Thursday, June 3

I am Woman, Hear Me Purr - My Free-Range Childhood

Summer of '76, Rita (on left), her two little sisters, her father, and her favorite truck

I was going through some of my parent's photos of my childhood and it really gave me pause about parenting in today's world. I am also reading this excellent book, Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting. This has encouraged me
to start a little series on my experiences as a 70's kid growing up and being a woman and raising my family in today's world.

I know everyone makes a big deal about how childhood was at its best in the 50's, but I will argue that the 70's was pretty darn perfect. You can see, in my photo above, our family living the 70's lifestyle (Mom was behind the camera).  Yes, my stay-at-home Mom cut our hair and those patches on my jeans (Tuff-Skins???) were actually covering holes and not just for decoration.  And I loved those shoes.  :-)

We were poor by today's standards.  But I didn't realize it until I was an adult.  I remember shopping for clothes at the resale shop and getting big boxes of worn clothing from relatives in Germany. My poor little sister had it the worst, her clothes had been through at least three kids before she got them.  Sorry Heather!  And I remember my mother clipping coupons and watching how much she spent on groceries.  I suppose as kids we knew money was tight, but we didn't worry about it.  Free-range play is free (and priceless).

My Mom, a nurse, stayed at home for 13 years to raise us full-time and my Dad was a business man.  We didn't eat out, never went to any movies other than an occasional dollar movie, and  only took vacations to places where we could stay free at friend's or relative's homes.  Thank goodness that my Dad was able to get frequent flyer miles (from work) so we could all fly to Germany to see the relatives.  :-)

We lived out in the woods in a small neighborhood on a dirt road with tons of pets (cats, dogs, birds, mice, rats, chickens, ducks, etc.) and what seemed to be unlimited free outdoor playtime.  We had the real world outside our door (and not on a computer screen or cell phone).

In the 70's life was so different for middle-class kids in Texas.  Technology was sparse (remember Pong?), television was limited (cartoons only on Saturday mornings), not as many toys were available, and homework was almost nonexistent (it wasn't until the mid-80's that our public schools started giving students backaches and brainaches with excess homework).  Not to mention that most women in our area were stay-at-home moms. 

Back then the neighborhoods were filled with kids playing out in their yards and in the streets.  No adult supervision, sunscreen, helmets or antibacterial soap.  ;-)  Sure, there were the same dangers our children face these days, but our parents were not living in fear because they didn't have 24 hour news scaring them. Kids would get hurt of course (I broke my arm falling off a horse), but parents just fixed you up and let you climb right back on (that horse).  We had to be tough back then.

When school let out I took the bus home and Mom was there and I was told to go outside and play and make sure to come home before dark.  I spent my afternoons, weekends, and summers exploring  the woods, bike riding, fishing, playing baseball, building tree forts, chasing snakes, swimming in the creek, playing with my pets and reading books.  At times I would hang out with the neighborhood kids and my sisters, and other times I would take off alone with a good book and my fishing pole.  I didn't even wear shoes during the summer if I could avoid it.  And yes, I did step on a few snakes.  :-)

Those were the days...  No one scheduled our playtime EVER.  Pretty days we were told to go outside (so our moms could get some things done), and on ugly days we were supposed to play with each other in our rooms or read a good book.  Our parent's lives did not revolve around entertaining us and we had to be creative and entertain ourselves. 

My free-range childhood was magical.  And I want my kids to experience our own version of my 70's childhood.  And so far so good. 

Yes, it might be difficult at times for me to fight being a SoccerMom or TaxiMom or SuperMom or NeverSayNoMom, but I am taking it day by day and enjoying the ride. 

I'd give all wealth that years have piled,
The slow result of Life's decay,
To be once more a little child
For one bright summer day.

~Lewis Carroll, "Solitude"

Back to my vintage 70's photo above.  You can see our old truck had a camper top on the back.  Whenever I see that photo I am brought back to the times our family and two mutts would go on car trips in the hot summers.  Yes, my sisters and I were stuck in the covered back with no a/c.  We would be half-deaf and the spit from the dog tongues would drip in dusty dirty tracks on our bare legs and I can still smell the reek of dogs and sweat.  But I wouldn't have it any other way.  :-)

I want to thank Helen Ready for inspiring my new blog series title, "I am Woman, Hear Me Purr".


  1. Absolutely loved this post! It brought tears to my eyes and made me homesick for an era gone by :)

  2. I was an 80s-90s child but I lived in the country and know exactly what you mean...boy do I miss that.

  3. Great post Rita! I grew up that way in the 50's! Then raised my older kids in the 70's and *babies* in the 80/90's. What a rude progression. I'm so glad that you've been able to capture that for your boys.

  4. This post brought back so many memories of my 80's childhood in the country. It is what I want for my someday children. Thank you so much for writing this.

  5. I grew up in the late 60's early 70's too...your comments put a lump in my throat for sure. I tried to raise my boys "free range" style and today they are very well-adjusted athletic outdoorsy young men... my grandchildren, on the other hand... Thanks for a great post!

  6. Hi Rita - delurking to agree wholeheartedly with you - I had a similar childhood in Australia in the seventies - maybe not as many animals ! We used to play for hours with the neighbourhood kids whilst our mothers gathered around the kitchen table and drank instant coffee and smoked !

    What really struck me was your comment that our parents didn't expect to have to entertain us. That is so true - sure the occasional picnic but other than that we were left to our own devices.

  7. Wow Rita! What a post. You described my childhood EXACTLY, except that we had a pop-up camper - ooooh la la!
    I say we start a movement and teach people that it's more than OK to make your kids play outside and without you, it's GOOD for them! (I must fess that I 'kick' my kids out all the time, and tell them they can't come in unless there's blood!)

  8. Mary, I remember my mom sitting around with the neighborhood ladies drinking coffee. :-)

    Kathy, we wanted a pop-up too, but it never happened. I remember shopping for them however!

  9. p.s. love some Helen Reddy too!

  10. lol, we had the same truck ... actually my brother still drives it, even wrote a song about it called The Truck Song. here's a link to the song, and how the truck loos now

  11. ABSOLUTELY!!! I grew up in the 70's (born in 67). I remember the LONG, slow, delightful days of summer. Never coming in until dinner time; running up and down the street with my friends playing games!! Oh, how I wish more parents put a priority on that kind of childhood...maybe then my kids would have friends to play with but thankfully they do have each other.

  12. Great post Rita! I too was a child of the 70's and your childhood seems like a mirror of mine. My Uncle Elmer even had a camper van that he took us to the lake in sometimes. Such fond memories of mud pies on a sunny day and string art or hook rugs when it rained. Thanks for sharing :)

  13. Oh boy, what memories! Mine go back into the late 40s and 50s, but I can honestly say "those were the days". Back in the day when we could hop on our bikes and ride back roads for hours without fear, walk wherever we wanted without fear, and yes, amuse ourselves with a few toys and our imaginations. I used to love to take a long stick and my dog and roam the countryside; the long stick was my horse. I was a bit of a tomboy.

  14. up this post. absolutely love it.
    I was born 81, in China. if I had my own child, I'd want them to have the same kinda childhood as I did. almost like yours, but more different in culture of course.
    I miss the sincerity and purity and most of all I miss its magic sparkling in my heart...

  15. What a great post..I grew up in the 7o's & everything you mentioned is how I remember how things use to be!! I remember my grandmother not worrying about me going off with my friends at 8 years old & here I am today so paranoid about my 8 year old twin daughters playing outside by is amazing how things changes over the years:)

  16. So enjoyed your post...I hope you read your comments, loads of other people did as well. I could swear that pic is of me and my little sister except that we would sit on a vw bug (it was CA!, not TX). THis hyper culture of micromanaging our kids is crazy and I am a victim all too often. I have learned a lot from living abroad about how overblown the hysteria about always being right there for your kids is. My kids have SO much more freedom to just play outside, ride bikes in the neighborhood and ask to play with neighbor kids rather than always having pre-scheduled playdates like in the States. The misconception is that it is safer but it is the same (compared to where we live in the states anyway which is suburbia). Thanks so much for your site and your post. Do come visit my site if you have a chance...I used to be an ex-pat in Germany, grew up with an Austrian mom and now split time between the States and my dh's native Sweden...
    PS, there was an article running yesterday about how helicopter parenting making kids neurotic. Google it! (Whew, this was way more than a comment)

  17. I love your post! I was raised in the 80s and my parents always used to tell me to go outside and play. I would just wander around the neighborhood with other kids and explore the woods. We wouldn't go home until it started to get dark. I am raising my 2 boys that way as well (they are 13 & 8) and I plan on doing that with my 2 girls but right now they're a little too young (they are 2 & 1). The best part is, is I am living in the same neighborhood and in the same house that I grew up in!!! I couldn't ask for anything more, except maybe for a good game of flashlight tag....just like the good 'ol days :)

  18. Thanks for posting this, Rita! The 70s was a fabulous decade to be a child in! Oh, to be a free range child again! I fear that I am allowing our current culture to damage my children! I needed to read this today :)

  19. Hi Rita!
    Loved this post! I think we should all power down this summer and "go out and play".

    P.S. Thanks for all of your amazing work!

  20. Loved this! I grew up very similiar in a small town. It reminded me of growing up and running around all over the neighborhood until dark. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Loved this post! I can so relate to both... being the child in this carefree setting and now being the paranoid parent who doesn't let my small children out of my site. Thanks for sharing. :)

  22. I, too, am having trouble walking the line between helicopter parenting and letting my kids be raised by wolves. When I was 5 I had the run of the neighborhood. I can't imagine letting my daughter have that same freedom. Hopefully soon...

  23. I'm a seventies kid myself and this post was dead on. I lived in a neighborhood and by the time I was ten, I could ride my bike to the pool with friends, go have a slushie uptown. And play follow the leader or hide and go seek on bikes with friends until dark. It was great. I was forever bringing home strays and no one freaked out about rabies.
    We had a farm in the country and I'd ride on the back of the truck and throw the hay off when I wasn't much bigger than a bail of hay.
    It's hard now not to be scared to death of every bad thing that can happen. And I sometimes feel guilty when they aren't involved in every activity known to man. It's great to remember how good "free-range" can be. Thanks for the great post!

  24. I was a 70's kid also, and had a very similar childhood, except my mom and dad worked. We were poor until I was a teenager, but I'm not sad about that. It gave me great life lessons.

    Love your post and could really relate to it. Oh, and wanted to mention that I'm not a mom who manages her kids' days either.

  25. I just have to say this is a great post. I had the same kind of childhood. I hope to give that to my kids too. Things are so different now. But we can choose what kind of parent to be now. I choose to be a bit free range my kids are pretty happy;)

  26. Rita, this was so well written I had to come back and read it again. Your post inspired me to read the book "Free Range Parenting" by Lenore S. and I will soon be reading "Under Pressure" (another book on the subject) Things have changed so much in society from the world you described and it makes my heart ache for a simpler time. Thanks for the thought provoking post and inspiration! You really are amazing!

  27. Awesome post. I so appreciate reading this blog , Rita.

    Kelly O'Rourke

  28. I grew up the same way in the 70s and 80s! I always comment how you never see kids running around the neighbourhoods like we did. We would be out the door right after breakfast and only came home to eat! I loved all the "Stand by Me and Goonie adventures" we went on!

    Great post!

  29. You wore Tuff-Skins!!! My husband (one of seven) always talks about them. Loved my childhood and loved this post.


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