parenting styles

How much freedom should a child be given, and at what age?

Where do we draw the line?

Where do a parent’s right to making a decision about their child or children end and the rest of the world’s responsibilities begin?

Working from the assumption that most of us have the best interest of children in mind, does that give us the right to butt in where we don’t belong?

I wish the answer to this question was simple but recent headlines and a growing trend towards “Helicopter Parenting” doesn’t give me much hope.

You may have heard about this story:

Maryland Family Under Investigation For Letting Their Children Walk Home Alone

The crime? Maryland parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv allowed their children, aged 6 and 10, to walk home alone from a playground, not far from their home, in the middle of the afternoon one recent Saturday.

 child walking home

For many who subscribe to the philosophy of “Free-Range Parenting,”  it was seen as the most normal thing in the world: an opportunity for these parents to teach their children a bit of independence and self-reliance in what they felt was a safe scenario. For others, many whom may be considered “Helicopter Parents,” it was cause for considerable alarm and for some, enough for them to call the police and child protective services.

Both camps believe that they’re in the right - and that the other is woefully misguided. Each camp believes that the other is doing irreparable harm to the children due to the choices of the children’s parents. Sadly, the kids are often the ones who suffer as they are either monitored so closely that they never gain the confidence required for true independence, or they are left to their own devices - too much so - which in itself may lead to trouble.

Is it okay to let a child walk to the park and home alone, or with a younger sibling? How old is it when it becomes okay? What age is too young?

For the record, I think that the treatment of these parents is beyond harsh and alarming. If anything, they are doing what we all try to do as parents - teach their children to have confidence in their decisions, to be fearless and to be independent. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?

Now, perhaps my perspective is coloured by the fact that I was also raised by “Free-Range Parents,” except they didn’t know that that’s what they were doing.

As a child of the ’70’s, I spent many a day, evening and summer vacation going to the park by myself or with friends, walking to the corner store alone, riding my bicycle without a helmet (no one else wore helmets, either) and coming home after school alone, with a key to let myself in. Yes, I was alone, in my home and no, I wasn’t a teen yet. I had to call my mother (who was at work), from our landline (there were no cell phones, email, texting or Google then and we all managed to survive) and I watched the Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island until my parents got home from work. I even made myself snacks and used the stove. I was a responsible kid and my parents trusted me. Oh - and all of my friends were “Free-Range Kids” as well, as raised by their parents. The “Helicopter Parents” of later decades had not yet made their mark.

Nowadays, I’m sure my loving parents would be reported as being negligent, and perhaps be arrested for their perceived neglect. Yet they were anything but. They loved and cared about me and were able to gauge my maturity level as they meted out a bit more responsibility and independence to me every time I proved that I was worthy of their trust. They provided me with the tools, skills and independence I needed to become a fairly confident and well-balanced adult. This type of parenting isn’t neglectful; if anything it shows a keen desire to help a child to gain the skills that they will need as an adult.

Yet we are now in a different era and parents like Danielle and Alexander Meitiv are under the spotlight for their perceived neglect.

I had the pleasure of participating in a Huffington Post Live segment on this very topic that featured Ms. Meitiv herself, along with Julie Gunlock and Lisa LaGrou, both moms who, like me, were united in our thoughts surrounding how Ms. Meitiv is being treated regarding her decision.

You can watch the full Huffington Post Live segment below.

Huffington Post Live - Under Arrest For Letting Your Kids Be Independent?

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you believe in “Free-Range Parenting?” Was it necessary to call in the authorities on this parent regarding her decision to let her children walk home alone? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


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If You Could Turn Back Time…Would You?

by Samantha on April 12, 2014

How connected are you to your tools and toys?

I’m not talking about the items that you may actually find in your toolbox or in your children’s toybox. I’m talking about the things that you’ve come to see as necessary parts of your everyday life - those things that you couldn’t live without.

In many cases, sadly, these items are largely technologically-based. Think about it - how did you feel the last time you left your smartphone at home or forgot it in your other bag? Ever try to take a technological holiday, even for a weekend? Difficult, isn’t it? And your kids? If they’re like mine, they’re already connected - literally - to the tech toys. Tablets, video games and online videos have become standard fare for even the youngest of children. It’s a new world order and families work, play and learn via digital and technological means.

So how could a family possibly exist without the items that have come to be seen as standard and trusted tools in their everyday lives? One family did it - for a year. To be exact, they chose a year that they liked, one that was many years in the past: 1986. This family in particular chose the year of the parents’ births as they benchmark time frame that they would use as a basis for how they were going to live for 365 days. Forsaking all technologies and conveniences that mark the lifestyles of today’s day and age, they pulled out the VCR, videotapes and Super Mario brothers and got busy. Oh - they also got mullets, kids included.

go back in time
This foray into the past is an interesting and fascinating experiment, particularly in this day and age where many of us are connected - literally and figuratively - to our tech devices. The thought of going through our lives without the conveniences that we have come to expect and rely upon seems almost unimaginable. And kids? That’s a whole other story. Entertaining them circa 1986 style means forgoing the modern conveniences like iPads, Netflix, video games and a range of distractions that we use in trying to keep our little ones quiet.

Perhaps this point is where the sheer horror of this family’s story begins. That’s right - I said “horror.” Because we all know that most of us could not give up our current lifestyles and modern conveniences to go back in time and live like they did over 25 years ago. If we did, we’d have to drastically change the way we do things, in more ways than one. No more reliance on technology to provide us with those much-needed “quick fixes” when our kids started to meltdown in the grocery store or doctor’s office. There would be no more text messages as methods of communications for our Tweens and Teens when they were outside of our home or view. And think about this for a moment: we’d actually have to talk to our children from a landline or pay telephone when they went to a friend’s home or to the mall. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

Perhaps the real story about this family’s journey back to the ’80’s is not about their experiences living a more simple life, but our collective fear of what their experiment says about the way we are living our lives now. The idea of losing our technological crutches that we’ve come to depend on is a frightening one for those of us who can admit to our reliance (and often addiction) on technology. The thought of no longer having our trusted distractions to keep a certain distance between ourselves and our loved ones is enough to send a shiver down our collective spines. Hard to admit, I know, but true nonetheless. Sometimes it seems so much easier to bury our heads in a movie on the iPad or to pop in our headphones and listen to music than to actually connect - really connect - with our kids. Conversely, our kids are similarly distracted, more often than not, texting their friends or turning to an online community for support. It takes a strong man or woman who can turn on, tune in and drop out of the digital age in favour of a lifestyle that does not include the distractions of daily life.

Kudos to this family who had the courage to ditch the modern conveniences that they’d come to love in order to get back into the lives of their children. I couldn’t do it. Could you?

If you had to live your life with your kids the way it was 25 years ago, do you think you could do it? Why or why not? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

VIDEO: Watch a family live life like it’s 1986

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Kids: It’s Okay To Give Up

by Samantha on March 27, 2014

i give up
We all know the story of the little engine who thought he could.

“I think I can, I think I can” he repeated until, overcoming a great obstacle, he did. The moral of the story? That positive thinking and a will to succeed is all that is needed to achieve a goal.

While this may indeed be the case much of the time, there is an equally compelling perspective that supports an opposing ideology: that it’s okay to think you can’t do something and, accordingly, it’s okay to give up.


A radical thought for any of us who have grown up with the increasingly popular and optimistic perspective that a person - a child in particular - can do whatever they set out their minds to do.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m certainly no pessimist and for the most part, subscribe to the tenets of positive thinking, supportive parenting and the belief that “mind over matter” can overcome the most challenging of scenarios. That being said, I’m also a realist and have wondered how much collective harm we are doing to our kids by telling them that they can succeed at whatever they set their minds to achieving. After all, by the time most people have reached adulthood, they are keenly aware that they can’t do everything that they set out to do - and oftentimes, it’s not the smartest decision to even attempt trying.

As parents, we’re often scared that the decisions that we make on behalf of our children will be bad ones - that we’ll mess them up by not supporting everything that they desire and want, in spite of themselves. We quote proverbs such as “if first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” all the while knowing in our heart of hearts - sadly - that our kids will likely fail at a the particular task at hand. Yet we continue to ease them along, saying “you can do it!” and similar supportive words. Sometimes they do do it and exceed our wildest expectations. Oftentimes, however, they don’t, which should give us pause that we wasted their time and ours on what we knew was an impossible or highly improbable task at hand. Was it better that we showed them our support even though we knew the probable outcome, or would it have been a more prudent decision to have been honest with them from the outset, saving them from wasting time and worse - the inevitable disappointment of failure?

A difficult question for sure, but most of us know the answer. Realistically, it makes a lot of sense to teach our kids the importance of “cutting one’s losses” when need be as opposed to supporting their ride on a continual treadmill with no end or success in sight. There are certainly lessons to be learned about perseverance and tenacity but aren’t lessons about knowing when to call it a day and not wasting one’s time equally important?

With our collective guilt being the determining factor for our silence, we’re doing our children more harm than good. After all - there will come a time when our kids are no longer in our purview and will have to deal with the spectre of failure outside the loving support system offered by their parents. Sometimes, such lessons are even more painful in the stark light of day in full view of those who may not be as tactful in addressing such failures.

Being a good parent isn’t always about supporting your child in their endeavours no matter what. Being a good parent is about teaching your child the importance of good judgement and more importantly about having realistic expectations about what one can likely and realistically achieve. For these and many other reasons, don’t feel guilty next time you want to tell your child to throw in the towel.

To read this article on HUFFINGTON POST, click here


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What Type of Role Model Are You?

by Samantha on February 25, 2014

parent smoking in car with kids

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

A wise saying and one that’s more true than many of the adages that we’ve heard over the years.

The phrase is one that indicates what most of us already know: that what we do and how we behave is often mimicked and replicated by our kids. A scary thought, really.

We’re role models for our kids.

They’re watching our every move. This reality is something that many of us parents try to forget or ignore, especially when we want to do something that we know is not setting the best example for our children.

How many times have we poured ourselves that extra cocktail, told a boldface lie or reached for that cigarette in spite of ourselves? Sure - things would be perfectly fine in all of these scenarios had our kids not been watching and taking mental notes of what we were doing.

“Daddy smokes so it must be okay.”

“Mommy drinks a lot so it can’t be a problem.”

“Mommy and Daddy lie all the time so it can’t be that bad.”

It’s a bitter pill to swallow (figuratively speaking, of course) when we realize that we are indeed role models for our children. Those days of doing whatever we wanted to do with no repercussions have passed and we’re now in the position of being one that is looked to with wide-eyed wonderment…and disdain, depending on what we’re doing.

When our kids are young, they observe, accept and sometimes replicate what they’ve seen their parents do. As they get older, the mental imagery of what they have watched and experienced over the years has solidified, providing the foundation for the decisions that they will make in their critical teenage years. How many times have we heard the story of kids who started smoking because it was “the norm” at home and that their dad lit up first thing in the morning and after every meal? What number of boldface liars, scammers and generally unscrupulous people grew up with parents who underscored the importance of integrity, of telling the truth and of general ethics. Not many, I gather.

The point here is that our actions speak louder than our words, and that our values - the way we live our lives and the lessons that we teach our children - are imprinted on our kids, forming the basis of the types of people that they’ll become in adulthood. A scary proposition but one that is very real. Ask any flustered parent who’s had to scramble for an explanation for their teen who’s been caught smoking, drinking, or worse. “But Mom! YOU smoke [drink/take drugs or whatever other vice that they’ve been caught doing].” No explanation is ever sufficient in these circumstances.

Of course we could always fall back on another vintage parenting philosophy: “Do as I say, not as I do,” though it’s fairly hard to defend to growing kids who start to understand the troublesome nature of hypocrisy. No, as unnerving as it may be, we are the ones who need to be setting the examples for our kids. A sobering thought but one that can’t be ignored. So take a deep breath, butt out, tell the truth and realize that parenting is no doubt the toughest job you’ll ever have.

What do you think? Do you feel that you’re a good role model for your kids? Why or why not? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Everybody Wins, Nobody Wins

by Samantha on October 21, 2013

boy with trophy

I’m against kids “winning” at all costs.

This refers to the growing trend of letting all kids win and telling them that “everyone’s a winner.”

Everyone is not a winner. That’s why we have the designations of “winners” and “losers.” Someone has to lose. It’s not pretty but that’s life.

And “that’s life,” or “c’est la vie” is the message that I’m trying to teach my kids, but holy moly, it’s really hard to do in this age of political correctness, helicopter parenting and fear of “harming” our kids.

So many parents these days are afraid of what Junior will think when he learns that he is not the best at soccer, or that he did not lead the class with his mark with that recent assignment. Little Emma may be surprised to learn that someone outshone her at the recent spelling bee but trust me when I say that she’ll survive. She will, as will so many other children who don’t come in “first” in a particular race, competition or test. That’s how life is. It’s hard, you don’t always win, but you’ll come through the other side, perhaps even a better person for having competed.

In our latest craze of wanting to shield our kids from the realities of life - that is, that there are winners and losers in the world - we are doing a grave disservice to our children. We are not only delaying the inevitable lessons that they will learn  eventually - that they can’t win at everything - in order to supposedly spare their feelings or cushion the blow that comes with the agony of defeat. By taking this approach to parenting, we are in fact teaching our kids that the world is their oyster and that anything and everything that they desire to do, to have and to want is there for their disposal.

This is wrong, very wrong, and here’s why:

Kids who are taught that they are always winners, in spite of how they really chart in a particular game, exam or otherwise, will be ill-prepared to deal with the realities of the real world when they step outside of the amniotic bubble of home. As a matter of fact, these kids who think that they can do anything are in for a very rude and likely painful awakening. When little Matthew who has been told for years that he is the best speller ever goes into his first job at a corporation and gives his boss a spelling, grammar and typo-ridden document to pass on to a client, he will be summarily slapped down (verbally, of course) and told to clean up his grammatical act. And I know what you’re thinking: but Matthew went to college or university, and surely they must have stopped him in his bad-spelling zeal and marked his papers accordingly, right?


Let’s not ignore the fact that there’s a long history of post-secondary and academic institutions ignoring an academic scholarship student’s grades in favor of having the student in the university or college…winning games, of course.

Children are indeed sensitive and yes, caution and discretion should be used when revealing certain facts to them. This, however, does not preclude the fact that they are thinking beings, quite able to assess certain situations for what they are, and sometimes they’re not good. In other words, in spite of some parents’ best efforts to shield their child from the sad fact that the child is not the best at soccer/hockey/spelling by telling them that they’ve “won,” parents are doing more damage in the long run.

How so?

1) Children will quickly realize that their parents are not being honest with them, which can lead to a whole slew of bad behaviors, resentments and outcomes not the least of which is a lack of trust;

2) These same children will have a skewed sense of reality as a result of being lied to about what is something that seems obvious, even to them. After all - kids are often a lot smarter and in tune with what’s going on than we think.

3) These kids will start to realize that since their parents are lying to them about such events, they’re likely lying to them about other important things as well. The basis of the child-parent relationship will be strained as a result.

It’s understood that most parents want to protect their kids from harm and from the harsh realities of life. It’s also understood that losing is painful, disappointing and demoralizing, especially for children. What is not understood is the pervasive fear of letting kids fail to the point where the children are deluded into thinking that they are always winners and that they can never lose, no matter what they do. In the decision to pretend that a child is always a winner, parents who are doing this are, ironically, setting their kids up for inevitable failure.

You win some, you lose some. An oldie but a goodie. Let’s not forget to remind our kids of this truth before it’s too late.

Do you think that kids should always be allowed to “win” or be given passing grades? Why or why not? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

To read this post on HUFFINGTON POST, click here.

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VIDEO: How to Deal With Sleepovers

July 3, 2013

How to Deal With Sleepovers You’re a parent and your child is invited to a sleepover. You panic. What are you supposed to do? Alternatively, you’ve temporarily lost your senses and have agreed to have a gaggle of very excitable and loud kids at your home. Worried? This was the question - and many others […]

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Monday Musings: How Much Do We Tell Our Kids?

July 1, 2013

How much do we tell our kids? It’s a question that we, as parents, grapple with on a daily basis. I’ve spoken before about my particular view of parenting, and how I don’t believe that we should be “friends” with our children. There needs to be a clear demarcation between adult and child, so that […]

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Why I’m NOT Friends With My Child

June 23, 2013

For some strange reason, parenting has changed. Perhaps it’s an inevitability of time, but holy smokes, some things should remain sacred, shouldn’t they? I’m talking about kids, parents and the relationship between the two. It seems that there’s a lot more of a comfort level between mothers, fathers and their kids that, frankly, makes me […]

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Over-scheduled Kids and Parental Guilt

June 14, 2013

Soccer practice, Ballet then Gymnastics. Hockey, Little League and Karate. Whatever the sport or activity of choice, it may very well be too much. Our kids are over-worked, over-scheduled and overly-exhausted. In our frenzy to be the best parents who raise the best and most successful kids, we’ve thrown out the baby with the bath […]

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CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: Parenting in the Digital Age

June 4, 2013

Meltdown in Aisle 5: Top Parenting Tips From Multiple Mayhem Mamma ————————— My favourite topic was the subject of discussion recently. Parenting in the Digital Age, an ongoing topic on this blog was the basis of discussion for my opinion on CBC Radio’s Fresh Air program. Some of areas that were covered included the pervasiveness […]

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