In response to the current discussion about so-called free-range eating, which headlined yesterday's New York Times and was further discussed on this site, I invited Lenore Skenazy to have her say. Author of the book Free-Range Kids and of a blog of the same name, Skenazy coined the term as a way of making the case for giving our children freedom from our constant intrusion in their lives and for giving them a longer leash to encounter, and master, life's little challenges on their own.
Readers — In yesterday’s New York Times there’s an article about a new type of food product: a pouch parents can give their kids to suck, rather than making them go through all the rigamarole of, you know, eating food from a plate. Or even a bun. Or even chewing.
Putting aside my feelings about the product, I was shocked to read the inventor’s explanation for why a feeding tube…er, sorry, pouch…is suddenly necessary for kids:
Mr. Grimmer believes the pouch’s popularity can be attributed to the emergence of a new way of relating to our children. He calls it “free-range parenting.”
Parents, he explained, want to be as flexible as modern life demands. And when it comes to eating, that means doing away with structured mealtimes in favor of a less structured alternative that happens not at set times, but whenever a child is hungry.
What Mr. Grimmer is selling, he said, is a way to facilitate that: mobile food technology for the modern family. “It’s on-the-go snacking, on-the-go nourishment,” he said. “It moves with kids and puts the control in their hands.
The article goes on to talk about how kids are so structured that they have no TIME to eat a real meal, so this is a lovely “free-range” alternative. For his part, the reporter adds that he gave his daughter, under age 4, a pouch to suck after her gymnastics class, and another on the way to a party because somehow lunch got skipped.
I feel for the guy. His toddler is already so over-booked there’s no time to stop and eat the carrots. But to think that is “Free-Range” is so, so, sooooo wrong my brain is turning into a pouch of plum-spinach mush.
In fact, Free-Range Kids believes just the opposite: We are all for giving kids a chance to do things on their own — play, walk to school, spend an afternoon just drawing on the sidewalk — which in turn gives us parents a chance to do things on our own, too, including get out of the car. Maybe even make a meal. Or have the kids make a meal.
We have to stop this misconception of Free-Range as harried chauffeurs before it grows. Already a Psychology Today blogger has written a piece about “The Perils of Free-Range Parenting,” which goes on and on about how SHE doesn’t believe kids should make their parents give them snacks instead of meals. Moreover, SHE doesn’t think kids should be the ones to decide whether or not they’re going to sit in the car seat, or what time they go to bed.
Lady — neither do we!
“Free-Range” is not a (depleting, exhausting) lifestyle. It’s just the conviction that kids today are safer and more competent than our culture tells us they are. That’s why we can give them responsibility AND freedom — and not schlep and schedule up the wazoo, to the point where they have to suck their meals in between appointments. Can someone please drop these folks a line and tell them that?