Parenting In Fear

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Last week I read a news story that really disturbed me. It was about a woman who was arrested after leaving her kids in a vehicle while she shopped for a phone. The story is really short (you can read it here), and there aren’t many details given. But here were the things that I thought as I read it:

1. She obviously didn’t go anywhere out of sight of the kids, because the story says as soon as the officers approached the car she came out.

2. In April in Connecticut, it is unlikely to be dangerously hot in a car.

Perhaps there is more to the story. She was reported to be “uncooperative.” Maybe she was belligerent and if she’d been rational and calm, they wouldn’t have arrested her. Maybe in the course of the confrontation, she revealed other things that showed her to be an unfit parent. I don’t know. But purely on what was reported, this story disturbs me.

I’ve debated for a week whether to blog about it because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that if I say publicly, “This is an overreaction. This is not child endangerment. What did this woman do to deserve being arrested and having her children taken away from her?” that it puts me at risk of having someone knock on my door and say, “If that’s how you feel, maybe we need to take your kids from you.”

And this, at heart, is what I find so disturbing. I shouldn’t have to live with that fear.

We live in a society that is becoming steadily more judgmental about parenting decisions. In the back of our minds, we’re always aware that if we misstep in public, or if someone disagrees with a choice we make, we could be reported to the authorities. There’s always that threat of having our children taken away. Case in point: a blog reader told me once that she let her child play outside with another kid, and DFS came by and did an investigation because they thought she was endangering/neglecting her child.

Making parenting choices based on the fear of what other people think is not a recipe for good parenting.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think child protective services are the enemy. There are a lot of children who need much more and better than what they’re given. And there is such a thing as endangering a child by leaving them in the car. But there’s got to be room to weigh individual circumstance. There’s a big difference between someone who runs an errand at a strip mall, within sight of the car, for ten minutes when it’s 50 degrees outside, and someone who goes into the Mall of America for an hour or three when it’s 85 or 90.

Most parents weigh their decisions carefully, taking into account a wide range of factors unknown to anyone on the outside.

It makes sense to me that police officers would come up to a car when they realized there were kids in it and no adult. It does not make sense to me that when the mother immediately appeared–making it clear that she did have her eye on the children–they would arrest her for not having her eye on them.

Like I said, there could be more to the story. But this is what has been bothering me for the last week. What do you think? Have you ever made a parenting choice based not on what you thought was the right thing, but on the fear of being judged unfit by others?

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16 thoughts on “Parenting In Fear

  1. Carrie E

    There was a woman in Cedar Falls about 10 years ago who had the police called because she left her child sleeping in the car while she paid for gas (the car was parked in one of 5 spaces by the door). I certainly dragged all 5 of mine into the gas station after that. It’s an immobilizing fear. That said, mine did and do play outside alone, but I’m within earshot. It does seem like overkill to arrest her.

  2. Holly

    Leaving a kid in a car always reminds me if the woman in KC who left her 7 year old in the car while she ran into a sub shop to get a drink. While she was in there her car was stolen. She tried desperately to get her son out of his seatbelt before the thief took off but her son was killed in the process. Horrific! My fear is never from someone questioning my judgement but from the “what ifs.”

    • That makes sense, but here’s another thought–for about two years I had this recurring “day-mare” where the bridge at Rocheport, or the bridge at St. Charles, collapsed under us, and I had to choose which of my children to try to save. It was HORRIBLE. I was so terrified. I lost sleep at night over this. But I couldn’t stop driving to KC or STL to avoid the bridges. Eventually I had to pray my way to accepting that some things are so remote a danger that they’re not worth the emotional pain to be afraid of.

    • Lori Myers

      That was in Independence. He’s why they are so strict about that now. It’s designed to protect the child from others. Not necessarily from their parents. Previously, no one cared if you left your kids in the car. Even in summer. I remember staying in the car if my mom had to run in and get something. Of course, there were also no car seats then either.

  3. Yes. There are things I haven’t let my kids do because of what “everyone” would think. I really have to wonder if our kids are that much less safe than we were as kids, or whether the media has just made us think they are.

    At some point when my 21 year old as about 5, I was given a developmental inventory of skills he should possess and by what age. The inventory was developed in the 1970’s. One age-appropriate behavior for a five year old was to run short errands in the neighborhood. When I was five, I used to walk around the corner to a friend’s house. That friend, and my brother and I, used to go as a group a block away to the school to play on the playground, without supervision. My mother would have thought nothing of sending me to the neighbor’s house for something. I remember when I was four or five (I remember which house, not the age), being sent to the backyard neighbor’s house for something, and choosing, instead of crossing the backyards, to walk halfway around the block. My Dad was very unhappy, but it was getting dark–but the reality is I’d gone that far by myself before.

    When my daughter started sixth grade she started at a school that provided bus service, but only to the neighborhood, not to the house. The bus stop was 1/2 mile from my house. I’d take her there in the morning at 6:30 and all the parents would wait until the kids got on the bus to leave. Most parents were there in the evening to pick the kids up, though several were neglected like my daughter and had to walk home. One day in CCD when she was in middle school, a seminarian was there talking about “child protection” and she said that he said that it wasn’t good that some kids had to walk home from the bus stop by themselves. She said most of the kids in the class did just that, but he made it sound like their parents were taking undue risks with their lives.

    One thing that I find interesting is that in New Orleans, pre-Katrina (the school system has changed a lot since then and I’m not in town during afterschool hours very often so I don’t know if this is still true or not), the normal “school” bus transportation for high school students was an RTA bus pass. You’d see bus stops full of kids in school (mostly public school) uniforms during the after school hours. These kids were going into “bad” neighborhoods and were not likely being met at home by mom with cookies in the oven yet you didn’t hear news reports of them being accosted on the way home from school.

    I have to wonder how much of our over-protective behavior comes because we can do it. The woman who is not employed outside the home isn’t a housewife anymore, she’s a SAHM. Her job is seen as the kids, not the house and since she likely only has one or two, she can devote a lot of time to chasing them, hauling them and otherwise being right there with them–something a mom who had a lot of kid and a lot of housework to do couldn’t do.

    • You left a great comment, but I’m going to zero in on the end of it as particularly important: I absolutely think the shrinking family size is a factor in this. It’s indicative of a whole societal shift. The odd thing is, there’s no way to talk about it without sounding insulting to big family people or small family people. Either you insult the big family ppl because they’re too busy to care about their kids or they figure if they lose one they still have ___ more (totally not true) or you insult the small family people by implying that they have idolized their children (not true, either). And yet there’s definitely something about that societal shift to smaller families that has caused this shift in the way we view the kids, too. I’m not gutzy enough to break that subject open.

      On Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 12:35 PM, So much to say, so little time wrote:

      >

      • I definitely have noticed the shift in playground parents!

        ~ 20 years ago, my parents let me visit the neighborhood playground alone (or with friends)… while they stayed at home and did household chores! Imagine that!

        ~ 10 years ago, parents were expected to be present ~ but it was acceptable to sit on the sidelines and chat with other adults, while the children played by themselves.

        ~ Today, sheesh! Parents walk two steps behind their kids, zig-zagging across the playground after them, and even assisting them to navigate the equipment, climb ladders, cross monkey bars, balance on ground beams, etc… Not toddlers, mind you, but five, six, and seven year olds!

        I have no problem playing “safety spotter”, especially if they are dangling upside down, but I always encourage my children to learn skills for themselves. My kids all know how to pump their own legs to swing, for example. LOL It sounds simple, but there are a lot of school-age children getting “pushed” by their parents. 😛

        My younger two can climb rock walls by themselves, but recently my son decided he couldn’t reach the top. I told him to carefully climb back down (something I knew he was capable of doing), but the LOOKS I received from other parents ~ Oh my goodness! You would think I’d asked him to sky dive from an airplane.

        Another mother went so far as to step over and put her hands on Jacob, to “help” him come down, as I was obviously too negligent and self-absorbed to assist my poor son.
        He just looked at her with a “Who are you, lady? Why are you grabbing me?” expression. LOL

  4. Another thought. My mom had a baby when I was my baby’s age (almost 10). My mom would leave me alone in the house with the baby that summer while she drove to the other end of the subdivision to card the boys in at the pool (you had to be 10 to get in by yourself but they’d let kids who could swim be carded in by Mom, who could then leave). Then I was allowed to go to the pool by myself. The next summer, when the baby was 1, my mom spend (it seemed to me) a lot of time househunting. I was left home with the baby. Now I was the mature reliable oldest child and my baby is, well, the baby, but I can’t imagine leaving her in charge of a toddler even during naptime, even with the nextdoor neighbors being told she was there alone with the baby, but I didn’t see anything wrong with it then–unless I got stuck with a messy diaper.

  5. I question my parenting skills all the time, LOL, and it certainly doesn’t help when the law is so ambiguous. You just never know what is considered negligence these days.

    When I’m taking the kids to the park, ages 12, 6, and 5, and we decide to bring the dog with us, I usually walk the dog in tight circles around the perimeter of the playground.
    I could probably leave my 12-year-old “in charge” of her siblings on the merry-go-round, while I let Harley lead me further away… but I just don’t know whether the Powers That Be would recognize my daughter as a fit substitute. 😛

    God forbid, I would be accused of neglect as I’m standing 100 feet away, holding a dog’s leash.

    What are the boundaries, exactly? I’ve often wished I had the nerve to ask a CPS officer. Is it neglect if a parent is standing behind a chain-link fence, an open door, or a window facing the yard…?

    What if we are standing in the front yard, watching our kids riding bicycles around the neighborhood… how many feet/inches are allowed between us and them? Is it neglectful if they turn a corner and we don’t race after them?
    Must we put our kids on leashes, for their safety and our peace of mind? =P

    • It’s all a judgment call, I guess…and that’s a good thing, unless you draw the short straw. The things you’re talking about in this comment are exactly what bother me so much. We shouldn’t be having to make our decisions on that kind of fear.

  6. Lori Myers

    I have felt judged a lot. My son is delayed and borderline Autistic. So, some people don’t understand why he’s not potty trained at four. Also, I’m an early childhood teacher so that compounds the judgment. I feel that it’s OK to sit on the bench when your child is playing at the park. I would not let my son play outside alone because of his age and because of abductions. I have also found that if I’m too near him when his is playing at the park, he is hesitant to try new things.

  7. Yes, to all of this. Recently there has been a blowup on facebook about an incident that happened on the air force base. A mother went in to pay for gas and left her child in the car (70 degree weather). Someone called the authorities and the base police showed up. I noticed people seemed to be blasting this mom on facebook, a few even went as far as to say they didn’t care if the child was 9 years old, it was still neglect. I’m not sure how old this woman’s child was, but I don’t think it would be considered “neglect” at 9, that seems to be a stretch. My friends and I were allowed to ride our bikes all around the neighborhood and to the park, be home by supper or when it got dark. And yes, I was babysitting and being paid by other families to watch kids in diapers way before I could drive, so I had to be 13 or 14. I try not to let what other’s think or say dictate what I know is the right parenting choices for our family. I’m especially aware of it because of the homeschooling and having a larger than normal family. Do I allow my kids to take recess outside during school days, or will I risk a neighbor calling DCFS or a truancy officer? I think it helps that when I was a child I knew all my neighbors, my mom could count on a call from any one of them if I was causing trouble. I could run to any of their houses if I was in danger. There was more community there.

    • Wow…I leave all five of mine in the car to run in and pay for gas or whatever. I’m usually just inside the door. and my oldest is about to turn 13. She locks the car and unlocks it when I get back. I don’t know…this stuff drives me crazy!!

  8. I was raised in the 70s and everyone was left in the car for hours. My parents both worked–feminism of the time– and there was no daycare. All kids were just left alone for hours and siblings watched siblings. I walked for miles to school alone. Everything was different.

    Now–yes, I do parent in fear of CYS. All the time. It makes me sick that the parent no longer has authority to make decisions for their own child. Everyone is a “do-gooder” these days. Neighbors calling CYS all the time on neighbors because they judge other parents and think they need to step in to rescue someone else’s child.

    I have heard of parents being reported for paying for gas, heard of someone reported for putting the kids in the car and then returning the cart to the shopping store front. Not putting on sunscreen, feeding their kids junk foods….Bizarre stuff! Heard of people reported for saying things on the internet and others track their IP address and report them.

    It all honestly makes me sick. I have no idea what motivates ppl to report parents. And yes, I do think it has to do with the societal change to 1.2 kids.

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