Growing Up in the “Free Range” Parenting Age

I grew up in the time of rotary phones, home visits from the doctor, and uniformed gas station attendants who, when you drove up, jumped to fill the gas tank, wash the windows, and check the tire pressure. Good customer service meant good return business. It wasn’t unusual for people to take a job at age 18 and work there until they retired. People who “job-hopped” were a little suspect; most people just stayed put in a job. If you had a problem, you could usually go to the boss and he would help out if he could. After all, you were part of his “working family.”

Word of mouth held a lot of credence; people knew if a business was good, honest and gave good value for money. If you went into the corner grocery store, the man behind the counter knew your name, your family and where you lived. You could trust that you wouldn’t be cheated.

When I went to visit my grandparents, I used run simple errands as part of my time with them. My grandmother would give me a dollar to run down to Ernie’s; a combination small grocery store and post office. I’d pick up a pack of cigarettes for my grandmother (Ernie always made the same joke, “Don’t smoke ’em all at once, kid!”)Then I’d pick out my usual treat, a small Table Talk cherry pie, then I’d pay Ernie and bring the change back. Back then, no one thought a thing about kids buying cigarettes; they knew they were for an adult.

When using the phone, you had to go through the local operator. When Mabel or Betty or Susie said, “Operator, what number please?” you gave the three-digit number, said please, and you were connected.

Our family didn’t have a lot of money, so going out to dinner was a huge treat. There was a little family restaurant in town that served good “home” food like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, spaghetti and meatballs, fried chicken and biscuits, and the like. We always knew the waitress, and she always greeted us with a smile. When the food was ready, she took a personal interest in how we liked it and kept tabs on us throughout the meal.

This homey place was where I learned a lesson about being in the world with others. As I was eating my hamburger and gazing around at the other customers, I began absentmindedly kicking the panel of the booth with my heels. My dad put his hand on my arm and said, “Please stop doing that. Each time you kick, the man sitting behind us feels it.”

That was an “Aha!” moment for me. When I realized that something I did was bothering another person, I felt these things: 1) sorry that I had bothered that man, 2) that my action affected others, and 3) that I wasn’t the center of the universe. A small thing to be sure, but a real learning experience. Back then, your parents taught you basic manners, life skills and how to understand the world around you. No one expected teachers or police or total strangers to teach you these things; it was the parents’ job and purview.

My growing up was standard for those non-technology times. No one called it “free range parenting;” it was simply the way everyone I knew was raised. Of course, there were worries and problems back then; that’s just human nature. But back then, parents taught their children what to do and what not to do, and everyone pretty much acted under the same set of rules. Life was simpler then, and I’m grateful that I grew up the way I did.

And now, at my age, I find out I was raised via a “free range” parenting system. Who knew?



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