Battling Anxiety Through Free Range Parenting

A further response to Samantha, who does not like the term free-range parenting, as she says, “Free range just means kids are allowed to be kids.”

This resonates. I have several distinct memories as a kindergartener. Two of them are: 1) I wept uncontrollably when Mommy left me with the stranger in the building with the cold floors and the big windows to let you see outside. 2) Later in the year, I struggled with the math, undecided whether I should count kindergarten as one year toward the completion of 12th Grade. I could not cope with the idea that THIRTEEN YEARS OF THIS PRISON HELL?!?

Institutionalized school is a place, first and foremost, to develop the several kinds of social anxiety. My favorite was performance anxiety, namely that I had to make good grades or I could not possibly succeed in life. On the face of it, this is an entirely contentious statement, but I don’t care: I hated school from day one; during the school year I hated every day of my life, knowing that if I misbehaved, Teacher was going to pin a note to my shirt, sending me home to tell Mommy that she needed yet another conference in order to strategize behavior modification. I wasn’t doing a damn thing wrong: I just wouldn’t sit still. Nevertheless, the first thing I learned in school, about school, at age five, which has never been unlearned, is that the institution is always watching me. From those moments forward, life has been about coping with this intrusion into my personal emotional space.

Roger Waters captured this intrusion perfectly in his little ditty, having the children sing so sweetly, “We don’t need no education.” That record has been played about a billion times over the past thirty years, and not just because it has a good rhythm and a beat you can dance to. The song embodies musically a visceral response to all kinds of anxiety, even the same anxiety you feel when the IRS or CRA demands to know your every wage, tip, and other compensation.

Another_Brick_in_the_Wall

This anxiety is the primary reason my wife and I practice a free-range parenting, as it were. It’s not that there is no anxiety out there, no magical escape from anxiety, no anxiety-free monastery (as one of my friends has remarked about certain quarters of the home schooling world: “the denim jumper brigade”), but that learning the ciphers necessary for groping through this mortal coil can be done in a lower-anxiety environment.

The home, in other words, can be relatively free from institutional intrusion into the emotional world of a child.

Readers who have successfully emerged from the gauntlet of institutional education can attest that success in “real life” (whatever that is) didn’t require so much behavior modification, such competition to achieve, such confrontation with the institution. Again, I’m advocating a via media here: behavior modification is necessary, competing to achieve must be instilled, the confrontation with the institution is inevitable. Too much of these things threatens to create a person who struggles to experience pleasure in the challenges of everyday, ordinary experiences, whether they are climbing their way to the top, or are satisfied in a low-ceiling career, or find their way to the end somewhere in the middle.

Therefore, I submit to Samantha another term: low-anxiety parenting. Failure is always an option, and failure is probably good for you. Every once in a while.


This post is the second post following up “Let’s Go Do Something Dangerous,” a companion to “The Structure of Free-Range Parenting.”

The Structure of Free Range Parenting

A commenter on my defense of free-range parenting mentioned that she doesn’t like the term “free-range.” I take it as an implication that the burden is on those who dislike unstructured, unsupervised free-time for children. Unfortunately, the social context has changed so that the burden is on those of us who are risking our children being kidnapped by the zealots of the state, complete with badges and everything.

It should come as no surprise to you, dear reader, that we also practice something called “home schooling,” where my wife and I inculcate ciphering skills unto our children at home, without any help or compulsion from the state whatsoever, meaning, that in a state of total anarchy, without government schools, private schools, parochial schools, or even community one-room schoolhouses, our kids would still be able to cipher.

New York state, being interested as it is in the ability of her citizens to cipher, tests us, and our children have not been found lacking. The implications of this are rather clear, with respect to so-called free-range parenting: there is a some sort of structure in our household.

In fact, on reflecting upon our home life, I am convinced that we are very structured; it’s just that I wouldn’t know how to describe it: our daily life must resemble, to an outsider, one of those outlandish perpetual motion machines of the Medieval Era. And then the door opens, two boys stumble out, the door slams behind them, and they do not return inside for a very long time.

Nathanael D. Snow makes the point elsewhere that children have been referred to in ancient times as arrows in a quiver. He further remarks that arrows, however, are not made for the quiver; they are made for the bow, to be nocked and fired into the world. Children, in other words, have potency. They are, now, in the neighborhood, within a literal arrow’s shot, carrying our life into other people’s lives, and there our philosophies and beliefs are being tested. Later, they will be fired into the world at large, to lodge into it, hopefully wounding it with justice, morality, virtue, and every other sort of good (to stretch the metaphor). I mean, we hope we’re moral and virtuous in our household, and we measure it against what we consider moral institutions, and we further hope that what we are trying to teach sticks to our arrows, like a healing elixir to act as an antidote against all the poison out there.

Who knows? We’re only one family. And who knows if we are actually moral and virtuous? Not knowing, nevertheless, we’re willing to be tested.


This post is the first of two as follow-ups to “Let’s Go Do Something Dangerous,” a companion to “Battling Anxiety Through Free-Range Parenting.