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Free Range Parenting

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

 That’s the beginning of Richard Wilbur’s poem, “The Writer.” My friend Joan shared it with me. We were talking about parenting and wanting great things for our children and fearing that we will in all likelihood screw them up…

She mentioned this poem because The Writer has a daughter and like Joan and I, he also wants things for his child and fears screwing her up…

He wishes her a lucky passage. 

I get that wish. That prayer. Whatever you call it. I want my kids to turn out “all right.” It’s what causes the impulse to protect them, to force them to take piano lessons, to drag them to church. I don’t know if any of this will work. After all, there is no guarantee. And whether you believe in luck or not – it’s going to take some for them to make it through unscathed…

He ends the poem with this stanza:

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder. 

The Writer remembers that raising a child really is a life and death matter. So what to do? How to parent? The Writer decides to pray a different prayer for his child. Not a different outcome, just a different way of getting there… 

…for it to be harder.

There’s apparently a movement out there called “Free Range Parenting.” Some parents were trying it out in Maryland, letting their children walk the mile to the park. They got arrested. I don’t know whether they should have gotten arrested or not.

I do know that I love watching my children from far away. There is this mountain that we hike not far from here called Bluff Mountain. It’s this big beautiful bald in the middle of the Blue Ridge where you can see from the top every direction for miles. We’ve hiked it enough that the kids know the way. I let them run. The dogs go with them. I love to watch them climb to the top on their own. I love the little blips they become. So much of my parenting is from so up close.

I don’t know if I’ll subscribe to the Free Range Parent movement. But it does make me wonder how God parents us. We hear a story like the one Jesus told folks about the Prodigal Son and his Free Range Father. I wonder what that means.

What does it say about his love for us…his belief in us…his hopes for our future…

Does he not want lucky passage for us?

Yes. He may not exactly put it in those terms…but yes. Unequivocally yes. He wants us to make it through to the other side…the same wish, but harder.

Ned Erickson

Ned is the Founder and Executive Director of the Winston-Salem Fellows, a non-profit dedicated to equipping people to live seamless lives as they grow into the men and women they were created to be. He is the author of four books, including the critically acclaimed novel Clay. He, his wife, two children, dogs, rabbit, guinea pig, turtle, and chickens live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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