Free-Range Parenting, It’s a Lifestyle


When it comes to parenting, I’m pretty middle of the road in terms of my style and approach. But one pretty big aspect of all this is employing free-range parenting. For anyone who doesn’t know what this means, here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

“The concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently and with limited parental supervision, in accordance of their age of development and with a reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks.

There’s even a whole website and maybe what I’d even call a “movement, dedicated to free range parenting. Check it out.

My personal belief on free-range parenting is that for the kids, it’s personally empowering, creates confidence, trust and helps to develop problem-solving skills and critical thinking. Sounds like a well rounded, well adapted, great kid right? I think so. And if I’m being brutally honest here, a lot of those characteristics are missing in our young people these days who have been increasing overprotected in the last two decades.

Free-Range in Flagstaff

That said, I think our area of the world, Flagstaff or Northern Arizona more broadly, is unique in that there’s more of us doing this free-range parenting thing than most places. This is just another great part of living here and the people who want to live here (and do) create this culture that free-range parenting embraces.

Can my kids have the same childhood as I did? Yes, they can.

Also, I didn’t even know what I was doing even had a name. As far as I know, my kids are getting a childhood like I did back in the 80s in rural NJ and my husband, right here in Flagstaff. Only until recently I came to learn of “free-range parenting” and I had an ah-ha moment. I was like hey, that’s how we roll.

Between friends, family and work colleagues who live all over the country as well as having lived in three distinct regions of the US, I’ve anecdotally learned a lot about how other parents live, what their priorities and lifestyles are. And I ask questions. Flagstaff is particularly unique, even from Phoenix, our closest and biggest metropolitan city. We all live here for a reason after all.

My non-scientific anecdotal findings though? There’s a lot of parents not employing this lifestyle, and it IS a lifestyle in my opinion. It has a lot to do with regional cultural norms, where you live, and what I see as a huge increase in anxiety among adults that is projected onto their kids.

So here’s a glance into what free-range parenting looks like for us…

Zane, almost 10 years old has been out riding bikes with friends and walking to school unsupervised since he was about 6 years old (1st grade). He’s always run with a pack of boys whose parents allowed the same things. There are afternoons over breaks and weekends where sometimes I don’t see him for half a day. Of course, we have the benefit of some technology for check-ins (Gizmo watches) and all us parents making sure the kids are checking in throughout the day. We give them a pretty wide area to cover and they do go out into the woods on the edges of our neighborhood and in winter they go sledding alone at the school down the street. We also allow him to be home alone occasionally, not more than an hour typically.

Van, turned 5 at the end of December he’s been allowed to walk to friends houses with his brother and his buddies a few times, as we begin to test the waters. Usually not longer than a 5-minute walk. He’s gone to several sleepovers already too. He can drive a mini electric quad and loves it. He plays outside on his own or with a friend, including riding bikes. But not with the quad of course! My friend, and his second mama as I call her, also take him outside in nature all the time as well and lets him really explore so I’m grateful for her and how she incorporates a similar style of parenting the two days a week he is with her.

Both kids – I let them both push the boundaries physically and realize what they are capable of, and not so capable of. Van under more supervision of course. And Zane, not so much anymore. He has legitimate household responsibilities as well. They’re both praised when it’s deserved and disciplined regularly. And they’re held accountable. And with Zane anyway, we exceptionally trust him and rarely intervene in his social matters between friends. And we’re beginning to incorporate these same things into Van’s life.

I love what I’m seeing with both boys as they experience their own personal life journeys. They’re such different people but my husband and I are empowering them to make good decisions, be good humans and trust themselves. We’re raising them the way we were raised, as independent and capable individuals.

Are you a free-range parent? Are you not? If not, what scares you the most? What drives your lifestyle choices?

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Born and raised in NJ, Heather left with fire on her heels to attend ASU in Tempe, AZ in 1995, where she obtained a degree in art history, while minoring in both anthropology and French. While at ASU she met her husband Jake and began their loud, crazy, fun filled life together. She’s a full time corporate marketing consultant, freelance writer, is on the board for and chairs the fundraising and marketing committee for Flagstaff Arts & Leadership ACademy, and most importantly, a very hands on and fun mom to two wild boys Zane, age 9, and Van, age 4. They’ve made Flagstaff their forever home since 2010 and Is actively involved in our mountain community, lives for live music, good food and wine, reading books about real life people, and a lover of the outdoors.