Words of encouragement from a free-ranging earthy mama

As August approaches, I thought I’d talk about parenting. Whether it makes you feel happy or sad, the summer is more than halfway over, and we’re heading back into a more structured way of life as fall approaches. At least some of us are. I have taken several quizzes on Facebook. One told me I was a free-range parent and the other told me that I’m an earthy mama, which confirmed all my fears.

Honestly, I don’t know how I got so relaxed. Before having my own kids I was an organized, orderly person. I mostly thought kids needed all the same rules, the same approach, and they would respond in all the same ways. There was just one “right” way to do things.

Ha! (I am ashamed to say that teaching kindergarten didn’t help me much with this believe until having my own kids. Becoming a parent really did change me.)

Truth be told, this transformation from type-A to type-whatever – “Yes, go ahead and eat that home-canned pickle that fell in the dirt. Yes, I guess I can rinse it off for you.” – can’t be entirely blamed on having my own children. Maybe watching other parents got the ball rolling. But counseling, too. It took me four years after my mom’s death to walk through the doors of Strength of Life Counseling Services, but I am so glad that I did! I have learned that my “order” was very much rooted in anxiety – something that I’ve been actively battling (and winning) ever since.

I’m thankful I’m letting go of some of that control. Besides, dirt really is good for the immune system!

Practicing awareness in my marriage has also helped bring agreement and thoughtfulness into parenting. My parenting style occasionally irks my husband (and thankfully, we’ve started learning how to talk about it!). He is way more careful. I chat away at gatherings as if I don’t have a care in the world while he’s frantic on the fringes, keeping an eye on the kids and frustrated that I don’t notice. I’m aware that being an extroverted free-range parent may not be a recipe for child-safety, so I’m improving my awareness and multi-tasking abilities. But you may not know that I’m watching just by looking at me.

Also, my kids are a lot more respectful, put together, and self-controlled than the mind-picture that may pop up when you think “free range” or “earthy”. We’ve done a lot of discussion and training to get them to this point. They certainly don’t run ferrel. But they do like to be left alone to their own devices. I think they often enjoy the lack of parental interruption; so do I (it gives me time to read, write a blog post, take a bath, etc.)

My children feel safe within the pre-arranged boundaries we’ve established; going outside to hug their favorite tree or to visit uber-friendly cat on our block. Grabbing their own water cup and filling it themselves. Eating the snack I’ve left on the counter for them when they feel hungry. Learning to solve their own problems.

To my horror, now that I’m no longer teaching public school, the way that I homeschool even keeps within the “free-range” model. I did this on purpose, to keep me from confining my daughter within the school system that I myself am un-learning. Unschooling is the epitome of free-range, because it’s foundation is Life as Teacher. I’m simply the Mentor; adding fuel to the curiosity, modeling the language, provider of resources…no boxed curriculum, no teacher manuals, no worries…the community I’ve found on the Wenatchee Valley Homeschoolers Facebook page has really help me in this department!

This free-rangin’, Earthy-Mama-Hen scratches a little deeper…a bit broader…into the variety of subjects and views in the world of child-rearing whenever she hatches a new chick. This time around, my sister-in-law and I talk a lot, which makes it more fun. Her son and my youngest are only two weeks apart. We are by no means the same kinda of person, but we have enough similarities to have a great discussion; that, combined with our ability to be curious, respectful, and enlivened by different perspectives (as opposed to shut down) helps keep the conversation going. So, whether or not you’re like me, we can all benefit from a bit of perspective sharing.

So I thought I’d close this reverie by sharing three resources I’ve learned a lot from lately. I didn’t write any book reports, so have no fear! But do please take note, and consider the following when you have the time to explore. Our kids deserve as much. So does your mind!

1. The Gardener and the Carpenter, by Alison Gopnik (2016) – It’s new (thank you, Wenatchee Public Library)! And very academic. Honestly, I didn’t finish. The main idea I gleaned from the introduction is that “parenting” as an actual word in the human language is new! People used to just “raise” their kids; earthy, like a crop. Nowadays, we lean toward the belief that we need to follow plans for our children to turn out right, like a carpenter building a house. But it may be better to respond as a gardener. Plant the seeds in warm soil and let in the light… Talk to it. Feed it. Water it. Keep it healthy. I personally tend toward gardening projects more than construction anyway. At least either way, we’re focusing on the subject at hand, rather than letting our kids develop without guidance or support.

2. How to Really Love Your Child, by Ross Campbell (revised ed. 2015) – When I first read the title I suspected it was just pop-psychology, possibly a little corny. But I am so glad I dug in anyway! This short book is a treasure trove for the concerned parent! Big idea from this book: Loving parents often stop short of expressing it, so maybe their kids don’t know they are loved! Not knowing could be the root of a variety of issues. He gives very good examples; kids need eye contact, physical touch, to know they’re being heard. He outlines appropriate ways to express love, depending on the age/stage of your child (there’s a book for teens, too). He doesn’t even mention discipline until chapter 11. That fact alone makes the book worth my respect.

3. Janet Lansbury – Elevating Childcare, is one of the parenting blog/facebook pages that I can’t help but stop and read as I scroll down my feed. A mom that I chatted with at Coyote Corner at the museum told me about her. Janet wrote two books; Elevating Childcare and, more recently, No Bad Kids. The foundation of her “method” is to approach the child as an intellectual person (duh!), and to establish a relationship of communication and respect. Her page is helping me go deeper into this respectful parenting style. There are new posts and testimonials on there all the time. It helps me establish good boundaries and communication when I babysit my friend’s kids, too. And the church nursery! I am amazed by how much my younger children are “saying” to me about their preferences, their needs, their emotions, that I just didn’t take the time to notice before!

Free-range parent…Attachment parent…Babywise parent, even…call yourself what you will. Usually there is some wisdom that can be gleaned from every “method”. My husband and I call] ourselves the “Responsive Parents” (as opposed to “Reactive”, because that’s our battle.)

And LOVE. Whatever you employ, I hope it fits with your best self; who you’re growing to be for your kids. Cheers to you on your mama journey!