Mum Gen Fields shares her personal experience as a new Mum and her eventual discovery that controlling everything didn’t make for better parenting…
With my first child, I was one of those mums who didn’t feel the natural instincts of motherhood wash over me. In fact I felt pretty terrified of my new responsibilities. What if I stuffed this kid up developmentally? Or worse, what if I put him in harm’s way? I felt that my lack of parenting knowledge upped my risk of being negligent. So I read and googled and sourced every baby safety item out there.
My husband was right there alongside me for the stressed out new-parent ride. We were wiping down and sterilising everything. We were avoiding germ ridden indoor playgrounds. We were hovering like a SWAT team, ready to pounce. When we reached the crawling, then cruising, then walking, then climbing stage, we set up our GATE CITY at home. There was reassuring eye contact and head nodding – we were doing everything right.
Meanwhile our beautiful blonde, grey eyed boy was living in a bubble. He had everything he needed, except the freedom to explore and discover what might lay outside of that bubble. He had a lovely comfortable safe play space at home, but everything else was off limits. At some point each day, he would look outside and bang on the glass door and plead with me to go out. But I wasn’t going to let him outside until it had warmed up, or cooled down, or stopped raining, or stopped blowing a gale.
Aside from feeling panicked that he would catch a life threatening chest cold, I was also worried that he might fall and crack his head on the pavers, or a deadly spider would bite him, or an evil lurking kidnapper would steal him. Seriously. And then there was always the fear that he would throw a tantrum when it was time to go inside, or he would get very, very, very dirty. Uggh! I did take him out of course, but it was in measured doses. It was controlled. Wipes ready to go!
I’m not sure exactly what it is was that clicked inside me. Over time I started to unwind. And I realised that control doesn’t equal happiness for mum or dad or bub. Over the years, and as more children join you for the ride, you make mistakes. More and more mistakes. And you learn. You learn that children are incredibly resilient and they truly flourish in a free range environment. You learn that dirt is good and talcum powder is better than wipes for removing the wet sticky stuff.
Fast forward to present day and I now have two FREE RANGE toddlers, wandering in and out of our home. They have been free ranging since they could crawl and they are now well seasoned climbers. We only have one gate locking off the adult lounge area. We have locks on appropriate cupboards. We keep the dining chairs away from the table. We make adjustments for their safety but we take no prisoners.
They are safe but they are also free. They love the wind and rain and heat and shade. They love the sun and moon (on those occasional late nights). They love the butterflies and lizards. They love exploring out big backyard – the grass, dirt, rocks, sticks and leaves. They love climbing anything and everything. They love banging and bashing with trucks and bats and old plastic toys. And they love coming inside to look through their books or play in their kitchen, or hide under their cots. They love to discover new things and bring them to me with that beautiful innocent wide-eyed joy that only pure adventure can bring.
For some new mums, finding that balance between free range and gate city can be troubling. It can be hard to unwind. There is always something that ‘could’ happen. You have to weigh up the risks and assess the likelihood. And sometimes the only way to do that is to just try a little bit at a time. See what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can give your child the gift of freedom, without compromising the real safety stuff. Sure, it might mean a little extra clean-up work for you, and an occasional grazed knee, but the payoff is a happy, exhausted little adventurer. And best of all – that fresh air really helps everyone to sleep better. And we all want a good night’s sleep!