When I read the story of the mom arrested for allowing her nine-year-old daughter to play unsupervised in the park, a big part of me cried foul. At age nine, I had been allowed to roam my neighborhood with a pack of kids unsupervised, or ride my bike all over the neighborhood alone.
We didn’t have cell phones back then.
I walked to my guitar and ballet lessons alone or biked there unsupervised. And looking back, I can honestly say it was great. Having that freedom helped me explore and discover who I am. I look back on those days with such fondness. Talking to my friends, they all remember having that same kind of freedom. We were allowed to roam, to explore, and our parents may not have been sure 100% of the time exactly where we were.
Were we fine? Yes.
But can we give our own kids the same freedom that we had? Hell no.
Why is that?
Part of it is that this generation of new parents has lived through some traumatic events that make us feel especially protective of our children. We’ve experienced a terrorist act on American soil — 9-11– and countless school shootings, Columbine, Newtown. It’s rattled us to our cores and given us a distinct sense of unease.
Our own parents didn’t experience any of that. War was something that happened far away, and terrorism wasn’t really on their radar.
There is a part of me that desperately DOESN’T want to be a helicopter mom; you know, those moms who hover over their kids to the point of smothering them. I want to feel that I have it in me to back off, to give my daughter her space to grow, to learn, to become who she needs to be.
I do know a handful of parents who allow their kids to roam relatively freely in certain circumstances. Yet in those situations I inevitably excuse myself to go find my daughter if she disappears from “eye shot” for more than a few minutes. Part of me has to be reassured that she is safe, and no matter what I do, I can’t let go of that. I am not sure I want to.
The mom who was arrested used poor judgement. She wasn’t just letting her daughter walk to the park from home to play for a little while. The girl was playing there for hours on end during the mom’s whole work shift at McDonald’s. Apparently the little girl was previously staying at the McDonald’s during her mom’s shift playing with a laptop, which was unfortunately stolen. When someone spotted the little girl at the park unsupervised, he or she called the police.
What feels extreme is that the McDonald’s worker was arrested and a family was ripped apart over this. The daughter is now in foster care. I think in this case a strong warning would have been a more appropriate action, and some help getting the mom some proper childcare so that she could work without worry (states offer free childcare for low-wage earners).
Law enforcement is arresting moms when it discovers parenting decisions that it feels are in the wrong, even when an arrest seems like an extreme, knee-jerk reaction. Parents are feeling super paranoid about their parenting choices these days.
Add this to the guilt most of us already feel for not being good enough parents.
But that’s another story.