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Carolyn Hax: Parenting a free spirit; a grandchild’s pricey taste


Hi, Carolyn:

My wife and I have a son who is almost 8. He is sooo fun to be with — a happy kid who loves mudholes, being barefoot, playing drums wildly and goofing around with his friends (and he has gobs of them). He’s always up for an adventure with us, his friends or by himself. This kid has gusto.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My question is this: He doesn’t want to be in sports, or any kind of lessons, or theater — nothing! He just wants to go at life freestyle. Are we [stinky] parents for not enrolling him in, like, anything extracurricular? We offer, but should we be pushing him to do more-organized stuff? All of his friends are involved in these kinds of things, so it feels weird to be the only family not doing it, too. Are we following his bliss, or neglecting his needs?


I just felt several generations of former kids slap their foreheads.

What you just described is an idyllic childhood. I realize it’s nearly impossible not to peer over at how other families raise their kids. But the ones worth our voyeuristic admiration are the ones doing what their kids need — not the ones doing what societies or other parents or D-1 recruiters value.

Most kids, if not all, need bare feet, toy drums and plenty of room for ad­ven­ture — and, beyond that, if a particular kid shows an interest in an organized activity, then by all means parents should feed it.

So, worry about what your son isn’t getting if and when he falls short of important* milestones for his age. (*Develop a few sane, disinterested sources for this — pediatrician, teachers, a veteran parent or two.) Otherwise, take a cue from the dude and enjoy this giddy ride.

Dear Carolyn:

I’m blessed with 10 grandchildren, each of whom I take clothes shopping once or twice a year, which I enjoy, especially as money is tight in a few of their homes. My problem is that the eldest has developed expensive tastes. When I steer her toward the discount stores where I ordinarily shop, she expresses disdain, makes excuses such as “They never have my size” and heads for Nordstrom.

Naturally I’ve considered just handing her the sum I’d feel okay spending, but the fun part for me is the smiles upon finding items they like, the delighted anticipation at checkout and the expressions of appreciation that I get from her cousins when I take them shopping.

On the other hand, while I’ve ceased to enjoy taking her shopping, how would it look if I simply didn’t take her, yet continued taking her cousins? I don’t want to be “that grandparent” who plays favorites.

Shopping Grandma

I’m more worried about “that grandparent” who won’t use her standing to gently rein in a brat.

“My budget is the same no matter where we shop, so if you want retail quality, you get retail quantity, too. Your decision.” Make clear what your limit is (in both senses of the word). If “the expressions of appreciation that I get from her cousins” fail to issue forth from her, then learn from that: “I sense you don’t appreciate these shopping trips anymore, so shall we skip it? I’ll understand. Maybe dinner instead?”

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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