I remember all the advice I got when I was pregnant with and had my first baby. People of society are always willing to share their best tips on how to help raise your children safely and successfully, aren’t they? “Back is best for sleeping… fire resistant pajamas only… have a car seat expert install your car seat for you…turn the temperature of your water heater down, so you don’t burn baby in the bath… no honey before the age of 1… etc, etc, etc.” I vividly recall the unsolicited advice from an older woman when she spotted me sipping a Coke while nursing my infant: “you really shouldn’t be drinking caffeine while you’re nursing.” There is a vast array of books out there to help us navigate the dangers and challenges in each stage of development. In all that advice I received, there was one thing no one warned me about.
My first experience with this parenting fear was on a spring evening two years ago. I had driven home from my parents’ house about 35 minutes away, and as I got near my home I looked in the rear view mirror to see all three kids sleeping in the back seat. We needed more milk for the morning cereal, so I pulled into the nearest Walgreens and parked in the spot closest to the building, peeked at the snoring kids and got out of the van. I locked the door and made it about 10 steps toward the building when I stopped. I had an uneasy feeling that made me turn around and get back in the van. Milk could wait, we’d just have to go in the morning. I couldn’t leave my sleeping kids in a locked van-in a safe area, with a safe temperature-to run in and grab milk, but it’s probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.
In that moment I had absolutely ZERO fear that a predator would take my children, nor any concern that they would overheat, or the van would start on fire, or any of the other things that “could” happen. I was afraid of another mom (or dad, or non-parent) seeing my kids sleeping safely and soundly in the van, and calling the cops, you know… as a “Good Samaritan” worried for my children’s safety.
As I was walking into that Walgreens, this article came to my mind that I had recently read, about a mom who did something very similar- she ran into a store to get an item, leaving her child in the vehicle, and when she returned from the store, her child was perfectly safe… but her life changed because of what someone did that day. Someone who was “worried about the child.”
I’ve seen videos on Facebook from bystanders who will record a child being carried into Walmart in the midst of winter with no jacket on, resulting in dozens of comments calling for the removal of that child from their parent. Or a post in a moms group asking what they should do about the 8 and 10 year old brothers in their neighborhood who can be seen walking to and from the park all alone each day? I’ve even seen pictures shared on social media, of the license plate of a mom who left her child in the vehicle while she ran in to the gas station to pay for gas and get a beverage. These posts are always captioned with something along the lines of “I am worried for the safety of this child…”. But I wonder- is that “worry” valid, and are you really helping the child?
This spring, Utah passed a “free range parenting” bill, which makes it more clearly legal for parents to allow their children to walk to a park without supervision, or ride their bike to a friend’s house, maybe even stay home by themselves while mom is at work, etc. With the passing of this bill, two camps of thought became loudly clear:
1) “Do you want your child to be abducted and trafficked? This is what’s going to happen now!”
2) “Wait… this wasn’t always completely legal? Of course it should be allowed. We needed to pass a bill for this?”
Both sides can spout countless anecdotal stories, articles, and facts to support why they are in the right. To be honest, I don’t even really care what side you’re on. My thoughts just go back to my own childhood, spent roaming the countryside on our bikes as a brood of 5 siblings, ranging in age from 12 yrs old down to 5 years old, while our parents worked, full-time, over 35 minutes away. We didn’t have cell phones to check in with our parents, or GPS trackers (we didn’t have bike helmets either but that’s another story!). We only had our landline phone which we would use to call mom at work and tell her we were going to bike 3 miles round trip to the general store for penny candy and we’d call her when we got home. Inevitably, we’d forget to call her when we got back, and would head down to the wooded pond across the road to play. She would’t hear from us again until the honk from her vehicle horn brought us back to the driveway when she pulled in from work 6 hours later!
Can you imagine letting your pack of children roam miles on their bikes without being able to get ahold of them at the snap of your fingers or press of a cell phone dial button?
And yet, I’ve spoken with so many peers who have similar childhood memories. So what has changed? Well, here’s my thought on it: remember the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.”?
The Village has changed.
What I mean by that is this: when we rode our bikes to the store, along the way we would see adults who had an eye on us. Maybe they knew us, maybe the didn’t, but if one of us needed help from them, we got it. In fact on more than one occasion, one of us fell off our bike and got a scraped knee. The adult out for a walk, or working in her yard, would simply come to the rescue with a wet cloth and bandaid, and send us on our way. There wasn’t a neighborhood phone call to spread the word that “these kids were biking alone, and one even got hurt, can you believe it!!! What should I do??? Who should I call?” The adult in proximity seemed to just take on a “not on my watch” mentality, and helped!
After that night in the Walgreens parking lot, I decided that I will be the village. If I’m at the park with my children and an unattended child there gets hurt, I will do my best to help, not wonder where their parent is. When I pull up to the gas station and see two kids sitting in the back of a vehicle, I will observe that they remain safe until I see the parent return from inside. That kid walking to and from school? I will keep an eye on him from my front window, so that while he is on MY block, he is safe.
What if, instead of being so quick to call out the parenting choices we don’t agree with (and we KNOW there are plenty!), we try to bring back the Village? What if we say, “I don’t agree with your choice to leave your child in the car/let them walk by themselves/stay home alone while you’re at work, but I WILL do my best to help your child remain safe on my watch.”? After all, aren’t we all really on the same team?
What do you think? Will you be a part of the Village? Join the discussion!