Free Range Kids & Bringing Up Bebe Review

I promised like a month to do a review for the books Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy and Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman.

These are the only two parenting books I have read, and I really enjoyed them.

They share an underlying general principle that made me want to review them together- they each encourage the idea that kids are generally pretty capable and will rise to the challenge provided.

Free Range Kids has gotten a lot of heat.  

And after actually reading the book, I feel like most of it is unwanted. Part of the backlash seems to be that the author claims that kids today are safer than ever so it doesn't make sense that parents are more anxious than other. So people are like "Oh she's anti-car seats! She is ignorant of what goes on in today's world!" Which is not true. She just believes that a child's independence is more valuable than incredibly small chance they will die or be kidnapped.

If you aren't familiar, this author blew up the internet because she let her 9 year old ride the subway in New York alone. He asked to do it, he had a map, they discussed the route and how to ask for help, etc. He did fine. He made it home in about 45 minutes and felt so capable and happy and it was great. The next day she wrote about it online and was called "The worst mother in America." Because obviously, kids can't do anything!

She goes through a lot of urban myths and debunks them (like, no Halloween candy has ever had poison in it which Snopes also confirms). So why are we worrying about literally nothing? It's all BS. She also discusses the media. Not in a "all media is bad" Trump-like way. But if one thing goes wrong yet you see it twenty times on your newsfeed, you end up thinking that twenty different things are happening. And it's not! The majority of time, everyone is fine. And there are about a dozen TV shows that talk about the absolute worst case police units...which is not the majority of life. It's just the majority of ratings.

So she is a proponent of kids walking to the park by themselves, or staying home alone while parents run out to the store or maybe even a date night! And yes, kids should be able to make themselves a meal or play outside by themselves. Now, this isn't saying a toddler should make spaghetti while no one else is around. But in general, she advocates for the idea that most kids want independence and that it's better for all involved when they get it.

The thing I really liked when reading the books is that she gave "baby-step" examples. There is no "every child should do this!" attitude. She totally acknowledges that every child, family, and community is different. You'll have to build up to things and it's actually not about a lack of parenting.

But it's really about fostering independence and confidence, which I loved. Or at least, that's what I took from it.

Bringing Up Bebe shared the idea that kids are generally capable, although in a different way.

Druckerman is an American who married...a Brit? I think. He loves Dutch football, I remember. Anyway. The ended up living in France and she noticed that...the kids there are fairly well-behaved. And she tried to ask around and see why, since she was an American having a baby in France.

The thing that really struck me while reading this book was the consistency that she seemed to see throughout the country. 

Unlike America with it's preponderance for Mommy Wars (see, all the heat against FRK), France (or at least Paris, but she did try to talk to people outside the city also) seemed to be much more cohesive when it came to parenting. The majority of mothers worked, most kids went to (government ran) daycare facilities, kids were expected to eat the same foods as adults. Kids start going on trips in...preschool? Definitely by kindergarten? I don't remember. But those little Frenchies are spending a WEEK away from home by first grade at the latest (and I'm pretty sure before then, but it's been a few weeks and the details are getting hazy). Which I think most American parents would cry their eyes out over.

They also believe that kids are capable of self-control at very young ages. 

So the general structure is that there are hard & fast rules...and the rest is kind of "Eh." Kids have to try a bite of each food at the dinner table, but that's it. They aren't required to clear the plate- but they aren't getting mac and cheese to compensate. It's typical for kids to help bake- to teach patience, for starters, although there are lots of benefits. But parents don't loose their minds if the kids make a mess and the kids have to wait until snack time to have it (apparently the French in general have pretty standard eating schedule).

Now, a lot of this won't work for my life or many Americans.

Mainly because things vary so much- my kid's daycare has "lunch" at like 10:30 so yeah, she's getting a snack while I make dinner. But I liked the general idea of prioritizing specific behaviors and giving leeway in other things. For example, there is apparently a French swear word specifically used by children. Instead of freaking out about kids swearing, the general response is "That's not a word we use in public, save it for your bedroom/bathroom time alone."

I guess the overall appeal of the book for me came down to simple things- one, parents were still expected to be normal adults. They weren't expected to adjust their entire world to make it more suitable for children. Rather, they prioritized teaching children to more easily adapt to the adult world. And not in an old-school American "children should be seen and not heard" way. Just in a "we are all people here and have our own personalities but live within a common framework."

Neither of these are necessarily self-help books, in the "5 steps to perfection!" vein. They're just books where people talk about ideas and statistics and examples and a slightly less vigilant method of existing as a parent than what is more commonly presented today.

Have you read any good parenting books? 
Or do you avoid them like the plague?


  1. In theory, this is the parent I would want to be. But knowing that, I'd probably be a crazy helicopter mom.. just based on my doggy-mom style.

  2. I find this fascinating. Since I'm not a parent, I don't have a whole lot of room to comment on this. But, I have worked with kids. And yeah, they're way more capable of doing things on their own than we give them credit for. So, I think this is a super interesting theory.

  3. I have yet to read Free Range Parenting, but I really want to. I feel like as a mom to a two-year old, I am pretty good at letting him be independent - at least that's the kind of parent I want to be. I'm not big on helicopter parenting, and I'd rather him learn from his own mistakes than me following him around all the time.

  4. I work in child welfare so putting a 9 year old on the subway is far from the worst thing I've heard a parent do!! :) Seriously though, I don't have kids yet, but there are so many interesting, valid perspectives out there!

  5. These both sound really good! I do like the idea of teaching children to exist within the adult world. I don't want to cook special foods for my kids and I want to encourage them to do things on their own. I do think I need to read these, though, because while I like the idea of fostering independence, I don't actually know how to go about it or what kinds of activities kids are capable of at various ages! We're trying to get Orion to put food in his own mouth, since he puts everything else in there, but he doesn't seem to get it. He just waits with his mouth open like a baby bird. Lol!!!

    Completely unrelated, he's sleeping in his crib in his own room now! I cried so much the first night and now it's normal already. He's also slept 11 hours straight without a feeding a couple times this week. It's sooo nice. More importantly, he started doing it all on his own without me needing to follow all the advice I was getting about only giving him water at night and not picking him up and letting him scream it out, etc, etc. I realize I've gotten pretty lucky but it just reinforces to me that there's no one way to do things and other people's advice can only help up to a certain point.