Recently, I read parenting articles by two of my YummyMummyClub.ca colleagues—Hailey Eisen wrote about how she is a little nervous to become more of a free-range parent, while Julie Green defended her own helicopter-ish style of parenting, with good reason.
My question is this: why do we think we need these ridiculous parenting style labels at all?
Who decided on these craptacular label names, anyway? "Free-range"? Seriously? Are our children a clutch of chickens, clucking around pecking the ground? That's certainly what comes to my mind when I hear that term. "Helicopter parents" is no better. I don't like my good intentions as a parent being compared to a giant, noisy flying machine that is propelled by dangerous rotating blades causing forceful gusts of wind in their wake. Neither of these labels are flattering, but what's worse is that inevitably what they accomplish is to leave parents feeling inadequate and insecure. As parents, don't we already worry constantly that we're screwing it all up? Do we need labels to help us with that? Do we need parents that belong to the other label comparing us to them with smug superiority? It all just feels a bit clique-ish and exclusionary to me.
It also seems odd to me that labelling has become so frowned upon in today's anti-bullying world, yet somehow our parenting styles are still actively subjected to these useless labels and we as parents are complacently buying into them. Parenting is busy enough without trying to figure out which label we belong to, which label we should belong to, while also trying to defend our own unique parenting style, because none of us really belong fully to one style or the other, anyway.
When did it become so uncool to just simply be parents? Why aren't we satisfied with "just" doing what we think is best for our children, whether it's swooping in to help them when WE think they need it or letting them run wild when it's appropriate and good for them to do so? We know our kids better than anyone—sometimes they need some free-range backing off, and other times they need a helicopter rescue. As Julie pointed out in her post, what about the families that have a child with an invisible special need—autism, diabetes, ADHD, epilepsy, even children who have been adopted—do we need to visibly see their emotional or developmental special need to condone one form of parenting as an acceptable exception for that certain child, but not others who have no special needs?
I personally don't give a shit if I'm a helicopter or a free-ranger. I'm both and I'm neither and I'm perfectly happy with that. I parent in a way that I feel is best for my child, within the confines of what I feel are risks I can tolerate as a mother and my child can tolerate, given her history, maturity and intelligence. I don't worry about screwing it up—I've already accepted that I will, in one way or another, but I don't need some silly label defining for me or the world exactly how I'm screwing it up. I don't believe in perfect parents and those who do are setting themselves up for disappointment.
As far as my parenting goes, I have no problem taking my child to the park and parking my butt on the bench to let her free-range to her heart's content, but some free-rangers would say that I should let her go to the park alone or with a friend. So where do we draw the line? The labels themselves are entirely subjective to the person assigning them. What is free-range for me might be helicopter to another. I would also waste exactly zero seconds jumping off my park bench and helping my daughter if she was getting pushed around by another kid on the playscape, yet some free-range parents would hang back and let their child try to work it out for themselves. Try Google-ing definitions for both of these styles of parenting and you'll find a buffet of explanations to choose from—not all of them even the same in meaning. See where the problems lie here?
The bottom line is that we need to get past this ridiculous labelling game we're currently courting and just get on with the actual parenting part. We don't need to subscribe to a quasi-defined label, we just need to follow our hearts, minds, and our children's best interests.
Hi! Thanks for reading my post. If you'd like to read some more of my thoughts on parenting, try this post about a conversation we should all have with our sons, or this post on what I think about "parenting problems."
For more on parenting styles and labels, check out "Are You A Free Range...Chicken?"