Essays, Opinion

Fail Better: If Irrational Parenting is Wrong, I Don’t Want to be Right

Content Warning: Child Abduction, Fail Parenting, Sickos living closer than you think, Child Endangerment, Drowning

Have you ever lost your child in a store? How about a sibling you were in charge of or a child you were babysitting that walked away from you? Can you explain to another human being in simple terms that sense of dread without tearing up? I know I can’t.

When my daughter was seven years old, her elementary school lost her for about fifteen minutes. It’s a short amount of time, yet an amazingly long amount of time. I’d waited in the car pick-up line, and when I pulled up with my yellow card displaying her name, I was repeatedly told she wasn’t there. Like heck she wasn’t. I’d walked her into school that morning myself. No, they meant they’d sent her walking home. By herself. We live not too far from the school, so walking home isn’t a stretch, but that’s not what was supposed to be happening. My kid was supposed to be in the car pick-up line. Sorry, they’d said… she’s not here.

I sped down to the crossing guard who knows me and my daughter and asked if she’d passed through. Nope. I drove the route and returned to the school, and by this time, I was in mega-tears meltdown mode. Fear that I can’t even put into words ate me up. If she wasn’t at school and wasn’t at home and wasn’t walking on the sidewalks to home, it only left me one conclusion. She’d been abducted, and as a parent, I’d failed her.

Is that an irrational fear? A fear over-sensationalized by nonstop media hype of missing children? No. An irrational fear would be my concern that on her way home she was mauled by a polar bear. I live in the Sunshine State. There are no chances of polar bears mauling anyone in the middle of my town. Ever. But, there is a chance that a stranger could pluck a young, defenseless child from the side of the road.

It is not an irrational fear if it can actually happen. I am not an irrational parent for wanting to keep my child safe. I am not treating my kids too precious by keeping them closer to home and not allowing them to roam the streets unsupervised.

I won’t keep you in suspense. They found my daughter at school right where she was supposed to be. She didn’t hear her name being called and the administration assumed she’d just walked herself home. A simple misunderstanding. That didn’t stop my tears and sure as hell didn’t stop my mouth from telling administration my doubts about their competence.

You can’t lecture me about what a “normalish, reasonably rational parent” should be or skew the statistics on crime so they meet your high handed “I wrote a book on parenting, welcome to my gospel” plug. If there is a one percent chance my child can be hurt by some sicko, then I’ll be the parent who errs on the side of caution. Hallelujah, praise the Internet.

My daughter is a year older, and now I let her walk half the distance to school by herself. And I stand there and watch until she makes the turn onto school grounds. She doesn’t know I’m watching. She never looks back. In her mind she’s floating on wings of independence, yet I can sleep at night knowing I’m there to keep watch over her. Call me a helicopter mom. Call me an irrational mom. Call me and ask me if I give a shit what anyone else thinks about my parenting. If my kids grow up to be a little more dependent on me than they should, so what? To be honest, the majority of our generation’s children have yet to reach adulthood so how can anyone predict the outcome of overprotecting them? It’s quite possible we are producing perfectly capable members of society despite “swaddling them in bubble wrap.”

Being a parent means waking up every day and making impossible decisions about someone else’s life. Sometimes it’s two or three other little lives. There’s no black and white, just a bunch of grays and purples and every other color in between, and the decisions can’t always be right. They won’t be. Other parents and non-parents will judge and we will still have to do the best that we can with what we are given.

I can commiserate with the parents in Maryland who were arrested [EDIT: ran up against the law] for allowing their children to walk around free-range, but only to a point. When my son was one-and-a-half, I had a certified drown prevention swim instructor put him through the baby float/swim technique in our home pool. Ten minutes a day for four weeks, he screamed as if he were on fire. The instructor forced him to swim. It’s not for the faint-of-heart parent to sit out of the pool and watch your child be dunked under water while they are screaming. It was definitely too much for my neighbor who threatened to call the police on me and my instructor for child abuse even though I’d assured him it was for my child’s benefit and overall safety. My daughter had been through the process and survived and so would he — all for the better. What right did my neighbor have to interfere?

Perhaps my neighbor did have a right to call the police, but as a parent I have to decide what’s right for my children and my family. But even as a parent who has that right to decide, I still have to follow the laws put in place by society. There is no law preventing me from putting my child through drown prevention classes, and my neighbor has since apologized. However, there are laws in place about what ages, such as the ages of the Maryland couple’s children, who can walk around unsupervised. Thanks to sickos waiting to prey on the perceived weak.

I recently read an article by Jen Hatmaker on the Today Parenting Team blog where she criticizes another mom for doing something nice for her child. That’s right, the mother did something nice. She’s making a time capsule for every year of her son’s life and giving it to him when he’s an adult. Not the extreme coddling the act is made out to be. Forget we have parents trying to sell their children in front of Walmart, let’s tear down a parent who wants to coddle their child a little longer than what may be considered socially acceptable. Hatmaker cites her own mother’s style of parenting as a basis for her criticism.

“They didn’t worry endlessly, interfere constantly, safeguard needlessly, or overprotect religiously. They just raised us. And we turned out fine.”

Yes, I also grew up with a mom who locked us outside during the summer and didn’t care where we were until dinner time. Often, I get into small arguments with my parents on my parenting style, and they add a resounding “and yet you survived” to drive home their points.

I’m not going to apologize for not wanting my children to be a product of the “yet you survived in spite of how I raised you” mentality. My parents were good parents. I can do better and I should try. There are more resources available than ever before. Should I ignore what’s available just because my parents didn’t seem to need them thirty odd years ago? I’m not going to.

What ruffles my hen feathers most about Hatmaker’s article is the overarching tone of this can’t be right targeted at the mom making the time capsule for her son. The nice deed. First off, this isn’t something newly developed by irrational mothers of the 2Ks. It’s just more possible to share our otherwise personal acts of kindness. My grandmother attended a weekly sewing circle. Do you know what she and the other grandmothers talked about? Their kids and grandkids. They brought pictures that were sent from proud parents through the mail and shared them. You know what they made in the sewing circles? Blankets and quilts that are treasured by families and passed down from mom to kids. Kind of like a time capsule.

Thanks to technology the sharing of these acts of kindness is just a little different now but the mothers and grandmothers aren’t any more proud of their kids than they were thirty years ago. A time capsule is not a new concept and not one born out of irrational parental thinking.

Believe me when I say there is an absolute wrong way to parent but there can’t be an absolute right way. In my house being a little bit overprotective and a lot more attentive fall into that scary category of I hope I’m not effing this up.

Welcome to parenthood. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and destined to fail. Good luck.

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  1. Claire Napier

    April 27, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I have to say, I can’t blame your neighbour. If a kid was screaming that much next door to me, I’d be …uncomfortable.

    But I’d be uncomfortable parenting, too, so power to ya.

  2. Dave

    April 27, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Maybe most the statistics that were cited in the opposing article (about how 2015 is safe) were made possible because parents didn’t just dump their kids outside and “hope for the best” in the last decade or so. Maybe parents have actually been more responsible, because the scum bags certianly haven’t gone away. Quickest way to reverse those declining trends is to go back to the way parents used to do it.

    We should be proud that kids are being beaten, sexually assaulted and abducted less, it means we are parenting better. However, it is still happening so we haven’t figured parenting out yet as a society. I’m on the “better to be safe than sorry” train for sure when it comes to my kids.

  3. Wendy Browne

    April 27, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    Our girls are getting older (7 and 9) so we’re working on the independence, and balancing it with the protectiveness because the world is a damn scary place. We don’t want to raise them to live in constant fear, but they do need to understand the importance of vigilance.

    We haven’t done drowning training, but I have been the mom that, while hiding the tears, watched her child scream through many swimming lessons because I refused to let her (A) believe that that was how you get out of swimming lessons, and (B) swimming lessons are about saving their lives. End result: she still loves to swim, and now knows how to do it well.

  4. Rebecca Thomas

    April 27, 2015 at 11:50 pm

    It’s so hard to know if we are making the right decisions. We can only try our best. On a recent road trip my son, who’s 16, told me the driver of the van carrying 9 kids driving across the state during a 3 hour road trip got a ticket for speeding, as in over 70 mph. My son won’t be a passenger in her van again. My husband disagrees and says I’m being irrational. Who’s right, who’s wrong? I couldn’t tell you, but I promise you my son won’t be in a van with her ever again.

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