Spring Fling

Stacey Conner essays

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I read about “free range parenting” and all of the newly discovered terrible consequences of “helicopter parenting” and I think: 1) I have no idea what any of that means; and 2) if it means I can spend less time with my children than that is an idea I can enthusiastically get behind.

It sounds delightful. We-often hear there is a snide and derogatory use of Americans in italicized quotes-we Americans coddle our children too much. We don’t allow them enough freedom. We hover, helicopter-like. We see danger everywhere and refuse to allow the necessary freedom and the necessary failures to form the kind of resiliency that leads to happiness in life.

I suppose there’s some truth to it. Without all the judgy, holier-than-thou-ness, I agree. In theory, I’d like to try stepping back a bit. In practice, it’s hard to do.

Last Friday, life handed me a golden opportunity to loosen my grip. The elementary school spring fling carnival had been hyped for weeks and I promised my two first-graders and my Kindergartener we could go. They talked of little but bouncy houses, the cake walk, and face-painting for a week. I signed up to run the cakewalk, thinking Dad could monitor kids and stand in lines while I drew numbers and doled out cakes.

Matt informed me on the phone hours before the big event that he had to work late and I sputtered and doubted. Should I get a sitter? Fail at my cake-doling duties? Make us all stay home?

Could I possibly let them run free at the carnival while I volunteered?

In the end, that’s exactly what I did. I took a deep breath, channeled my inner free range parent, bought them carnival bracelets, and told them they better not leave the elementary school grounds for ANY reason. I kept my three-year-old with me, but I set my seven-year-old daughter and my two sons (7 & 5) free. I worried a little before the mad middle-school-boy rush to win a cake distracted me. I wondered if it was entirely safe to have them navigate such a busy event on their own. It’s an incredible community and I know so many of the parents and teachers; I knew they would have a lot of options if something went wrong. But, bad luck happens. Children wander. 

I pushed those thoughts aside and gave them only my smiles as they checked in with me after every two rides or games, just as I asked. I could see in their glowing faces, sticky cotton candy fingers, and the seriousness with which they carried out their check-in duties that I had made the right choice. At the end of the tired, sugar-soaked night, we left the carnival with more ease than we have ever left any fun event. Their new found responsibility and independence extended into good behavior as we went home and helping me at bedtime. Yelling at them about not wanting to take them anywhere when they behave so horribly when we have to leave has never had such a profound effect.

The night left me feeling warm, and happy, and sad. They can certainly let go and fly. The only question is can I keep from clipping their wings?

How much freedom do you let your kids have? Do you let your worries win?

About the Author

Stacey Conner

Stacey Conner loves chai tea lattes, bedtime and being at home with her children. She hates the cold, fingerpaints and play dough. She writes about life with four children, adoption, trans-racial parenting and other issues big and small at

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