to get soaking wet in less than optimum weather. I was losing my mind. Was it fatigue? Exhaustion? Lyme’s disease in my head? I couldn’t believe that I was allowing myself to even be party to this insane project!
Once everyone was clean and dry, I gave the kids a snack. They wanted to go outside again. My son wanted to show his friend a trick he could do on his scooter. I told my son only once up and down the street and then his friend got to pick what they were to do. Minutes later, my son’s friend came running into the house. My son fell off his scooter and had surface scrapes all down the right side of his body. My son limped into the house, crying hysterically (we have a kid here with sensory processing disorder – there was drama firing out of my son in all directions). The scrapes were barely bleeding, my son’s friend couldn’t understand why my son was screaming for me not to wash the dirt from around the scrapes because it “hurt” too much. I bandaged my son, gave him children’s Advil for pain and put him in bed. I asked my son’s friend if he wanted me to call his parents to come pick him up, but he wanted to stay to keep my son company. I made them more snacks.
Not a half hour later, my son and his friend come bouncing down the stairs wanting me to take them to our local park, a block away. I looked at my son, who had been hysterically crying a half hour prior, in complete disbelief and said, “You just injured yourself. I think you should go upstairs and find something else to do!” He said he just wanted to go and play “Wallball” (handball to us older folk). I did lose my mind at that moment because I was barely over the trauma of his dramatic injuries and the exhaustion of the car washing event, that I said, “I’m in the middle of doing something. I can’t take you. Just go.” Major responsibility faux pas. I was exasperated with my son. I absolutely couldn’t take one more second of him. But I overlooked his friend.
My son has recently gone to the park a few times with another friend, whose Mom doesn’t mind them going to the park together. There are park “overseers” with First Aid supplies available. The neighborhood people who go there are very religious so whole families go together on the weekends. Parents are in abundance. I have been taking my son there for eight years now and have never witnessed any bullying behavior nor noticed “vagrant” individuals in nor around the park. With all of that said, I still made the worst mistake: I didn’t check with my friend to see if she felt comfortable allowing her son to go with my son to the park without me chaperoning them.
The next morning my friend contacted me to tell me that her son said he went with my son alone to the park. She asked if I allowed my son to do that. I told her that recently, yes, I had allowed my son to go with his other friend. I could tell she was displeased with my judgement call. I swore that I would never allow her son to go with my son to the park again, without my accompaniment. I also apologized and responded that I would feel exactly the same way if the situation were reversed. I think, and hope, she realizes that I will keep my word.
As my son is becoming older, the question of when and how much autonomy should be given is becoming harder and harder. Then factor in friends. Some parents may be more lenient while others less. Then the playdate issue becomes more complicated, especially when more than one friend comes to play. My son would have to pick and choose one friend. But if two are already working on a project together at my house with my son, I might have to shorten the playdate or have disappointed kids. Or, as has typically been the case, sacrificing my own needs to make some children very happy. I haven’t figured out a satisfying solution. I anticipate that this situation will only become more difficult and complicated with time.
And here I thought getting my son to accept more responsibility around the house would be the greatest issue to deal with.
Addendum: Hours before this posting this blog, my son broke his nose while at gym at school and I found out that I have an ear infection. My heart goes out to my brave son. And I am sure my irrational behavior this past weekend was contributed by a brewing ear infection. Sometimes there may be underlying reasons we are unaware of that trigger temporary, irrational behavior. I believe this to be one of those incidences. As for my son, I won’t have to worry about park issues or scooter injuries for at least six weeks as my son has strict instructions from the doctor for “subdued play.” Upon also finding out today that my Lyme’s condition is even worse than was thought, that was music to my ears.
Tags: "free-range" parenting, autonomy, broken nose, car washing, Cara Potapshyn Meyers, close friend, Ear Infection, Lyme's Disease, park, playdate, responsible parenting, Science Museum, scootering, Sensory Processing Disorder, skateboarding, son, Wallball