Boundaries have become the issue lately — geographic boundaries.

Some families in our neighborhood are of the free-range philosophy.  They have chosen to let their children roam unattended.  AD and I have decided that is not a good choice for Sean right now.  Some of the reasons behind our decision have to do with Sean and where he is in the process of proving himself as responsible, reliable and of good judgment.

Other reasons have to do with us; our perceived risks and rewards that come with allowing him to roam beyond the reach of my eyeballs.  And really, what more important thing do I have to do than to keep track of my kid?  I can’t think of anything.

Sidebar:  For those of you who will accuse me of hovering, I would like to point out that there is a huge difference between hovering and keeping track of your kid. I do not hover.  I do however spy.  I watch him make mistakes from a distance and only intervene if it means I might have to make a trip to the ER.

Nonetheless, when he sees a boy a full year younger riding his bike down the street, he bristles with injustice.  “Why does he get to ride his bike all over and I don’t?  He’s younger than me!  Everyone gets to ride their bikes by themselves except me! That’s not fair!”

And to this I say, “That is the choice his family has made for him.  Life is not fair.  We never make choices based on what other people are doing. Never.”

He sighs.  He huffs. But he accepts it because he knows he would have a better chance of moving the Great Wall of China than to budge me an inch on this issue.

The fact of the matter is, not everyone is doing it.  Some families let their kids roam unattended and out of sight, but many other families like ours, do not — and those are the boys that Sean hangs out with, boys from families who share our parenting philosophy and that makes it a little bit  easier when we can counter with, “Bryan doesn’t.  Nathan doesn’t.  Aaron doesn’t. Reagan doesn’t.  Clayton doesn’t….”

I know that at some point I will have to let him go off on his bike and out of my sight, but I think he has some proving to do.  I want to see him demonstrate good judgment over time.  I want to feel like if he found himself in a tight spot that he would have the physical and mental resources to get out of it.

It’s a different word than when I grew up in the 1960s.  My mother seldom knew where I was. I would roam on foot or bike for four or five miles away from the house by myself and be gone for hours.  One time I got so far way from home that a policeman brought me home in a police car. I was about nine.

Some might say that those experiences were good, that I learned how to manage in the world. That may be true, but I think more so than that, that God placed hedge around me to protect me from my own stupidity, one that covered me many times well into adulthood. The hedge may have protected me from stupidity, but unfortunately not from the lingering embarrassment from stupidity.

Does Sean have a hedge around him too?  Yes. For now, it’s me.

22 thoughts on “Boundaries

  1. I love that you are back writing again! I feel the same way about my 10 and 8 year old children. My oldest complains about not having the freedom that he sees other younger children in the neighborhood do. I have had someone as young as five ride their bike up to our house to play. No phone call from the parent or anything-I think in my head do these parents even know where their kids are or even know me for that matter? I just explain to my children that these are our rules. I would rather for them to be safe than something happen that they and I would regret for the rest of our lives. It is an unknown world out there and their safety is my number one priority.

    I surely had a guardian angel protecting me as I grew up b/c I took LONG bike rides away from my house. I even had someone pull up in a truck next to me while on my bike asking if I wanted a ride home. After being scared crazy that day, I took the back road home so he couldn’t find me and never went for long bike rides again. The more I think about that now as an adult the more it scares me. It can all change in a flash, and I am just not willing to take chances with their safety.

    * * *
    I know what you are saying. In my mind, I’m willing to accept risks where if something not-good happens, it can be fixed; like if he falls out of a tree and breaks his arm, that I can fix. But, if someone takes him and something too awful to think about happens, I can’t undo or fix that. I know I can’t control everything, but I do want to control what I can.


  2. We are totally for boundaries here with our 8 year old, as we were for our now 20, 18 and 16 year olds.

    I know my son has armadillo instincts; he tends to not consider the fact that their might be automobiles on the streets separating our house from his friend’s houses, and has not yet been observed to employ the standard “look both ways” thing we’ve been trying to drill into him for many years. That, and I watch the news enough to know that kids get snatched right out in front of their schools and houses these days.

    Our goal is to provide bumpers on the road he takes, not steer him down the road we want.


  3. I share your philosophy on this. Antique Mommy, I am only still “raising” one daughter who is now six. My oldest two daughters are adults–22 and 20. I have a three-year-old grandson. I keep {“Nanny”} my grandson and two other little boys. I’ve done this Nanny thing for years.

    We live on a one street subdivision with a cul-de-sac. Since we’ve lived here which is nearly seven years now, there have been children–very small children–roaming the street all the way to the end where we meet a busy highway. We are the second house on the left, near the highway. One of the most astonishing things we’ve seen is a toddler {age not confirmed but probably between one and a half and two} riding a four wheeler his mom bought from us at a garage sale that same day–wearing only a diaper and sucking a pacifier. Just close your eyes and try to picture that. A diaper and a pacifier. Apparently the parents are of the mind he is still of the age to have both. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I realize kids sometimes wear diapers at three and sometimes four. But hear me! This child was barely two. MAYBE two.

    Our world is crazy. I don’t want my children growing up paranoid. However I DO want them to be wise. And although this child was born at a time when I was ahem, a bit older, her sisters had the same rules. They didn’t just wander. They didn’t stay over at people’s homes if I we did not know them. And NO meeting them at drop off doesn’t count.

    I commend you for sticking to your rules in a time when most kids seemingly roam freely.


  4. I do let my 9-yo daughter roam around our neighborhood with her friends, but not alone. We live in a neighborhood with 75 duplexes arranged in a horseshoe, and nearly every one of them has kids of some age. While most of the parents don’t really watch what’s going on, there are SO MANY kids that it hasn’t really been a problem. I don’t let my 6-yo son out of my sight, though.


  5. Oh, boundaries here, for sure. And spying, too! My boy is 12 and only recently has been allowed to be outside (in our apartment complex) without me. He is building my trust in him right now, then perhaps, larger boundaries. Most of his friends are allowed to roam freely around town but if my boy points this out (which he rarely does- I think he secretly likes his boundaries at times), I just shrug. Now, I’m stealing your “We never make choices based on what others are doing. Never.” (The extra Never is the best part.)
    I, too, am a child of the 60s and my mom rarely knew where exactly I was. I made some poor choices that she never caught and I think that led me to making more poor choices as I got older. Nothing life threatening but it helped me decide to have more boundaries for my own child.


  6. I do keep tabs on my boys, much more than others. I try to say to each his or her own, but now that my boys are growing up into men, I’ve had to figure out what I will continue to do and what I need to stop doing. I agree that you need to do what works for your family.


  7. The thing is, even if we don’t want to, we DO make choices based on what other families are doing. We are much more culturally conditioned than we think. I can say this with confidence, because I have spent 15 years bringing up kids, about 9 in the UK and about 6 in the US. There are things that are totally normal in one country, which cause a sharp unbelieving intake of breath in the other.

    But I’m just being pedantic. I take your point. I often find myself saying “Families do things differently. Parents do things differently. We have decided x on this issue. When you’re a parent, you’ll have to decide for your own children, and they’ll say ‘It’s not fair’, and you’ll see then that it’s not always easy”.

    I think we all lament the loss of the freedoms that we had as children. But that doesn’t make it right to bring up our kids in the same way. Safety has to be a priority, right?


  8. We live on a mountain on a cul de sac. Any other place I would be the stalker Mom for sure! But I can say my 8 and 12 yr olds play in the yard within earshot. I can say my only fear would be the black bears that travel through. However, with my loud screechy bunch any bear will certainly run the other way! Please know I waited SO long for my babies that there is nothing that would consume my attention other than their safety and well being 🙂

    * * *
    I have no doubt that you are a super awesome mom who adores her children. A mountain cul de sac sounds heavenly!


  9. You’re doing a great job and it doesn’t really matter what others are doing. You pointed that our very eloquently yourself. I parented as you parent. My girls are now 22 and 20. The oldest just graduated and is fine being back at home while working full time and getting her Masters. The youngest is away at school. Whatever I instilled in them when they were young children has worked so far. They didn’t always like my rules but then I wouldn’t be a good parent if they did!


  10. I kept an eye. I did a lot of “In this family, we care and we ….” Mine is grown and Eagle Scout (3 palm they didn’t have 5 then)and proud of it! It was worth it. We still had everyone else is in high school! We simply explained Why we didn’t. He saw what happened to the others. Most made it but a few didn’t. In this day and age trouble is everywhere and you want to guide them. You can’t be there all the time but you shouldn’t have to.


  11. Children need boundaries. If nothing else, it shows them that you care about them, and want them to be safe. Even though they may complain, deep inside there is the assurance that they are loved. He may be grown with children of his own, though, before he admits it!


  12. We always need to know where our kids are. As far as bikes go, we live next to a large park reserve with miles of trails. I let them go there on their bikes, but never alone and never without a phone. The oldest that go are 13, 15, and 17 years old. The youngest who is 10 gets to go, but notice it is not with another 10 year old. It is with older siblings. Our neighborhood has trails too and it is a small development, so my 10 year old could ride there with another 10 year old friend, but still, never alone. 🙂


  13. My 9-year-old can visit his friends a couple of streets over, if they are expecting him. He gets to roam a little more with his 12-year-old sister, but not alone. My biggest challenge with the boundaries is with my daughter. EVERYONE is allowed to watch more mature movies, wear heavy eyeliner, go to different places unattended, etc. etc. Except for her, of course. I find it challenging to give her enough rope so that she is able to grow as she should, but not give her so much it seems like we are just following the crowd. I think I would agree to potty-train a passel of three-year-olds, rather than take on another 12-year-old.


  14. Absolutely. Boundaries. More than some other kids. And in some cases, fewer. As a senior in high school psychology class, my son was asked to “label” my parenting style. He chose “strict but fair.” I couldn’t have been more pleased.


  15. I have the great fortune of having been a young, dumb mom to three older adopted boys and now an antique mom to three more special creatures. My parenting is so different now than then. Then we lived in town and the boys rode their bikes everywhere. Now we live in the country and there is no way I am letting my kids just take off. The world is not a safe place. Not even in rural Indiana where “nothing happens”. Because it does happen.


  16. We were unattended roamers as kids, too, but “that was then, this is now.”
    I don’t think my 8-year-old DD has shown herself mature enough to do these kinds of things on her own. The roads here are narrow, windy, with fast cars. The woods are all privately owned and full of hunters. The houses are kinda far apart. And there are no other girls her age to hang out with in the immediate neighborhood.

    Some might also be me, as she is an only child I had in my 40s, on purpose, and she is the center of our life. Whereas, my mom had the 4 of us before she was 25 and I think viewed children as a necessary, unavoidable evil that came with marriage. Probably didn’t mind if one or two went missing, as she had spares. 😉


  17. …We never make choices based on what other people are doing. Never.

    Can I just say that is one of the most brilliant parenting mantras I have ever heard? What a great thing to get drilled into little heads while they’re young.

    You go, AM! 😉


  18. I have 2 children and am embarrassed to say that my policies for them are different. I have a tighter rein on my younger. The reasons are both due to gender and personality.

    My younger is a girl. A very shy girl who seems to me much more naive than my son ever was. She is 12 now and seldom out of my sight unless someone else is watching her. But she has no desire for it to be otherwise.

    My son was riding his bike all over creation by this age. He is now almost 18 and still happiest when he is roaming free. He still doesn’t drive, but rides his skateboard and bicycle all over the neighborhood.

    So, to make a short story long, you are the best judge of what Sean is ready to do. Stick to your guns. You’ll know when he is ready. That’s your job.


  19. In that situation, my girls were allowed to ride their bikes by themselves within our neighborhood (as were 95% of the other children).

    Our neighborhood makes a large figure eight with only one way in and out and in a small town in Tennessee. That didn’t guarantee that nothing bad wouldn’t happen, but we just watched out for each other’s kids…

    My youngest just turned sixteen and I watched her drive herself to school this week. That’s hard.

    * * *
    Your little neighborhood sounds wonderful — a one-way-in-one-way-out configuration is much less attractive to those with unsavory intentions.


  20. I think you’re right on. Simply because I firmly believe that every parent has to make the decisions, set the boundaries, raise their children in accordance with their own beliefs, self-knowledge (and knowledge of the child) and wisdom.

    Of course there will be those that go to the extreme (too much freedom or not enough), but your experience sounds balanced.

    And really, that’s what just about every aspect of life is about – balance. It’s my word and what I personally strive for as a parent. Balance.

    (Hopefully that comes from wisdom on my part and not my irrational fear of teeter-totters.)


  21. I agree with you. I kept a close eye on my kids and they had boundaries–many more than I had as a child. But it is a different world now. My kids also had other boundaries–we were one of the few families who did not have cable tv. When my son was about 11-12 yrs old he frequently wanted to see R rated movies, and would say to me “all the other kids saw the movie.” I would respond with “Give me a list of the other kids and I will call their moms and find out what they thought of the movie–and if all those moms think it is really okay then I will reconsider.” He is 23 now and I still have never seen that list.


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