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.