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Crazy Parents

Readers — A Michigan mom is upset not just that her 8-year-old daughter hopped a public bus without telling her, but that the bus driver didn’t immediately take some kind of unspecified but heroic action to stop this non-catastrophe:

Two things in particular gall me about this story:

1 – The air time afforded to Worst-First thinking. “The mom [is] just grateful that what COULD have happened didn’t,” the dutifully grave reporter intones. Playing her own part, the mom pipes up:

“Oh my goodness, just all kinds of thoughts run through your mind, somebody could’ve taken her, she could’ve just been lost somewhere downtown.I know a lot of kids who leave home don’t make it back.”

Really? Name one.

I wish the reporter had said that!

2 – Also per usual, the mom is demanding a complete overhaul of the way the bus authority does business, based on this one, single, uneventful event. Hooray for CATA (Capital Area Transit Authority) for not immediately groveling, “You’re right! From now on we will stop the bus in its tracks when anyone young and competent tries to ride without a  guardian.”  Amtrak could use balls like these.

Note that while the mom was angry, the kid refused to see her adventure as anything but fun. “I made some friends!”

It sounded like someone off-screen was chuckling at that pluck — the reporter or the mom — but the mom still had to sum it up this way: “If my kid could do it , some other kids could too.”

To me, that’s an endorsement of her child’s independence. But I don’t think that’s how she meant it. – L

Readers, Here’s a video that has gotten over 10 million hits so far:

It’s about motherhood being the hardest job at all, requiring 135 hours a week, lots of standing, very little sleeping and zero breaks.

But as “The Evil H.R. Lady” points out in this brilliant post, motherhood is not the utterly difficult, demanding, exhausting job society (and this video) paint it as. It’s only that way if we believe our kids can’t do anything safely or successfully on their own. So, says Evil H.R. Lady:

….You are doing it wrong if you never get to sit down, never get to eat lunch, and never get a break of any kind. You are not teaching your child to become an adult, you are teaching them to remain in perpetual toddler hood. This is bad parenting. I don’t know any mothers — even mothers of special needs kids — that don’t get a break. (And I will concede that some special needs kids require a tremendous amount of care from their parents–dad too!–and that may qualify as the most difficult job. But most moms have just regular kids–with problems here and there, and difficulties in different areas, but nothing requiring 24 hour nursing level care.)

Exaggerating the amount of work and expertise needed to parent not only creates guilt on the part of parents (who can live up to those expectations?). It also makes it seem like the best parents are the ones who treat their kids as helpless and endangered for as long as possible. If you believe parenting involves gradually letting go, well, gradually it gets easier.

This cult of motherhood SEEMS to venerate women, but really it is all about making them feel bad if they actually trust their kids to thrive without constant,  obsessive assistance.  - L

Readers — How I love this piece from DGIwire by Louis M. Profeta, an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis and author of  The Patient in Room Nine Says He’s GodOnce we accept the good doctor’s words, we can let kids spend at least some time playing on their own again, because Jerry Maguire (most likely) isn’t calling. – L 

Your Kid and My Kid Are Not Playing in the Pros

by Dr. Louis Profet

I don’t care if your eight year old can throw a baseball through six inches of plywood. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your twelve-year-old scored seven touchdowns last week in Pop Warner. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your sixteen -year-old made first team all-state in basketball. He is not playing in the pros…. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better – these things are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming “the one.”

So…why are we spending our entire weekends schlepping from county to county, town to town, state to state to play in some bullshit regional, junior, mid-west, southeast, invitational, elite, prep, all- state, conference, blah, blah, blah tourney? We decorate our cars with washable paint, streamers, numbers and names. We roll in little carpool caravans trekking down the interstate honking and waiving at each other like Rev. Jim Jones followers in a Kool-Aide line. Greyhounds, Hawks, Panthers, Eagles, Bobcats, Screaming Devils, Scorching Gonads or whatever other mascot adorns their jerseys….. But why do we do this?….

It’s because, just like everyone else, we’re afraid.

We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team, too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds, pierce his testicles, start using drugs and begin listening to headbanging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it’s just a matter of time until he’s surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won’t be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer – it’s that simple.

Read the whole wild ride here.

He didn't make the team and it was all downhill...

He didn’t make the team and it was all downhill…

Hey Readers — This piece on the Huffington Post  is by a mom, Rebecca Cuneo Keenan, who is rarin’ to let her 8-year-old son Free-Range…but can’t:

I’ve been reading about helicopter versus free range parenting for years now. I’ve been hearing about how our kids are being raised on back-lit screens and shuttled from one scheduled activity to another. They don’t get the time or space to explore their neighbourhoods by themselves and learn independence in the process. They aren’t active enough and, quite frankly, all this tab keeping is exhausting for everyone. If there was ever a question about which side I’d take, helicopter or free-range, I’d already long decided to be free-range.

But it’s not that easy.

She adds:

My generation of parents really is just shy of bubble-wrapping our kids and sending them out into the world with a GPS embedded in their bodies. We keep our kids in five-point-car-seat-harnesses for as long as possible, micromanage every detail of their locally-sourced, organic diet and get them cell phones as soon as they’re likely to be away from us all in the name of health and safety. It goes against every fibre of our collective consciousness to send them out to the woods with pointed sticks and sling shots.

And finally she says there are the added problems of worrying about being blamed if her child gets hurt, as well as convincing her son, 8, that it might actually be fun to walk to the park (at least part way to the park) by himself. So, here are some suggestions I’ve got, and I’d love you, readers, to add on:

*Have him walk with a friend! That way he has someone to play with, too.

*Talk to other parents about your interest in Free-Ranging. When you find someone like-minded (and you will!), agree to give your kids unsupervised time outside together.

*To remember how the world isn’t a cesspool of danger, try a day without preparing. Leave the house without Kleenex, Band-Aids, extra water, wipes or even — as we recently discussed — snacks. Or cash!  You’ll see you can survive, which may remind you that your son can, too.

*Speaking of friends, talk to one who’s from another country about what they let kids do there. Often, the things we’re terrified of are simply routine elsewhere. Instant perspective!

*Have your son actually HELP you by doing something on his own. Have him get an ingredient for dinner, or walk the dog, or go to the post office. Anything that really WOULD make your day a little easier. Kids love to be more than just our precious babies. They long for purpose, especially in the adult world.

*Read “Free to Learn,” by Peter Gray. His subtitle says it all: “Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.” (And he forgot to add, “Possibly Slimmer, too!”)

And here’s one suggestion lifted straight from my own book:

* Think of one activity you [or your husband] did as a kid that you are unwilling to let your own sweetheart do at the same age (baby-sitting, biking to a friend’s), and make a list of 20 things that could conceivably go wrong. If there are any worries that strike you as realistic, help your child prepare for them. Teach your would-be babysitter first aid. Teach your would-be biker how to signal his turns. You’ll feel better because you’ve helped them and they’ve demonstrated that they’re ready.

Add your ideas here! – L

Mom wonders: "How do I throw this stuff away?"

Mom wonders: “How do I throw this stuff away?”

Readers — While we’re thinking back on news stories that changed childhood (see the post below this one, on Kitty Genovese), take a look at this video just released by the New York Times chronicling the McMartin pre-school Santanic panic. If this intrigues or outrages you (it will), I’d also recommend the incredibly gripping James Woods’ movie about the case, “Indictment,” as well as Debbie Nathan‘s book, Satan’s Silence: Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt. Debbie is in the Times’ video, too.  -  L

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Readers, this comes up often: terrified grandmas who were fearless moms (or at least feared less):

Dear Free-Range Kids: Funny thing about  my mother…

I was very much raised Free-Range.  From the time I was six or so, I left the house in the morning, returned for lunch, and then got called home after dark.  The only rule was don’t leave the block without telling someone.  My friends and I ran in a pack, organized our own games, settled our own rivalries, and learned important lessons like ‘poking sticks in the gutters is only fun until you bother a raccoon.’

I am incredibly grateful for my childhood.  I honestly grieve for children who are never allowed outside without supervision and aren’t even trusted in their own homes without an adult until they’re sixteen (if then).  But what I find most maddening is that my own mother, who raised me to be independent and dance in the rain, now firmly believes those parents have the right idea. 

Why?  Because, “The world has changed.” 

And when I show her the stats and explain how times are actually LESS dangerous than in the days when I was roaming the streets, she says, “Well, everyone has their own beliefs.”  I cannot convince her that the lower crime rate is an actual, verifiable FACT, not an opinion.  She tells me “anything could happen,” and when I remind her that nothing happened to her own children, she says, “It’s just not safe these days.”

That’s how insidious the media machine is.  Here we have a woman who once trusted in the world enough to let her children experience it…yet who now firmly believes in the face of all evidence that children are now being snatched off street corners every single day.  Data and facts do not sway her, because this isn’t about reality…it’s about perception, and ONLY perception. 

My brother recently had his first child.  They came to visit, and his wife scolded him for turning his back on the baby in a restaurant for less than thirty seconds.  He had dropped a fork, and while his wife was in the restroom my brother got up to grab a waiter’s attention.  “Anyone could have taken him!” his wife said, and my mother agreed.

It’s just so damn sad. – Frankly Frustrated  

Dear Frustrated: It IS sad. And to live in such safe times and treat them like we’re living through the Plague Years is really ungrateful, too.  So, if any of you readers have managed to make your own parents shake off the fear, please tell us how you did it!

Yesterday's Free-Range Moms are today's terrified grannies.

Yesterday’s Free-Range Moms are today’s terrified grannies.

Readers — This story from Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins is heartwarming, and enraging.

Seems a mom there, Anne Tabat, wanted to thank her kids’ school bus driver. So she baked some cookies and brought them to the bus stop — one for the driver and one for each of the kids on the bus, too. Her idea was to reach out. Connect. She did this every Friday for 15 years…until last week.

That’s when some anonymous person officially alerted the school district to this unofficially sanctioned practice.  We don’t know why the caller called, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that once alerted, the school district felt compelled to shut her down. So,  my proposal:

To honor the cookie lady and to connect with each other, why not do one of the two things Tabat did? Either bake a treat for your bus driver and the kids. Or hold a cookie open house. That’s what Tabat is doing this weekend, and does annually. She just bakes a ton of cookies and invites the neighborhood to drop by. This year, of course,  they’ll all have something to talk about:

Some of her neighbors, [Tabat] says, are more upset about the cookie-bus indignity than she is. “I kept saying if you’re going to do something about this, go out and thank your bus driver. Get to know people, not just your neighbors. Get to know everyone on the planet you’re rubbing shoulders with. There are so many people doing things to make your life better, and they never get thanked for it. People are good.” 

The vast majority are. (And then there are the ones who alert the authorities to random acts of kindness.)  To win one for our team, I pledge to do some cookie baking today, and to use those cookies to connect. – L.

Contraband!

What kind of monster bakes cookies for kids and bus drivers?