Of Pinterest, Feral Children and the Kruger National Park

(This was first published in Le News 29 January 2015)

Ever since the bigger child turned 8 and is now ‘practically a teenager’, we’ve been clashing over what she is and isn’t allowed to do.

‘You’re, like, totally controlling,’ she told me a few days ago.

‘No I’m not. And speak properly. And stand up straight.’

‘You’re also overprotective. What do you ever let me do that’s dangerous?’

‘Well,’ I replied, casting my mind back over the previous few months. ‘I often turn a blind eye when you don’t eat all your vegetables. And that’s pretty risky behaviour!’

Her response involved a lot of eye rolling, some hip-jutting and ten minutes alone time to reconsider the tone in which we talk to our mothers. But I had to admit, she was right. I have been overprotective and controlling, and I blame Pinterest.

Pinterest (which I love, by the way), is full of good things, including a whole lot of ideas about things to do for your children.

‘Ooh,’ I squealed when I first happened upon these wonderful boards. ‘100 ideas to make snow play more fun! I need that! Also, 200 indoor activities for a rainy day! And birthday party ideas! Cakes! Bento box lunches! Oh my goodness, this will make me the best over-involved parent ever!’

But my joy was short lived. Once I followed a few of these boards back to their parenting -website sources, I realised that I was completely out of my league. They are no ordinary parents, the ones who come up with these ideas. No. They are Super Parents, who are home schooling five children at a time, who use nap hours to prepare sensory baths and themed rice bins for tactile enrichment, and who run marathons every weekend. And still manage to update their websites.

‘What the hell?’ I cried, eventually. ‘I can’t do all of this! There must be another way!’

And there is! It’s called Free Range Parenting, and I recently read several very interesting articles about it. Children, suggest the articles, don’t need parents overseeing their every move, like hovering helicopters; and they don’t need masses of expensive toys. Instead, they should be allowed to use their imaginations to direct their own play, while their poor mothers put their feet up and have a nice little G&T. Well, no, no one actually said that last bit, but it feels like the spirit of the thing.

So on Tuesday, when we got home from school, I presented the children with a giant cardboard box and no helpful suggestions whatsoever, and left them to it.

I was gone … I don’t know … five minutes. How long does it take to make a cup of tea and snaffle three biscuits from the cookie jar? Anyway. That was all the time it took for the children to go from Free Range to completely Feral; for the bigger child to put the cardboard box on top of two skateboards, to put her little sister inside the box and to aim the whole lot towards the basement staircase.

For the life of her, she couldn’t understand what all my shouting was about.

She would’ve been fine,’ she reassured me. ‘I was going to give her the broom to use as a brake.’

So anyway, after all of this experimentation, I finally think I’ve come up with a parenting style that takes something good from all the others, but is uniquely mine. I call it Letting Them Run Free But Under Constant Surveillance and With Frequent Helicopter Involvement, Like They Do With the Animals in the Kruger Park.

Catchy, isn’t it? And it’s coming soon, to a Pinterest board near you!

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