Throwing Fences: Active Parenting Is Active Loving

I wonder if it is true that if parenting is easy, we are doing it wrong. Not that there aren’t easy moments when everyone is happy, productive, relaxed and caring. It is just that I believe these moments don’t happen by accident. They happen from hard work—gut wrenching, soul-searching, value-testing hard work. It’s called active parenting (which is the opposite of lazy parenting), and if you are doing it, you’ll know.


It is hard to fall into lazy parenting when our children are very young. They don’t allow it. Cries demand to be answered, and care must be given to ensure survival. But with each passing year, parenting responsibilities seem to decrease.

Or do they? And here is where the challenge lies. By actively parenting through all phases of our children’s years with an ever vigilant eye to remaining developmentally relevant, we can, hopefully, get to the lazy part of parenting—simply enjoying.


Throwing Fences

In my family, we call it throwing fences. The proverbial “fence” starts as a crib: a lovely, soft space for safety. Maybe then the fence becomes a playpen for secure exploration. Next, the baby gates are erected to prevent falls on stairs as our children and their need for exploration grows.

As I think back on all the times when the training wheels came off, I know the value. Each moment of childhood transition lends itself to promoting individuality, finding self, growing confidence, learning, trying, failing, trying again as resiliency builds. Our babies sleep through the night, our little ones finally sleep in the big boy bed, our pre-teens stay all night at a slumber party, and then our teenagers go off to college. Every step involves active parenting.

Those “fences” are boundaries. And if we stay active in our parenting, if we stay involved in meaningful ways, the boundaries are accepted and provide the safety children need to explore, to grow, and to thrive.

Boundaries of exploration expand little by little as children age.

It Is Never Too Late

Teenagers may be the trickiest of all to actively parent. The way they communicate their needs to us are harder to interpret and their exploration area is huge—the world, perhaps. The fences we throw to keep them safe are in the form of curfews, respect-based conversations, gentle and sometimes firm reminders, and trust. It’s 75% terrifying, 20% exhilarating, and 5% exhausting. But if we do it right and don’t rest on the job, it is 100% worth it.

“Teenagers are the trickiest of all to actively parent. The ways they communicate their needs to us are harder to interpret and their exploration area is huge—the world, perhaps.”

I hope it is never too late to start being an active parent. I hope that even in our advanced years active parenting, no matter when it starts, will be perceived as love. But mostly, I hope that we just keep up the hard work we started at the beginning when we were blurry-eyed, answering cries from the crib. I still get lightly placed tidbits of advice from my 80-year-old mother as she parents me. I’m lucky. She’s not lazy. She loves me. Actively.


  • Sarah McCarroll, M.S. is a school psychologist who has spent 20 years working with public school teenagers. She is wife to a high school teacher/head football coach and mother to three wonderful teenagers. In her professional role, she is an advocate for students with disabilities and their families.

She is a co-founder of STARS, a program for at-risk females to reduce girl/girl violence by promoting positive sisterhood. She is a co-creator of PRIDE, a school-wide initiative to increase positive behavioral outcomes in her school.


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