If you read enough #longreads about parenting in The Atlantic, New York Times Magazine, and Slate, then eventually you will discover you are an awful parent. But there is nothing so satisfying for us awful parents as reading stories about parents who are more insufferable than we are. So it is with great pride I share this piece by Melanie Thernstrom, who profiles a “free-range” parent who lets his children play on the roof of their house and then rubs it in the face of his neighbors – thereby forcing the other parents to become imagination-quashing killjoys, AKA people who try to keep their kids from potentially breaking their necks. (But hey, my neighbor says the odds are low, and life-endangering activities are mother nature’s way of thinning the herd! I guess it’s fine!)
He also tosses out some awful asides like blaming mothers for hampering their sons’ biological instincts: “In Mike’s worldview, boys today (his focus is on boys) are being deprived of masculine experiences by overprotective moms, who are allowed to dominate passive dads.”
This family lives in Silicon Valley, so naturally they’ve branded their movement, labeling their house a Playborhood™. It’s a place where children are free to jump around on trampolines and, I guess, based on these photos, write all over the furniture?
There may be a valid point somewhere that our children are overprogrammed and that we all worry too much. But by trying to Make Childhood Great Again, this parent misses a critical point about why kids are more scheduled with activities than we were growing up: “Free play” is a privilege – kids get scheduled into activities because they are a critical form of childcare for working families.
Community support also plays a part: When I was growing up, our elementary school had afterschool sports and other activities, but funding has been cut for many of these programs, so parents must pay for them on their own, and then worry about chauffeuring their children around town to access these same programs.
The parent in this latest piece is a Libertarian, but today’s overprogrammed children are in fact already living in a libertarian dystopia – a place where the community decides other people’s kids aren’t their concern and declines to properly fund public education, where people want a goodie bag for putting up with your kids, where school ends at 3 pm but your workday ends at 6 pm, and where people blame you because your kids might be more interested in playing Minecraft than re-enacting “Lord of the Flies” on the neighbor’s roof.