"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: Free Range Kids

I mentioned a while back that I was going to read Free Range Kids, and I actually finished it very quickly not too long after (I finished it A LOT faster than Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. WASTE. OF. TIME.), and I have been meaning to review it, but I just haven’t gotten around to it.


However, I feel like I need to make a disclaimer before I begin my review. This book made me think about many things, how I want Isla to be when she grows up, how I want to think of and depend on the society we live in, how I was raised… I have not had a book generate this much thought in a long time. I could probably do a post on each and every chapter!

The disclaimer is that I think that non Christian/non Biblically based books can have some great advice, however, I would never take their advice OVER the advice of a Christian parenting book. I just wouldn’t, I would take what nuggets I could, but I would rely on the a biblically based book where the two were in conflict.

This book is secular, and I am pretty sure that the writer is not a believer, but it is perfectly in line with the word of God. God’s most frequent command to me is to “Fear Not”, and I think that I have done a pretty good job of following that command so far in raising Isla. I am not saying that I don’t have my moments as a first time mom, but when they come up, I have tried to be very disciplined at remembering that she has belonged to God since before the earth was formed, and she has and only will be mine for a little while. This book has been instrumental in helping me remember all of the things I should NOT be fearful of because they are for the most part, completely irrational fears that are unlikely to happen.

I think we have all known couples that had kids and “got weird”. I remember my parents telling me about a family that they knew called the Beavers who just “got weird” after their kids were born. My parents could never explain exactly why… they just “got weird”. Now that Nick and I know a fair amount of couples who have started having kids, we have definitely come to understand EXACTLY what my parents were talking about. Nick and I would hear these couples talk and look at one another and later on say “they have gotten so weird!” I thought and I thought and I thought about this “weirdness” and I realize what it was… these couples had had children and were now living their lives on a constant state of fear over everything that could possibly go wrong with their kids and trying to helicopter parent all of life’s little uncertainties away. Its not pretty or endearing, and seeing what that kind of fear looks like has been very motivating!

It is also very, very important to me that Isla be fiercely independent when she grows up. Maybe its because I love being an American, and being independent is a very American quality (maybe also Canadian/Australian – other frontier countries). I have many friends who are from other countries/cultures and most of them still live at home and/or are very dependent on their parents; I’ve also seen this in Americans too, especially in the generation that started college after 9/11. I don’t think its a bad quality to depend on people, its just that I have noticed that that kind of dependence tends to correlate with a lot of insecurity and indecision on the part of the child and/or in some cases an very unhealthy codependent relationship. I want Isla to be independent, but know that we are always there to help her if she needs us BUT not require us in order to be able to function in her daily life.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars!

The Review:

Lenore Skenazy wrote this book to promote a parenting style that is conducive to raising independent, confident kids. Independent, confident children are also the kind of kids least likely to be targeted by pedophiles, kidnappers, and predators. Before you can actually have an independent, confident kids, you have to give them some room to make mistakes and try things on their own without constantly hovering over them.

Her book is not about promoting recklessness, but you can still be a conscientious parent and let your kids ride their bikes to school or attend a sleepover or play at a nearby park without you there. Each chapter in the book is devoted to debunking urban legends that parents live by. One example – there are razors and/or drugs in hidden in you kid’s Halloween candy, which has never been found to happen ONCE. At the end of the chapter she includes three “Free Range Challenges” to allow your kids to do, each one getting a little more daring as you grow as a Free Range Parent. One example – let your child bake an independence cake. The challenges range from let your child bake a cake while you watch to let your child walk to the store by themselves, buy the ingredients, come home and bake the cake all by themselves. Obviously not every parent is ready for the latter!

Free Range Kids is also very funny, intentionally because Skenazy is very witty, but also in the fact that as you read and gather actual data related to these urban legends, you realize just how ridiculous we have become as a society. One example – knee pads and helmets are now available for babies learning to crawl and walk. Babies have been falling down since time began, but only in our day and age where incessantly hovering over your child is considered good parenting can you buy these. I told my mom about the baby knee pads and she just laughed! She said “You should have seen the hardwoods that we learned to walk on! They were not smooth and we used to fall and get the worst splinters, but we were fine.” There has never been a baby hospitalized or received a serious injury while learning to walk!

Of course Skenazy also gets to more serious topics, such as abductions. A child is 40 times more likely to die in a car accident (which is why of course you should put your kid in a car seat, again this is not about recklessness) than they are to be abducted by a stranger. The head of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is interviewed for this book, and it turns out that what the NCMEC agrees with Skenazy too! A confident child is a safe child, and a child who has never been allowed try anything, make mistakes or do anything on their own will not be a confident child.

Don’t you remember the rush you used to get when actually accomplished something on your own? I still get that rush! There is nothing like it. My parents, in many ways, were Free Rangers. I was allowed to stay home alone in the third grade, and by my early teens I was flying all over South America all by myself! I have so many stories I could tell. I survived and I am better for it. Of course my mom now second guesses herself, and says “I can’t believe I let you do that!” If I hadn’t been ready for it, then my parents would not have let me do it, but I was ready, and so they trusted the child that they had raised. Nick used to ride his bike to school, and I hope that Isla is able to as well one day!

So I completely recommend this book, and I am going to reread it soon!

Next I am going to read these two books:

Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education. This was sent to me by the same friend who sent me Free Range Kids, and I am very excited to read it.

educationThe Birth Order Book: Why You Are The Way You Are. I think that this one will give me a lot of really good tips on parenting Isla, our first born. I think it is going to be very interesting how Nick and I both being the last born of our siblings affects our parenting dynamic. Its so weird to me that two babies (Nick and I) have an “oldest”. I have no idea how to parent a first born child! I can’t wait to really dig into this one.

birth order


  1. I haven't read any of these books, but I agree with what vie read on your blog. My mom told me about two kids one of the last years she was teaching. One very charming, accomplished and well liked, the other very sullen and sad and unlikeable. At the parent teacher conference the parent of the charming kid said, as soon as she seems capable of doing something for herself we teach her to do it herself. The other parent said, "I don't know what is wrong. We get him everything he wants and we do everything for him.". That has really stuck with me. To be strong independent successful people kids need to do things on their own. Have accomplishments, and even failures they can recover from.

    I've done a Kevin Leman parenting study with my Sunday school class. I really enjoyed it.

  2. I'm totally with you. I can honestly say I have not once worried about Jake in his short little life. I do what I can and God has the rest :).

  3. Melissa, thanks for sharing because that is exactly what I was trying to get across. Its ok to let kids have some independence when they are ready! That story from your mom is awesome.

    Cindy, you are a great mom! :)


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