Free Range or Helicopter Parenting

Parenting Tensions

I firmly believe that there are irresolvable tensions that exist in life. Tensions, which are neither good nor bad, but merely exist and each of us fall some where on the continuum of the two. For instance,

  • Are you a roller or folder?
  • Are you a roll from the bottom or crusher of toothpaste tubes?
  • Are you a leave it open or shut the bathroom door kinda person?

These are just some of the pressing issues of our day when it comes to home life that are irresolvable tensions.

We run into the same thing in parenting. From how we discipline (To Spank or Not To Spank) to how to feed our kids (Organic or Who Cares), all parents have to choose how they are going to parent amidst the tensions. But these tensions  become real as they emerge between husbands and wives, you and your parents, you and friends, etc.

Free Range or Helicopter

Of all the tensions that exist, how we choose to structure our kids lives is one of the most contentious. Whether you are for full freedom (You free range hippie parent) or a rigid structure (You over-controlling CEO dad), the choice you make will certainly not sit well with everyone and you’ll hear about it.

Do you remember subway mom, Lenore Skenazy?

Back in 2008, Skenazy made headlines when she wrote about her decision to allow her 9 year old son to take the New York City subway alone. The visceral responses she received about her parenting decision was simply outrageous. But the controversy landed her a sweet book deal. So she’s got that going for her.


On the other side of the spectrum is the comfortably awkward caricature of an 80’s helicopter parent we see regularly in Beverly Goldberg. This fictional character is the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of all those over-baring, over-controlling, over-involved nut jobs (oops, I’m letting my bias out) we call helicopter parents. And we’ve seen these parenting choices popularized in actual life from Tiger Mom to the bloke who tried suing a school for his kid being dumb.

The point is clear. Either side of the continuum gets a reaction and sometimes an over-reaction by other parents.

Random Dads in Real Life

Alright random dads, not many of us are going to fall on the extreme ends of this spectrum, right? Some of us are like Adam who takes a controlling interest in some areas but not in every area. Or there is Matt who seems to let his toddler tumble around a lumber mill (AKA his backyard) that may be accused of being a free ranger but when you get to know him it’s not true. Or there is Jacob who is a closet control freak trying to be the cool dad;)

In real life, most random dads are a mixed bag of structure and freedom. We don’t take a hard line in all areas with our kids. That’s why we have the eternal argument “WHY CAN’T I…?” with our kids. All of us have things we tend to be more controlling on and other things that we grant greater freedom.

So where do you land? Are you not a mixed bag but have a definite mode of operation as either a free ranger or helicopter dad? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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