If you’ve spent half an hour in my presence, you’ve probably heard me go off on the subject of safety and children. The modern obsession with children’s safety makes…me…CRAZY. How many kids actually got shocked by sticking fingers in light sockets before the Powers That Be decided that we must block up our outlets with plastic covers that are impossible to remove when it’s time to plug something in? How many kids actually drank chemicals because the cabinets were not childproofed? I don’t say these things didn’t happen—but I believe that parental supervision and proper discipline do as much to prevent them as childproofing.
My goal in life is to learn the placidity of my mother, who used to let her 12-15-year olds ride our bicycles 4 miles to town in the summer with no cell phone and only a general idea of when we might be back. (And we never even owned a helmet.) Who used to let her elementary-age kids go down in the woods and wander for hours, without knowing how far we went or where. Who let her kids jump off hay bales. (Hey, don’t knock it. That’s an awesome pastime. Who needs slides?)
I’m sure everyone has heard people from older generations fuss about the elaborate nature of children’s restraints these days: “When my kids were little, we built a box for the baby and set it on the front seat between us!” When I was a kid, we used to take long trips toDetroit andColorado to visit family at holidays, and we did those punishing 12+-hour trips in one day, pulling half-cooled egg sandwiches out of sandwich bags for breakfast, pausing at a rest area for home-packed PBJ sandwiches and the occasional Pringles treat at lunchtime. We had a van with two bench seats, and Dad built a carpeted platform that sat in the trunk. At times, on those long trips, everyone but the driver was asleep, either on a bench seat, the platform, or the floor between the seats.
What has changed since those days? Well, people drive faster, and there are more people on the road, I grant you that. But I think the biggest change is in the hysteria level of the general population. I mean, really, AAP. Facing backward until you’re two????? Let’s leave aside the issue of where the poor kid’s legs are supposed to go, and look at the bigger picture. Eye contact is important with small children. There is none when a child is facing backward. Parent can’t see child (those useless mirrors notwithstanding), child can’t see parent. As much time as people spend in cars today, don’t you think the greater danger is from dissociation, lack of stimulation and communication and connection? Don’t you think these have long-term implications that need to be weighed in balance against the chance of having a car accident?
Safety is important, but it’s way out of control. No matter what steps you take, you cannot protect your children from everything—nor should you. Trying to eliminate risk (and illness, for that matter) from our children’s lives is as sure a way I can think of to make sure our kids grow up completely unprepared for the real world. There’s a popular saying that says parenting is a long process of letting go. I think one of the major problems we face today is that parents are scared to let their kids be independent. Hello, helicopter parenting. Hello, kids who live at home beyond college. Hello, bailing your kids out of financial messes when they’re 40.
Perhaps I would be more concerned about safety if I didn’t have two other children, if I hadn’t gone through the drama of Julianna’s health issues. Once you’ve stared death in the face a time or two, it puts everything else in perspective. Last year I had a six-month argument with Nicholas’s doctor about his weight gain, or lack thereof. She really wanted me to freak out, and I really wasn’t going there.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do worry about my children’s safety. I’m not suggesting that we should abandon car seats or fail to pull kids back when they’re playing at the edge of a cliff. But I believe that in the area of safety, as in every other in life, there is such a thing as middle ground—and we really need to find it.
I’m with you! It’s been difficult to figure out how much letting go I can do, when. Although I was kind of proud of myself that I let my oldest cross the street to use the sidewalk on the other side (we live on a busy street) so she could ride her bike up and down the block. And I didn’t sit out there the entire 2 hours she did it. Sure, I was catching myself being a little worried…but I was like, “She’s 9…she can handle this…I handled much more lack of supervision when I was her age” but it’s amazing how I had to coach myself up on it. Today’s news makes you think you’re not parenting your children if you’re not supervising their every move until age 18 or something.
Also…that whole rear-facing until 2 thing. Good Lord…my kids have very long legs and most of the time, they want to be forward-facing to interact with their siblings! Ugh.
Thank you so much for writing this.
I am telling you that they will HAUL ME OFF TO JAIL before I will make my giant baby face backward between the ages of 1-2. He has been the approved weight for forward facing since 6 months. We had to abandon the pumpkin seat and go for the full fledged car seat at 7 months. He is already almost able to kick the seat and he has started to turn around and crane his neck uncomfortably to be able to see mommy and daddy up front. Not to mention, at the beginning of an awful St. Louis summers, he won’t have the AC blowing on him.
(Fortunately, my pediatrician hasn’t jumped on this bandwagon…yet.)
Our big quandary is Julianna. She’s not quite 30 pounds and she’s 4 years old. It’s just the nature of the chromosomes. I kept her in the pumpkin seat until her legs were pushing uncomfortably against the seat, sometimes around 15 or 16 months, b/c she hadn’t yet hit the weight limit. Long and skinny, that’s my girl. Then I asked our PT what she thought. She told me that Julianna’s head control was as good as it was going to get, and keeping her in the baby seat wasn’t going to help, and we weren’t particularly risking anything by turning her around. So we did. And you know what? The complaints from that girl about being in the car stopped.
We’re at the same point with Violet. At 14 months, she’s only 17 pounds but is getting WAY too long for her infant seat (which she hates, and always has).
Frankly, I think that a lot of the reaction has to do with lawsuits and just hearing about tragedies more often thanks to the 24-hour news cycle and the internet. On the first one, I can’t blame companies for protecting themselves into oblivion – I don’t agree with it, but if I were the head of a company – especially involved with children, I might do the same thing. The second part is that everything is presented as an EMERGENCY! that we have to deal with NOW! And before you deal with it, DO NOT change that channel!
I’ll also say that the older we get, the more we’ve experienced and seen. The abduction and murder of a girl in my youngest sister’s class (in a small suburb) affected the way my parents and others allowed their kids to walk home from school. And the deaths of kids in a drunk driving accident spawned SADD at my high school. Yep, that’s one of our claims to fame.
However, there’s a big difference between those examples and the “your kid’s finger might get crushed if you use this incorrectly or don’t fold it up yourself so please take this extra piece of plastic to protect them.” But like I said, I can’t blame the companies for protecting their bottom lines through protecting little fingers.
I agree. Some things I don’t mind. I am glad that some bottles are child proofed and I make my kids wear helmets but when I see the latest toy recalls sometimes I want to scream. Children can hit themselves in the head with this toy causing it to hurt. Um, DUH!?!? where were the kid’s parents when some of this stuff happened?
I so want to “like” this comment. LOL
I totally agree with this post, too! But at the same time, my gut instinct tells me to *duck and cover*….
We live in a different world now… sometimes it literally seems like an alien planet…
Just 20 years ago, when I was 11-years-old, I could ride my bike to the local mall – unsupervised – to spend my allowance. I’d be away from home all afternoon, browsing for books at Walden’s or stocking up on paint at Ben Franklin Crafts… (remember them?!)
And this was a quiet, white-collar suburb of Washington D.C. No police officers ever stopped me to question where my parents were…. perhaps they were too busy keeping the murderers and rapists off the streets, because I never saw any. 😛
Nowadays, your own neighbors will call Child Services **shudder** …if they can’t see you physically watching your children playing in your own yard.
You might be watching from the kitchen window, while you’re doing dishes or cooking dinner…. but no matter. You must drop everything and physically stand on your porch for 2+ hours, or else you will be accused of neglecting your kids.
I personally cannot feel safe just opening the back door and let my 9-year-old and her younger siblings run free in our fenced yard… I need to ensure my indoor chores are finished, and bring a project outside to keep me occupied while I sit and watch them swing. 😛
It may seem as if everyone is over-reacting, but until the court system relaxes its tyranical grip on the rights of parents, we just grovel and accept this is how society behaves now.
Everyone seems to have their voice on how you raise your family.
I wonder. I worry about what I write on my blog. But surely child protective services can tell the difference between truly abusive/neglected children and the average mom.
I will say, however, that I too take projects outside to work on while my kids are playing. Alex, at 6, is allowed to go out by himself, providing there are other kids outside. Safety in numbers. And he’s trustworthy; he knows to alert me if he’s changing venues. He’s very conscientious about that. But the little ones I can’t trust that way. They’re at that stage where they just take off, and they don’t always come when they’re called. Julianna is old enough to be past that stage, if she was typically developing, but of course, that’s a useless statement, since she isn’t! I bring it up only because this is one of those areas in which I get very tired of the long, drawn-out small childhood stage.
I really liked this post. As a new mom, I feel like everything is way overboard, but then I wonder if maybe I’m just too relaxed and there’s something I don’t know? So it’s nice to hear experienced mothers say this!
Imagine how relaxed you’ll be two kids from now! 😉
I think about the things I was allowed to do as a kid – roam the woods, climb and jump off things, etc. and it scares the crap out of me to think about J doing those things – but then again she is only 13 months old, so I hope I can let her have fun without worrying too much as she gets older.
As for the carseats, we have a convertible seat that can go rear and forward, so she moved from the pumpkin seat to the rear facing convertible seat at 6 months, and then at 11 months we switched the convertible seat to forward facing because she was 20 lbs and would throw such a fit about getting in the car. She has never gotten upset about getting in the car since (except for when we are leaving the park and she still wants to play!). Her pediatrician (whom we are firing anyway due to other “advise” I don’t agree with) told me that she should be in the seat rear facing until 2. I told her that yes, I had heard that recommendation and left it at that.
I’m another one who is getting tired of all the safety “rules”. As a kid we walked a mile plus to school (no hills no snow and mom hauled us in the rain) even in elementary school. I remember walking around the block as a five year old (we moved frequently so I can date my age by the house). When my daughter started sixth grade she started taking the bus to school and the bus stop is on the other side of our subdivision (no major streets to cross, middle class suburbia)and I had people question my decision to allow her to walk home from the bus by herself.
Don’t get me started on carseats. My teenagers stayed in carseats longer than their peers but by the end of first grade we gave them up as my van seat belts seemed to fit. Now my seven year old is supposed to stay in them until she is eighty pounds.
Also on the subject of carseats, we read about babies being left in the car. I have to confess, I left my youngest in the car once (not for long). She was in the back seat, facing backwards, and asleep. She was just a few weeks old, and I wasn’t used to having her with me. I just plain forgot. I was horrified a few minutes later when I ran to the car to get her, but that never would have happened with my older kids–when they were babies I drove a car without airbags and they were in the front seat next to me. I wonder what the stats are on forgotten babies pre and post airbags?
I agree with you one thousand percent. We as a society has gone overboard crazy with the safety issue.
Oh Kate, what a great read! Remind me to come back and read this again when I have kids. I’m likely to be the most neurotic mom out there… I already make my husband call me the minute he arrives when he’s on a trip and stuff like that.