Free Rein

This is what fun looks like when you’re 9.

We’ve had a great vacation up at our home-away-from-home with our dear friends. And, after numerous activities that cost us more money than I’d care to admit, I asked the boys what part of our trip was their favorite. Turns out they had the most fun tonight. We were at the base of the Steamboat ski resort. They weren’t doing the ropes course or riding the gondola or taming the mechanical bull. They weren’t even necessarily enjoying the free concert we’d come to attend. They were simply running around like boys. In their shorts, t-shirts, and Crocs, they ran up and down the newly re-routed Burgess Creek that now flows along the base of the ski mountain just under the gondola in a kid-paradise sort of way.

Now that our boys are 9 and 11, along with greater responsibility we’re providing them with greater freedom. We’re trying not to be helicopter parents because we want to raise free-range children. So, when we got to the concert spot, we established our home base and let the kids start running around. We knew their feet would get wet, hence the choice of Crocs footwear. Of course, being boys, the first thing they managed to do was slip and get themselves completely soaked. This made them ridiculously happy. They didn’t seem to notice when the clouds rolled in. They did run back to eat some pizza and replace their wet shirts with their jackets to warm up a bit. But, then, they were off again.

We spent about four hours at our spot, during which the boys ran, floated their shoes in the creek, splashed each other, got chased by girls, threw frisbees, and jumped rocks. This free activity was the highlight of their trip. It was like the big box that the toy came in that turned out to be more entertaining than the toy itself. Sometimes we are so busy trying to give our children the experiences we think they should have that we forget to give them the experiences they need to have. It’s important for kids to explore by themselves, to run, to be free, to discover new things all while knowing they have a soft, safe place to land when they’re ready to return. When we hover, when we imagine the worst, we hinder their personal growth. Sometimes, in our attempts to protect them, we’re actually causing more harm than good.

I’m not going to lie. When the sun had set and our crazy kids were still splashing in the creek, soaked through in their cotton shorts, hubby did (jokingly, I hope) ask me if I thought they would be hypothermic by the time we recovered them. I did also pause momentarily to picture how easily one of them could slip, hit themselves on a rock, and require stitches. But these are not good enough reasons to stop a kid from experiencing the joys of being a kid. And, the best part of all is that the joys found in being a kid are usually free once we loosen the reins a bit.


  1. “And, the best part of all is that the joys found in being a kid are usually free once we loosen the reins a bit.” Oh, so true! This is why even though we live 30 minutes from Disneyland, we didn’t take any of our kids there until they were at least over the age of 7. Because under 7, the play place at McDonalds, a few hours at the beach or a trip to the park is “Disneyland” enough for them. Not to mention much easier for them to handle than a full day of “fun” at a loud, crowded, hot amusement park. Free is almost always better!

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