I'm A Common Sense 'Dolphin Parent' (And You Might Be Too)

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I drop my youngest son off about once a week so he can roam the strip mall, eat greasy fast food with his friends, and walk through the pet store and talk about what a horrible mother I am because I won’t buy him a hamster or rat.

While I am sure he and his friends don’t strut around with their hands tucked behind their back behaving as outstanding citizens, he knows the rule: If he screws up, or I get a call that he’s being a disrespectful asshole, the fun times come to an end and there’s no more freedom to be had at the local strip mall.

There are parents who don’t agree with my decision to allow a bunch of thirteen-year-kids to free-range it in the aisles of the dollar store, assuming they’re only going to cause trouble and I should avoid this situation entirely because it’s too tempting. Plus, they are probably buying sugary snacks and drinks and binging on them.

I can tell you they most definitely are doing the sugar thing and my washing machine has a display of candy wrappers hidden in the back to prove it, but he is having fun. Plus, he felt really sick once after eating a jumbo box of Junior Mints and chasing it with a chocolate milk, so he learned his lesson. On his own. Parenting win for me.

The thing is, I let my older son do the same thing when he was younger than his little brother, and I let him ride his bike to meet his friends instead of dropping him off. They had a blast. I never got a phone call about him being a dick. He never trashed the candy aisle or harassed people carrying heavy loads of groceries out to their car.

So, on the flip side, some might say I’m too protective of my youngest and should cut the cord because 13 is much too old to be experiencing an outing with his friends sans parents for the first time.

My point is, I know my kids. They are all different and I set different rules according to the situation. I guess you could say, while I am not perfect and have regretted some decisions about what I have and have not let them do, I try and use common sense when it comes to raising them.

When I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, these labels for parenting styles hadn’t yet had the pleasure of being invented and my mother will tell me no one gave a flying fuck what you let you kids do, so long as they weren’t hurting people.

We look back though and call it free-range parenting. Some even consider it neglect that we were allowed to walk to the corner store and buy a parent a carton of candy bars when we were ten.

Nowadays parenting seems to be confined to the extremes — free-range, helicopter, lawnmowers, etc. But what about those of us who are just parenting in the middle with common sense as our guide?

You know, something that falls in between tracking our child every time they leave the driveway, and sending our kids outside chasing it with an “Don’t come home until dark. You have twelve hours to play with Jimmy!” while locking the door behind them?

There are times when we are watching over our kids at the playground extra carefully because they are recovering from a sickness. Or they just got a cast removed from their leg after healing from a broken bone. Or they are going through a biting stage. This may present to others as helicopter parenting.

Megan Thompson/Reshot

Maybe the mother who is letting their child go to the movies with a group of friends when they are 10 is well aware of how they behave in public, and knows someone working in the theater, so she is sure to hear of any shenanigans. This looks to many like free-range parenting.

There is such thing as a middle ground; a comfy place parents like to be when they aren’t hovering over their children, but they aren’t letting them completely fend for themselves. We can give our children rules, guidelines, even a structured chart at times, and at others, let them be a more free and express their creative side. These parents, also called dolphin parents, seem to be what works best for a lot of families — it certainly does for mine.

For example, I am not strict about their grades or expect my kids to meet a certain GPA every quarter. There is no punishment for average work in my house. I was an average student, I am an average mother, I am an average baker and I’m living the damn life. I believe my kids can too. But you better believe there are consequences for being rude or generally being an asshole while out and about in the neighborhood or around town.

Does that mean I don’t check their grades, encourage them to do their best? Or that I don’t respond when a neighbor tells me my child won’t stop spitting on his rock wall, and send them right back out to be their wild selves with no consequence?

Of course not. My kids are not in charge; I am. (Most of the time anyway.)

Being somewhere in the middle is what feels right and comfortable to me. People can call it whatever they want — and they have — but as long as I’m feeling like my kids have room to breathe, they are learning from their screw ups, and I’m here to support and guide them and can see evidence of that, I’ll stay right here. Smack dab in the middle.

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