The Free-Range Parenting Firestorm

Danielle Meitiv and Steven Wright

Danielle Meitiv and Steven Wright

By Steven Wright (United States)

By now, many of you have heard the story about the Meitiv family in Silver Spring, MD and their “free-range” parenting style who have been investigated by CPS for child neglect simply because they have allowed their kids to walk to and from their local park on their own.

Danielle and Sasha Meitiv are dear friends of mine and Rafi and Dvora are among the kids that call me Uncle Steve.

My crazy busy Wednesday luckily had me over in the Silver Spring area and I was able to squeeze in lunch with Danielle. We had a great time talking about what is happening over some majorly yummy Ethiopian food! The support that has been coming in from all over the globe has been incredibly amazing and from some of the most unlikely sources!

In January, when the media storm started to take off, Danielle and Sasha sat down with the kids to ask them how they felt about all of this and if they were okay with Danielle and Sasha fighting the investigation. Rafi responded with, “Mommy, who was it that wouldn’t give her seat on the bus? Wasn’t it Rosa Parks? We have to fight! We are the Rosa Parks of families!!” Rafi is AWESOME if you ask Uncle Steve.

I know these kids well, and I also know Danielle and Sasha. Their desire to have their children grow up with the freedoms they, and I as well, had as children is well thought out and chosen after having taught the kids quite well how to handle themselves on their own. Rafi and Dvora are more than capable of going to the parks in their neighborhood to play on their own.

When the incident happened in December, I remember Danielle putting out a Facebook post asking if anyone knew somebody at the Washington Post because they wanted to see if someone would be interested in writing a story about the situation. The law in Maryland in very specific regarding the age at which a child can be left alone and what the age of an accompanying child should be if a child is under the age of 8. (Children at the age of 8 can be left alone, but if under 8, must be accompanied by a child over the age of 13, but this only applies if the children are in a dwelling or in a vehicle.) The law does not apply to being outdoors, at a park, or in public places. In Montgomery County, children can walk home from a bus stop or if they live within a mile of their school, walk home from school unaccompanied by an adult from first grade on (no bus service is provided if they live this close.)

One article was written and hoowa did it take off like a firestorm! Danielle has done over 75 interviews to date – with press from all over the world, on television with every major news station, even a visit to NY to be on the Today show (the kids had a great day that day!) It has been one incredibly amazing journey for them. It has completely taken on a life of its own and in its course sparked an international debate about over protective parenting – one that is long overdue. In talking with Danielle, she told me it is quite interesting to suddenly have your family and your life become an international cultural meme – the discussion now is no longer about us, but about parenting and that’s a good thing. We are now the representative icon of the blow back toward the expectations of overprotective parenting.

As one who has intimate knowledge of the details of this case and the incidences that have happened over the past five months, I can tell you I stand by the Meitiv’s 1000%. There is no question in my mind that this is a case of government overreach. The law firm that has taken on this case, has confirmed that the case is clear cut and they are filing a lawsuit on behalf of the Meitivs.

I call Danielle my Free-Range Diva! Danielle and Sasha are committed to standing for their rights as parents to parent as they freely determine, a right that has been upheld in court in the past based on the 14th Amendment of the constitution. Naturally, we have to let this play out, but in the meantime, all I have to say is,

Rafi – you are my newest civil rights hero! and Uncle Steve is proud, proud, proud!

Danielle – Rock on Free-Range Diva – we’ve got your back and you are going to crush this!

Despite the challenges and the frustrations, please know, the overall experience is being treated as a positive one by my friends. Danielle spoke of the notion that gee, we do live in a country where even the smallest person has rights, no matter what the discussion is in the public sphere or what people’s opinions are about you, one can, in fact work to protect and stand up for those rights – and the lesson that this is teaching our kids is priceless.

I am SO grateful that the Meitivs are part of my life and quite happy to stand with them and follow along their journey.


One thought on “The Free-Range Parenting Firestorm

  1. Thanks, Steve, for an insightful view of what the Meitiv family is coping with. I think it’s terrific that they were careful to ask their children’s agreement before wading into the media with this, and the whole family is impressive.

    The “free-range” controversy is also making me hopeful that society can begin to re-examine the ways it distrusts parents in poverty for no reason other than their poverty. This is something that UNICEF helped us to document in six countries in 2004 (, but there has been almost no progress since then. Bad policies often lead to child protective services removing children for much longer than a few hours and in ways that are terribly damaging. People who were removed from loving homes because of poverty (like Franck, should be able to have a voice in improving social service policy.

    I also know two teenage sisters who are about to be removed from their home tomorrow. The judge’s only reason for ordering this is that the parents have been talking about a separation, and they have also apparently been “making incorrect use of soup kitchens”–whatever that might mean? On top of that, the girls will be separated from one another by 70 miles, and both will have to change schools. And social services have said that it is “too soon” to outline a plan by which the parents could regain custody. With no plan, how can the girls find hope?

    I hope that all parents who know what it is to be scrutinized with unwarranted suspicion can come together to show us how important it is to listen to children and families who live in poverty.


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