Ask Amy: My brother’s free-ranging kids need to be reined in

Dear Amy: My brother has two daughters, ages four and six.

Pretty much ever since they could walk, my brother and his wife have given the girls free range at family events and parties, where they are allowed to go off by themselves for an hour or so.

The kids are very active and don’t sit still for more than a couple minutes at a time. They will basically disappear upstairs, or go outside with other kids.

To me, this isn’t safe. I’d be worried they could fall or have an accident.

During Thanksgiving, my 4-year-old niece was running on a deck near a pond by herself.

My brother and his wife were still inside socializing.

To child-free me, this is nuts!


Frankly, I think my brother and his wife are just lazy parents at times and let the kids do whatever they want.

Should I say something? What’s your opinion of this parenting style?

– Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: Even fairly strict and more attentive parents tend to let their kids “free range” when they’re at family events, where there are lots of other adults and often older children around.

This definitely carries risks, because parents sometimes really “check out,” or they assume that other adults have an eye on their children when they don’t.

Also – at family events and parties, most children go just a little haywire.

My greater point is that unless you have spent time with this family in their home, accompanying them and their children throughout a fairly “normal” day, then you don’t really know what kind of parents they are.

Overall, I think that “free range” parenting is great – and that letting children explore and try new things on their own helps them to develop judgment, self-confidence and resilience.

So back, now, to family events and parties. If there is a deck with a loose railing, a swimming pool, pond or creek; a busy road, skeevy neighbors or family members (or other obvious hazards) an adult should be assigned (or assign themselves) to be in that area and loosely supervise the children.

Because you are vigilant, careful, and because you care – this might be a good job for you.

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Dear Amy: My husband and I recently adopted a sweet baby boy.

We started out as foster parents with parental reunification as the goal. Unfortunately, the parents were not able to satisfy the requirements of the social agencies involved, and none of his other relatives were able to adopt him.

Due to our age (in our 60′s), we were doubtful the judge would grant our request to adopt our son, but we have since learned that there are grandparents and even great-grandparents adopting children.

Fortunately, the judge recognized the bond we all had and allowed us to adopt this dear baby.

This was a long and very stressful process, but for the love and safety of this child we would do it all over again.

My question is this: When we are out in public, people will inevitably ask, “grandson?”

When we say, “parents” people are understandably shocked.


Should we just ignore the incredulous looks or say, “adoptive parents?”

It is very important to us that this baby boy does not feel any less than our own biological child.

How should we respond?

– Older, Wiser, Happier

Dear Happier: In adopting your son, you’ve joined the growing demographic of elders raising children. Almost 3 million American grandparents have full responsibility for raising grandchildren; countless other grandparents, great-grandparents, and other elders provide part-time childcare.

In terms of responding to people who assume you are grandparents, while your son is young you might say, “We’re parents! The adoption came through last year.” When your son is older and aware of the question, you can simply respond brightly, “We’re not grandparents – we���re his proud parents!”

Make sure to include your son in his adoption story starting now. He’s likely to encounter this question many times, from a different angle.

Even when this query is annoying, I hope you will always lead with your joy.

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Dear Amy: I was truly disgusted with your reply to “Distracted Concertgoer,” who complained about a crying baby at a community band concert.

What has happened to parents? What would possess them to bring a baby to a concert in the first place? This is flat-out rude.

– Appalled

Dear Appalled: I assume that these parents likely had another child, parent, or other family member participating. That’s what community concerts are all about!

Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated advice column, “Ask Amy,” which is carried in over 150 newspapers and read by an estimated 22 million readers daily. Email