Parenting is one area I’m yet to apply the ‘less is more’ philosophy. Realistically, I’m an over-protective mum who worries unnecessarily about something happening to my child.
Apparently I’m not alone. Parental anxiety has been hypothesised to be increasing in Australia, resulting in a decline in childhood activities such as walking to school or playing outdoors.
I’d like to lighten up and adopt more of a free-range approach to my parenting.
I was inspired a while back by a conversation I had with an elderly farmer. He shared how at only eight years old he’d go bush for days at a time taking only his dog for company. I’ve heard similar stories of children from my grandparents' generation having responsibilities far beyond anything thrown at today’s children. My Gran became the mother-figure to her four siblings at only 13 years of age.
Obviously, I don’t want my daughter to have to face the hardships dealt to previous generations, but I would like her to possess some of their independence, resilience and problem-solving skills.
Being conscious of wanting to give my daughter more freedom, I was interested in a recent study by Queensland University of Technology that examined the concept of overparenting.
You’ve probably heard of ‘helicopter parenting’ where parents hover closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not. Similarly there’s ‘lawnmower parenting’, where parents attempt to smooth out and mow down all obstacles in the way of the child’s success.
The study suggests that these overparenting actions result in reduced child resilience, a sense of entitlement, child anxiety, reduced life skills, and an inadequate sense of responsibility or self-efficacy. These are all attributes I’m sure few parents wish upon their children.
I’m not a helicopter parent, nor a lawnmower – but I’m currently far from free range.
I'm going to embrace a less is more approach to parenting. Less supervision, instruction and scheduled activities and more unstructured independent outdoor play time.
I’m starting small. I’m letting my daughter wander our property slightly unsupervised – and am trying not to watch her every move. I’d like her to ride her bike, build a cubby, play in the mud, and perhaps even encounter a risk or two. Because without facing these risks I’m not certain our children will grow into capable, confident and resilient adults.
[Originally published in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 30th March 2013]