Do Today’s Parents Protect More Because they Love More?

Hi nezhhtirtd
Folks! Here’s a question that resonated for me — and an answer that did, too. Both appeared in recent comments. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Having killed time on my pm commute reading the comments on the Seattle blog about local schools going on lockdown due to a thief in the neighborhood (don’t worry, I wasn’t driving!), I am struck with the thought that for many people today, love=protection at all costs. [LENORE’S NOTE: Many parents were thrilled with the school closings, despite the tiny danger posed.] It is not a new idea on this site that our culture seems to reflect the idea that if it saves only one child, no precautionary measure is ever (EVER!) too much. Further, if you question any precautionary measure, or if you take measured risks as a parent (letting your kid walk to school, for example), then you simply don’t love your kid as much as other parents.

I have been thinking about families throughout history. A thousand years ago, or even 125 years ago, lots of kids died—from accidents, disease, war—no family was spared. It wasn’t uncommon for Colonial American families to lose 2/3 of their offspring. I don’t know if this means that they loved the kids less, but I do think they mourned them less and I would think they would have had to guard against getting so attached to their children. Maybe they did treasure them less. So don’t jump all over me PLEASE but I am wondering if we DO protect our children more today than in the past because we DO love them more? Or has childhood death become so uncommon that we now perceive it as preventable vs. inevitable, and therefore we must prevent it at all costs? Do we give ourselves permission to love or kids more because we are pretty sure we won’t lose them? I don’t know. It is interesting to wonder how all this plays into our culture.

For the record I do not think that protection at all costs=love, and I do not live my life that way. – Just Musing

Dear Musing — Lenore here. I think you provide the answer yourself: Childhood death has become so uncommon that we believe we can totally prevent it. The corollary is that if something very bad DOES happen, it is perceived to be because someone (usually a parent) wasn’t careful enough. So to the fear of death we add the fear of blame. In the “olden days” I’m pretty sure death was just as wrenching. But it was also more a part of life for parents, and less a cause for shame and suspicion. L.

And here’s what Pentamom wrote:

Dear Musing: I wouldn’t conclude either that Colonial parents necessarily were less attached to their children, or that we protect them more because we love them more today. No doubt some people did resist becoming attached for that reason, but I wouldn’t assume it was universal. Martin Luther, who lived a century before the American colonies got rolling, was famously devastated when his oldest daughter died at 13.

What I might suggest is that we protect them more because we believe it is more within our power to prevent anything bad from happening them. A Colonial parent might have been just as attached and just as grieved at the loss of a child, but was less likely to believe that such losses were preventable (because they weren’t). We think that if we do everything right, losing our children is entirely preventable. We’re wrong, but we’re close enough to right to give the illusion that if we just “do enough,” we can be spared that kind of loss.

Martin Luther: Grieved his 13-year-old’s death.

,

88 Responses to Do Today’s Parents Protect More Because they Love More?

  1. Nicole March 11, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    I think there has probably always been a range of closer to less-than-close parent-child relationships, but I think you hit on the answer, Lenore, when you said it’s about blame. In colonial times, if a child died, parents experienced grief, and those around them, sympathy. But now everyone blames the parents (including themselves) and it’s grief and guilt — and in some ways, we are more afraid of guilt than we are of grief.

  2. MichaelF March 11, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    As a historian I would posit this as what may or may not be more culturally acceptable, it was more prevalent to lose children a few hundred years ago due to accident or disease. Yet those were the times we lived in. Hygeine and sanitation were different, the risks we lived in were different and so the cultural attitudes were different. I think you are right in that its the blame game now, because many of the risks we had a few hundred years ago are preventable the fact that a child dies from such risks is considered a fault of the parent in Western Society these days. In some less developed countries there are still families that experience child deaths, many preventable except the governments are poor or unstable enough to lack protections. I don’t think this is just a historical aspect, although attitudes have changed since colonial times in America, as you can still find the same situations today where parents grieve but life still goes on for them.

  3. Russell March 11, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    We’re in a situation now where we invest so much time and energy and hope and faith in each child, that we can’t bear the thought of losing the child, so we invest more time, energy, hope and faith…
    Letting a child grow up traditionally, or modern free-range doesn’t mean we love them less, but it means we are not so personally wound up in the process that it rules everything. Don’t forget, on some level many of these hovering parents are doing for themselves as much as the child.

  4. sassystep March 11, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    I actually think that the high quality of life that we live today is to blame. People will always have problems and things to obsess about, but when their immediate needs are met they can spend more time on these fabricated issues. When parents are so busy with hunting, farming, putting wood on the fire, cooking from scratch, etc. they didn’t have time to spend micromanaging their kids lives. Today, life is easy and the things that we have to stress about are so far removed from the cultures before us. Is my child happy enough? Do they like themselves enough? Are they going to be warm enough at recess with these specific gloves? etc. These really are first world problems.

  5. lollipoplover March 11, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    The physical demands on Colonial parents to provide food and shelter for their family didn’t leave much time to worry about matters beyond their control. And don’t forget the role of religion- many consider it God’s wish when their child died. Now it’s usually the mom’s fault.

    Our modern day technology allows for more free time to fill our minds with worry that we as parents have super powers to control the fate of childhood. It has nothing to do with love. Colonial mom plowing the fields doesn’t love her kid less than modern day mom who buys every safety gadget in the world.

  6. Heather March 11, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    I see a lot of similarities between the idea that if you do X, Y, and Z, no harm can ever come to your children (and every time you hear of harm coming to a child, you must guard against that risk too) and the idea that if you do A, B, and C, you will never get attacked, an idea that is chiefly aimed at women and touted as ‘how to prevent rape’.

    A very small proportion of rapes are performed by strangers, just as very few abductions are performed by strangers.

    In both cases, we take the wrong approach to risk to make *us* feel better, not the kids, who find themselves hemmed in from all sides, or the women who did everything ‘right’ but still get told “oh but if you had just…”

    And interestingly, you can’t easily hide it when your kid comes to harm, so you are stuck with all those people who can’t believe you were not there/allowed them to play on that slide/whatever. Being attacked–lots of people hide that, because they didn’t tick every box on the magic list of ways to keep safe, so they feel to blame.

    I sometimes wonder if some of the mums hover because they want to protect their kids more than they were protected.

    H

  7. Kristen March 11, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    I suppose in addition to the fear of blame there is the fear of how one would go on. When childhood deaths were so common that it affected nearly every family, most people in your life would understand your grief; you would not be alone Many people today live lives largely untouched by grief and tend to treat people dealing with it as if it was a disease they could catch or because they fear doing the wrong thing, they do nothing instead. It’s can be very isolating to grieve a loss that many people cannot relate to. And if you become the only parent in your social circle (which is probably made up largely of people with children) who has lost a child even if you are well supported, you are still confronted with their “perfect” families. I don’t think it’s loving more, I think it’s fearing more.

  8. Captain America March 11, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    An economist might suggest that if you have fewer eggs in a basket, you’re going to pay more attention to that basket.

    Fewer kids=more parenting stress.

  9. pentamom March 11, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    I think this has been mentioned before as well — the idea that if anything bad, “at least I’ll know I did everything to prevent it, but I could never live with myself if I didn’t.” Never having lost a child, I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that when it comes to it, that really matters. Most people will be inclined to some feeling of guilt even if they DID do everything possible, because that’s just a human reaction to losing someone you’re more or less responsible for. And allowing/encouraging people to blame themselves for accidents or crimes to others because they didn’t move Heaven and Earth to prevent them isn’t good, either — so what, if your neighbor loses a child to an accident in the context of having some freedom, you get to smugly think, “Well, she didn’t do everything possible to stop it, poor thing”?

    I agree that people in earlier ages didn’t have the time to stop life to grieve, but I wouldn’t equate that with feeling less. And I do think the religious angle gets overplayed — the idea that people shrugged at grief because what happened was God’s will owes a lot more to Nathaniel Hawthorne than to the historical record. People believed in “hard Providences” — things that came from God but that were nonetheless hard to bear.

  10. Becky March 11, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    To a certain extent, this is a ‘first world problem’. This is not to say that people living in developing nations today do not try to care for their children, however, they know that the reality of their situation means that their children may be exposed to disease, to starvation, and to the near constant threat of accident. Do people in these locations love their children less? No. Do they mourn them less when they are injured or die? No. Do they blog about it? With what internet connection?! Do they complain to the media? Perhaps they would, if their media would care about the destroyed life of one small child rather than the troubles facing their nation as a whole. Do they judge their neighbors when something terrible happens to their children? How could they, when they know it very well could have happened to them.

  11. RG March 11, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    I have a masters degree in Renaissance English literature, and one item we read challenged this notion that earlier peoples cared less. Firstly, they WROTE less, as paper was hard to come by (and so was education, and therefore, literacy). There are almost no extant diaries or musings from that time, so it is hard to know what the average person felt or thought.

    But there is one mother’s diary, a famous one. And I cannot remember who it was, but it was an early modern mother who had the wealth, education, paper, and time to write about the death of her baby. Her pain was exquisite, her guilt all-consuming, her musings on heaven and where her baby now existed could have been written by a contemporary grieving mother/parent. As another example, Shakespeare himself never recovered from the death of his boy Hamnet. The mourning of Constance for her dead child in Shakespeare’s King John is a famous rendering of parental grief, and there are several theorists who believe it was written after Hamnet died:

    Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
    Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
    Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
    Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
    Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form:
    Then have I reason to be fond of grief. (3.4.92)

    I would argue that today’s overprotection has more to do with group-shaming (and how easy it is to do via the internet – i.e. “what was that mother THINKING???!!!?!?!?”), as well as the fact that we know and hear about so many more tragedies. Containing my parental anxiety in the face of such innocuous dangers as grass (there could be snakes!), trees (a limb could fall!), and food (my boy could choke!) takes a great deal of discipline, discipline I practice daily for the health of my children. But discipline fatigues. I am wired to protect my children from danger, but also not particularly good at recognizing the likelihood of dangers – all danger is equally frightening to my subconscious mind, and we hear about horrific tragedies befalling other people’s families all day long, through the magic of the internet and 24 hour news cycle. I think this is a big part of why we have lost our collective minds.

  12. Coccinelle March 11, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I can’t generalize to all parents of that time but I certainly know that it’s rarer these days to have children because you feel obligatated by your society, your pastor or your farm.

    My grand-mother clearly didn’t love her children and only had them because it was expected of her and because they needed hands to help them on the farm.

    Plus, think about how birth control was non-existent.

  13. Peter Brülls March 11, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    Careful here. The whole question is based on the assumption , that parents do protect their children more. That is questionable.

    The main protection against most dangers are in effect since decades; Better Nutrition (granted, that’s slowly slipping) and better protection against sickness die to vaccination.

    The last really big risk – cars – people are unwilling to give up.

    So people look at other imagined dangers.

  14. Liz March 11, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    It’s also worth noting, that when death was more prevalent 100+ years ago, so was public mourning. Parents who lost a child were able to express their loss publicly and had a lot of support in other people who had lost children, which was most of society. Now that child death is rare, it feels so much more isolating and alienating, and society on the whole has no idea how to respond or support the grieving families, which makes it even more fearful for parents. You not only lose a child, you become a pariah or an exhibit of failure and pity.

  15. Mrs. H. March 11, 2013 at 10:36 am #

    This is very timely for me. I always thought that when child death was common people must not have grieved as much as we do (would) now. When I saw the movie Lincoln, I reconsidered that. Mary Todd Lincoln has a reputation for being mentally ill, but in the film she was just so devastated by the loss of her son and worried about the potential loss of another that she acted crazy.

    And what about Mark Twain? His daughter was older, granted, but he doesn’t seem ever to have recovered from losing her.

    With near-perfect contraception available, can we assume our children are loved more because they were wanted more?

    Maybe our smaller families have something to do with it too. I only have one child, so if she dies it completely changes my identity — I’m no longer a mother. There isn’t even a word, similar to “widow” vis-a-vis “wife,” for a former mother who no longer is one due to death.

  16. Amanda Matthews March 11, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    The US has the highest infant mortality rate of first-world countries. People are still losing their children here.

    I completely disagree that they would have had to guard against getting so attached.

    I think they got just as attached, but when a child DID die, they knew they had to continue to live, had to get over it, and so they did. The cows still have to be milked, the field still has to be plowed, etc.

    You can see this with children – once you make it so that they have to do something, they will do it. If, for example, you make it so they have to stop using diapers by getting rid of all the diapers, they will stop using diapers. But I have, on the other hand, seen countless parents that say they just can’t get their healthy 5 year old potty trained, and the common factor is that they won’t get rid of the diapers. They might put them away for awhile, but they’re still there, and the kid knows they’re still there – and that therefore they don’t have to get over using diapers. You can also see how the common age of potty training rose as the availability of disposable diapers in larger sizes rose – once the parents didn’t have to potty train, they didn’t. Many parents don’t have to potty train until the kid is about to start school, and therefore don’t do it until then.

    In today’s (American) culture, when someone does lose a kid, we give them special treatment for it, we make it so they DON’T have to get over it and continue living their life. We basically coddle/baby them for it. We coddle/baby people for a lot of reasons, in American culture.

    I was reading in a forum last night, about someone in an apartment with a very annoying neighbor, who uses her dead son as an excuse for everything. The neighbor does things like listen to music way too loudly, and if the landlord says something about it, she uses the excuse that she’s having a memorial for her son. The person being annoyed had lost a son too, but instead of using that as an excuse for everything, she realized she had to keep living, had to keep being a decent neighbor. But for it, she gets trampled all over by the people who are coddled/babied.

  17. AW13 March 11, 2013 at 10:43 am #

    I think that Pentamom got it exactly right: they didn’t care for their children less, they were just more accepting of the fact that not everything is within their sphere of control.

    As another historian – one who studies the ancient world – I can attest that the children of ancient Rome were just as loved and cherished as the children of today. They were treated differently, and given different expectations, but they were just as loved. Julius Caesar was absolutely shattered when his daughter died – and she died as an adult, in childbirth. There are extant pieces of evidence that people commonly grieved at the death of their children. But death – from accident, from disease, from childbirth, from whatever – was not uncommon and frankly, not that preventable. You didn’t want it, of course, but if your child did not make it through childhood, it was not your fault, or because you’d done anything wrong.

  18. Naturalmom March 11, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    I think Kristen is onto something. If you lose a child today, you may be the only one in your social circle to whom that has happened. To solve this problem, grief support groups have developed. You’ll meet other people who have lost children (and the number of them out there who were previously invisible will probably surprise you) but these will be new friends, not your old friends who know you already and know how best to support you in your grief without a lot of talk on your end.

    I don’t know that modern parents grieve the loss of our *children* more than our ancestors, but we have more to grieve in addition to the loss of the child — we will grieve our lost sense of security, our sense of happiness that was tied up with a certain vision of family life, our loneliness in our loss, perhaps even loss of friends, etc., etc.

    Whether or not modern parents grieve more, I’m certain we are more shocked by the death of children and our emotional and even spiritual foundations are more susceptible to be rocked by the loss. Since feelings are subjective, we can’t say for sure, but I would suggest that all of these things contribute to make the death of a child in the modern age a more tragic-feeling event to parents today.

    Plus all the stuff others have said about fear of blame holds true as well, further complicating the grieving process.

  19. Adriana March 11, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    I very much doubt that parentsof the past loved less. That is one thing, I think that still binds us all together – the love we have for our children.
    I agree with others that it comes down to child death becoming less common in our society. It is not hard to see that in other parts of the world it is not uncommon and yes parents grieve.

    I have two aunts that have lost infants days after birth. Both women are now in their 70’s. My grandmother also lost a child but again just days after birth. My great-grandmother lost a child around 10yrs of age. That is nearly unheard of today…and honestly I can not even imagine that loss.

    So as someone else said I think it is fear and not love that we over protect our children. If a child fell out of a tree and died we don’t allow the next child to climb a tree. That’s not love…that’s fear. But we now take it one step further. If we hear about a child “somewhere” that fell out of a tree and died, now we refuse all children to climb trees. That’s not love…that’s insanity.

  20. lollipoplover March 11, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    “I would argue that today’s overprotection has more to do with group-shaming (and how easy it is to do via the internet – i.e. “what was that mother THINKING???!!!?!?!?”)”

    Yes-Because there is fault to be found in every child death. Things that used to be called tragic are now “under investigation”. We want to find blame so we can tell ourselves we’re safe because we don’t make these same bad choices.

  21. Kate March 11, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    My mother is big into geneology, and she disputes the idea that women grieved their children less when infant death was more common. There are far too many memorials to dead children for that.

    This: http://listverse.com/2012/10/24/memento-mori-victorian-death-photos/
    is not the practice of a culture that ‘avoided becoming attached to their children’.

  22. Erics March 11, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    I think it’s all fear based. We all love our children. Some of us are just incredibly over fearful, and illogical when it comes to the well being of our children. With technology and internet, people have become more and more reliant on media and heresay, than basic common sense. So as soon as they read or hear something bad, they spread it. Then people who read what they spread, spread it further. Making an isolated and rare occurrence seem more rampant. That’s when epidemic fear strikes to weak willed and insecure. This is a big reason why many live with a paranoid state of mind. The same things were happening 20,30,40, and so on years ago. And statistically, more frequently than today. But very few parents or adults, feared as much as they do now. It’s all a state of mind. It’s impossible to protect our children 24/7. Bad things will happen. And sometimes there is nothing we can do about. That is life. The best we can do for our children, is not fear for them. But to be a role model in confidence, logical and common sense thinking, and teaching them how to fend for themselves. Raise them to be assertive and adjusted adults. Not shelter them as children.

  23. Jessica Smock March 11, 2013 at 1:14 pm #

    I don’t think that parents throughout history have been less attached to their children. But, like others here, I think that parents today believe that if they worry more, be more vigilant, and are concerned about every possible scenario, misfortune (and even tragedy) may be preventable. But I do think that there are (legimately) new worries upon which the media focuses.
    Last night, I was reading the well-reported story in the New York Times Magazine about the exponential rise in childhood allergies and possible new “cures” for them. My son had a dairy allergy as a baby, and — just by reading the article — I got really upset and worried that my son would develop one of those life-threatening allergies described in the article. The rise of allergies is a legitimate medical mystery, but the media often writes about in a way that serves to prey upon parents’ fears rather than merely educate.

  24. Jill March 11, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Only a couple of people have mentioned the fact that a part of this is that we have many fewer children, and this is no small thing. When someone loses a child, it is more likely to be their ONLY child, which I do think plays a big role in the protectiveness we see in parents these days. Not that I think having more children means you think they are expendable, but I do think that it was a fact of life in times gone by that there were more diseases/accidental deaths, and people saw this as a fact of life. In modern times, we have treatment and prevention from disease, and we have things like car seats and helmets to protect from accidents. Therefore, we see many deaths as preventable (which they are) and perhaps that means we are more diligent – sometimes too much so – about prevention.

  25. pentamom March 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    “Yes-Because there is fault to be found in every child death. Things that used to be called tragic are now “under investigation”. We want to find blame so we can tell ourselves we’re safe because we don’t make these same bad choices.”

    Yep.

  26. Donna March 11, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    My grandmother lost a child shortly after birth in the 30s. They were in the military and were stationed in California at the time. They left California shortly thereafter and ultimately settled on the east coast when my grandfather retired from the military. In her later years, she lamented her awful fear of flying because she really wanted to visit her son’s grave again before she died. So clearly thought about and mourned her son throughout her life.

    I think the difference is our lives are too easy now. We can dwell on outrageous horrible possibilities because there are few real horrible possibilities.

    I also think Kristen is correct – if you lose a child, you are the only one in your social circle. And your social circle doesn’t want to face that it could happen to then so they often push you out or don’t deal with it well. It IS as though you are somehow to blame.

  27. Warren March 11, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    Putting aside the extreme of losing a child. One other factor keeps cropping up when it comes to our kids getting ill, or injured.

    Quite often there a comments about the inconvenience illness or injury causes the parents.

    The daycare expenses, the arranging daycare, taking time off work, missed school and so on. I have debated vaccines with many parents, the flu and chicken pox being the two our family avoids. The response alot of times turns to what are you going to do when a child is sick. Not how to treat them, but the time of work, or babysitters, or grandparents involved. They seem to understand that these virus’ are fairly harmless, but will vaccinate their kids to keep their precious schedule intact. It is the same debate whether it be chicken pox or an arm in a cast.

    It is a shame that many people have this sense of entitlement. That they are entitled to not have anything mess with the order in their lives. To insure this they will make health choices, and activity restrictions, to prevent disorder.

    My,at the time 8 yr old, daughter was climbing on rocks by the lake, and had a mother warn me that my girl could fall and break an arm or leg. I acknowledge her concern, and told her we were well aware of any risk. This concerned lady then informed me that my daughter would miss weeks of school, if she were to get hurt. She was not impressed when I told her that if it was an arm, considering this was a Sat. she may miss a couple of days, before returning to class, if it was a leg, maybe a week to learn crutches. She just scowled and stormed off.
    This is the thing about the inconveniece motive. If they were to get say a broken arm, Mom would cater to their everyneed for weeks, instead of giving the child a couple of days to get used to being in a cast, then telling them off to school. The overprotective are their own worse nightmare.

  28. Jenna K. March 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    I agree with Pentamom. Also, having in my possession several journals of my ancestors–losing a child was a tragedy, even when only a few kids survived childhood. They mourned those children and were heartbroken. I had ancestors walk across the plains to settle the west and many of them bore and lost children along the way, even a child who lived for only a day was deeply mourned by my ancestor who lost her baby and buried her in a shallow grave along the way. Even though it was more commonplace, it was still a sad thing. So no, I wouldn’t say that we love our children more today than people did before. We just are living in a culture that thinks everything is preventable and there should be no risk. Life is risky. I am always amazed at how many babies are born healthy since so many things can just wrong before birth.

  29. Jenna K. March 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    *so many things can GO wrong before birth.

  30. hineata March 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    @lollipoplover – amen. Even forty-odd years ago, when one of my classmates fell into a combine harvester, no one in the area blamed the parents (the dad blamed himself, poor man, but that’s another story). Same with things like bike accidents etc. – they were seen as accidents. Nowadays it would be very much: ‘What were they thinking, allowing X to do Y?!’

    We have seen that even in a small way with Midge’s continual coughing and illnesses. It must, of course, be poor parenting – even though neither of her siblings have the same thing – because everything can be ‘fixed’ these days. Which is total rubbish, of course, but that seems to be the prevailing thought pattern.

    And for that that can be ‘fixed’, lots of people seem to think you always should. A friend of mine was castigated for refusing ‘heroic measures’ to save her days-old baby, born with multiple congenital issues which would have meant a very poor quality of life for him, most likely mainly in hospitals and other institutions. Still some thought every possible effort should have been made to save him…..sigh.

  31. hineata March 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    PS she still grieves somewhat for that child, and always will. Meantime her mother, an interesting woman to put it mildly, thinks she should get over her own child’s death, and yet ‘Grandma’, an Irishwoman, weeps over the victims of the Irish Potato famine, which was some time ago now….

  32. lollipoplover March 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    Blaming parents for childhood accidents and deaths happens every day. Right now, go to your local news online. Read about any child killed or injured. Go to the comments section. Wait for it, the blame the parent for not having their child supervised.

    Today in Philadelphia it is reported about two sisters, both struck by hit-and-run drivers 3 days apart, one critically. How tragic for the family, but wait for it in the comment section…..

    “I agree, why are these young girls unsupervised, my 11 year old goes no where without supervision. “

  33. Beth March 11, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    I don’t think kids are loved any more today than they were in the “olden days”, but we definitely have a culture of protection = love. I’m sure the commenter quoted above in the Philadelphia story believes she loves her child more than the mother of the two deceased girls does, and I’m sure she’s not afraid to say it.

  34. Librarymomma March 11, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    I don’t think anyone can narrow down why we seem more attached to our children than previous generations were to one or two simplistic reasons, nor can we entirely blame our hyper vigilant society.

    For instance, people now delay getting married and having children until they our older, so they have fewer children. If you have less of something, you tend to become attached to it more than if you have a lot of that same thing. And people in previous generations tended to bear their losses better than we do because they had to worry more about basic survival than we do.

    I have a really overactive imagination, and at times have realized that if something were to happen to my only child, I can never have another child. I most often thought of this when I was going through fertility treatments in my early 40s. Not that I could ever replace my son, but knowing that I cannot have any more children makes me fear losing him even more.

    Ultimately, it is a complicated subject, but the theories people have suggested here are certainly interesting and worth pursuing.

  35. Stephanie March 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

    When I think about how people loved their children in the past, I think about telling my grandmother about how I nearly miscarried my son due to low amniotic fluid, and had to have an urgent C-section. She teared up remembering a miscarriage she had had due to low amniotic fluid probably 50 years ago at that point. It was very clear that the memory still hurt.

  36. K Watson March 11, 2013 at 5:11 pm #

    So then, how to explain the absolutely unbelievable extent to which parents attach to their GROWN children? College age kids whose parents continue to helicopter over them? The way our society has now decided that “children” up to the age of 26 must remain on their parents’ insurance policies?

    This is not a healthy attachment. This is the sign of a society that invests far too much in someone other than themselves, to the point of seeing every failure and every tragedy as a reflection on their own worth and skills, instead of what it may be — an act of God, or just the way a person is wired.

    We are not our children. Love means being able to let go when it’s appropriate. We seem to be incapable of doing that, to the detriment of the upcoming generations.

    God help us all.

  37. pentamom March 11, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    “So then, how to explain the absolutely unbelievable extent to which parents attach to their GROWN children?”

    Well, I’m far from an expert, but here’s my seems-plausible theory:

    In order to helicopter (physically and emotionally) when your kids are young, you have to invest a great deal of time and physical, mental, and emotional energy into your kids, at the cost of having other places to put it.

    When your kids grow up, and all your energy has been invested in one place, you find you don’t have other well-developed interests or outside relationships, outside of maybe a job, but you’ve probably taken mostly a “functional” approach to that anyway.

    So you have a choice — you can feel bereft and useless, or you can just keep on putting all your energy into your kids.

  38. Beth March 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    @K Watson – I find it a ridiculous assumption that an over-21 child on the parent’s health insurance equates to helicoptering.

    Yes, I’d like my children to have reasonably priced access to health care; heck, I’d like everyone to have this access. My oldest daughter is in grad school, works part-time, and lives away from home. Would you really have me drop her from my health insurance to prove to the world I’m not a person who is bereft and useless without her child, and let her fumble through a health issue or crisis on her own with little money and no help from her parents because it’s an act of God????

    I do not view health issues and health care as a reflection on my own worth and skills. I view it as something that I provided when she was 14, and I’m providing it to her at 24. I guess I’ll be the judge if I am able to “let go when it’s appropriate”, despite this apparent blip on my permanent record.

  39. Puzzled March 11, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    I think “it’s because of…” ignores that things don’t work so simply. There are lots of factors here. I am sure that part of it is: lower incidence of childhood death and lower birthrate means more worry and concern over your 2 children making it to adulthood. Our genes want us to care about that. What’s worth exploring, though, is why we go about it in ways that, as we’ve seen here, are not suited to attaining the desired result.

  40. Puzzled March 11, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Oh, right, I forgot to make my actual point. I think the answer to why we go about it so badly has to do with: fear-mongering in the media, lousy math education, and the general perception (without basis) that life should always be good and happy – and an unhappy child, or one who makes mistakes, is seen by parents as threatening their own very existence.

  41. Eliza March 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    I agree with what people are saying about blaming parents more when a child does die. In Adelaide (Australia) a child was hit in the driveway and died. It made national news that night. I was reading an opinion piece about it a few days later with the headline “How Could This Happen?” and nearly all the feedback from people was, “I would never allow this to happen, I always hold my child/ren’s hand and pets are locked away etc.” Which in other words means that they believe the parents were not doing thier job.
    Also in Australia we here that medical students are staying away from obstetrics because of the high insurance premiums and the assumption real or imaginary that parents want to blame the doctors when a child does tragically die during childbirth. I think language we use is important. Instead of asking how we can prevent death and accidents, it should be, how can we reduce the risk.

  42. Donald March 11, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    Whatever you, me, everybody focuses on gets bigger. (well not always, I have been focusing on this small pile of money for a week and nothing has happened)

    Howard Hughes focused on germs. They didn’t actually grow bigger but he became more and more anxious about them. A hypochondriac may be worried about their heart. In turn, they are often feeling/listening for any abnormalities in the rhythm. As this continues they become more and more sensitive to it. Their awareness can get so acute that their own heartbeat is too loud for them to sleep! They get tunnel vision. The only thing that they can see/feel is their irregular heartbeat. (that is actually normal)

    Parents can do the same. They can become so consumed about child safety that they develop tunnel vision. Pedophiles and gun wielding psychopaths in schools are all they see.

    I’m also afraid about harm coming to my child. However I see more dangers than pedophiles. It scares me to imagine my child having to face adulthood without knowing how to be mature.

    It takes strength to be able to see the other dangers and not develop tunnel vision. Some parents rejoice at prison yard security in schools. However most people can see how it’s eroding the community and how a friendly community is needed for child protection.

    Another thing. Creeps and pedophiles target the kids with low/nil self esteem. Therefore, keeping them from developing any (for safety sake) is one of the more dangerous things you can do. The problems don’t end after school age. Violent people target the people with low self esteem/insecurity.

    Kids are thousands of times more likely to face problems such as domestic violence, anxiety, and depression. Injecting them full of fear does not protect them from these things. It attracts them like spilled sugar will attract ants!

    Tunnel vision is powerful. It can block out any other dangers so that people can only see gunmen and then believe that it happens 5000 times more often than it actually does!

  43. MI Dawn March 11, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    @Beth: hear, hear! I was delighted when I could keep my kids on my insurance….or, actually, put her back on, when she lost her job with full benefits and was going to be uninsured with her health issues. To both our fortune, she found another job right away, so was only back on my coverage a few months. But I am far from being a helicopter mom! Nor do I have a lazy child. But things happen.

    I’m very happy with most of the Obamacare items. Yes, there are a few things I disagree with. But, there are things my OWN coverage allows that I disagree with (and did, long before this was even discussed). It’s not a perfect USA. But universal health coverage at least will make us a bit closer to the other first world countries.

  44. A Fischer March 11, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    It’s not that we love our kids more, or are more attached to them – it’s that we as a society are more risk averse. We no longer accept that pain is a necessary part of life. We want to avoid the pain of losing a child, and we want to protect the child from the pain of real life as much as possible. That is why so many parents aggressively shelter their children. Kids are not more precious now than they were 100 or 1000 years ago, but we are more afraid to deal with the realities of life because are enabled by a country that is more risk averse in general

  45. amy March 11, 2013 at 10:50 pm #

    I don’t think we love them more. I think we are more fearful. They didn’t have CPS and societal pressure like we have. CPS governs more of my decisions than fear of potential danger.

  46. Gina March 11, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    I would like to point out that SOMETIMES neglect IS the cause of a child’s death and guilt is appropriate.
    I live in the Phoenix area; it is the drowning capital of the USA. The average demographic for a drowning death here is an 18-36 month old boy. No child that young should ever be unsupervised around water. No home with a toddler should ever have a pool without a LOCKED gate.
    There is NO excuse when a baby boy drowns in a backyard pool. It can and should be prevented. I think we, as FR parents, sometimes like to believe that nothing bad can be prevented by caution. This is not the case.

  47. Gina March 11, 2013 at 11:00 pm #

    Also, I will never understand how a child is run over in the driveway. How can a parent not be absolutely SURE that somebody is holding onto the toddler before s/he backs out? Again, no excuse. And yes, I will say…neither of those things could ever happen to me.

  48. hineata March 11, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    @Gina – unfortunately it’s not always parents who are in our driveways. Also, thinks like unlocked doors happen too, i.e. kids getting out of spaces we thought they were absolutely secure in. I do share your horror at this sort of thing, but sometimes…..life happens.

    Frankly, in our case I always think ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ Tnere was one afternoon I can think of when Midge was about two, and she was playing just outside the open kitchen door while I was inside with the baby. There was a gate between the backyard where she was, and the front yard and the street. Unbeknowns to me, my husband had left the front gate open as he drove away, and had not secured the back gate properly. I was distracted for a few minutes by the baby, and didn’t realise she had wandered out to the edge of the road until a neighbour, thank God, brought her back.

    I have a couple of other incidents like that with my kids, and I would imagine most other parents could recount moments where things could have gone either way. Heck, my ‘baby’ got caught in a wave (she was about two then) and rolled over and over, just inches away from me, and I couldn’t get a grip on her. Just as well there was a huge Maori fellow standing on the other side of us, who fished her out by her ankle.

    Thankfully for mot of us things do turn out okay, but my heart goes out to those for whom it doesn’t….

  49. hineata March 11, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    ‘things’, and ‘most’ – we definitely need some kind of edit function, LOL!

  50. Donna March 12, 2013 at 12:29 am #

    My stepbrother drowned in the neighbor’s pool when he was about 2. Yes, they had a locked fence but someone unfortunately left it unlocked that particular day. Yes, my stepbrother had supervision but he got outside without attracting attention that particlular day. Two random events came together to make a very unfortunate event. He lived but suffered some mild brain damage.

    Further, not everyone has a toddler permanently. My father had an ungated backyard pool when he lived in Florida. I, his only child, was 21 years old when he moved in. A few years later several of his wife’s siblings moved down to Florida bringing along neices and nephews who occasionally came to visit. Had my father lived until my daughter’s birth, we would have been there visiting too. It is absurd to expect my father to fence in his pool to protect occasional visitors to his house, so there was always a possibility that one of the little vistors could escape undetected and hit the pool. Kids can be slippery that way. It never happened but all it would have taken was 2 seconds while mom was going to the bathroom or was busy with another kid or was otherwise distracted.

    The situations I’ve seen where kid got hit by his own parents in the driveway, were all situations where kid was away from the car and ran towards it, unbeknown to the driver, while he was backing out. The driver did believe the child to be secured or out of range prior to backing out. Again, toddlers are slippery and have no ability to judge that running behind a moving car is a bad idea.

    So yes Gina no matter how perfect you think you are, it COULD happen to you.

  51. amy March 12, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    Gina. I hope you never are proven wrong. Your comment was inexcusable.

  52. Donna March 12, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    Gina, You seem to believe that making a mistake as a parent is neglect. Last I checked all parents are human and human beings sometimes make mistakes and miscalculations. Gates that are usually closed are occasionally accidentally left open or not properly secured. Parents back out driveways believing their children to be one place when they’ve actually darted behind the car. If perfection is what you think a parent needs to have, then you are going to be rudely awakened sometime during your parenting experience by what is hopefully a near-miss and not a fatal mistake.

    That reminds me of people who are outraged by parents who forget their babies in cars. I have a friend who is the most responsible, organized, anal retentive rule follower you will ever meet in your life (and yet somehow an absolutely delightful person). She drives right past her son’s school every day on the way to work but never takes him to school due to timing issues. One morning she had to take him to school because her husband had a early morning meeting. Despite just loading the child into the car, her brain went on autopilot as soon as she hit the road and she headed to work until she heard a little voice in the back say “you just missed my school.” She knows that had that been a sleeping infant, she would have continued onto work and into the office just like she did every other day leaving him in the car.

    Mistakes happen. Most of the time we are lucky and tragedy is averted. We are not better parents than most of those who do suffer tragedy; we are simply luckier.

  53. Mary Joan Koch March 12, 2013 at 5:35 am #

    I want to share my blog post, Parental Anxiety and Children’s Wings.
    http://open.salon.com/blog/mary_king/2011/10/08/parental_anxiety_and_childrens_wings

    I discuss my bold, fearless oldest daughter who has traveled to nearly 70 world cities, lived in Niger, Kosovo, and Rwanda. I conclude: Letting your fear of what could happen clip your children’s wings and undermine their confidence and autonomy endangers them most of all

  54. LRothman March 12, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    Fear might be more common today, but the mourning is just as deep. My husband points out that 150 years ago that, while childhood deaths were more common, lifelong grief was more acceptable. There are many stories about women who became shut-ins, wore black for decades or “were never the same after ____ died”. Today, there are much higher societal pressures to “move on” after a short period of grief.

  55. Frankie March 12, 2013 at 7:15 am #

    I believe that the speed and sheer volume of media information plays a huge part in today’s attitudes. Colonial parents were not subjected to CNN telling them about every Amber Alert on the planet as if they were all in their own backyards. Last week a 5 year old was tragically hit by a garbage truck while walking home from school with 3 other children (including a 13 year old who was their “walker”). Now everyone is talking about whether children should be allowed to walk home. And my DH has dictated that I may no longer allow our 5 year old to get in and out of the car on her own. It’s easier to overreact when the media makes every price of news, no matter where it happened, feel so immediate and present. The media is highly trained at activating our “shock” centres in order to gain viewers. Fear is a great way to get people glued to Fox News, CNN or whatever other shock media streams into your household. Hardly surprising then that we end up parenting from that same shock and fear.

  56. Eliza March 12, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    @Gina, this is the attitude I was talking about when I read the online comments about the child who got hit by a car. I remember one time when my niece was about 3 years old. We were waving goodbye to her dad and she noticed a toy or something on the other side of the driveway and in a split second was able to let go of her mothers hand and ran straight behind the car. The car almost hit her, it was a matter of luck that she did not get hit by the car. This is why these incidents are called accidents. Its not like the parents are placing thier children behind a car or throwing them into a pool. Like other people have said, we hope you never have to write about a time that you lost concentration or a child ran away before you could grab them.

  57. Kristina Beth March 12, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    This is my first time saying anything on this website, but I’ve often heard about this blog from my coworker. In the beginning, I thought she was more or less nuts, despite there being some nuggests of wisdom she mentioned. I am recently divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage, and I can’t get the Free-Range philosophy out of my mind. Am I saying free-range kid-raising would have saved my marriage? I don’t think anything is that simple. And yet, if some things had been done differently, who knows?

    I was pretty much the classic helicopter mom and I was proud of it. I think it drove my ex-husband nuts, but I was the mom at home and he wasn’t. Besides, what’s wrong with taking good care of kids? My kids went nowhere without me or at least my complete approval. I made sure they were entertained. When things in school went badly, I intervened. When drama came up with friends, I was there representing my kids’ cases. I made sure all of my kids’ needs were met and as many reasonable wants as I could supply. If they called, I came running. Because that is what a good mom did. Did my husband get shoved to the background occassionally? Probably more often than I realized. But, hey, that was part of parenting.

    I still have two minor kids at home and five I wish I could say were on their own. I figured if they made it to 18, left the house, my job was done. It didn’t happen that way. My adult children were still calling me. At first, it seemed normal, all those little things you forget about as you make your way into the world. Hah. I can’t call it normal anymore. The more I heard myself saying “Can’t you figure it out on your own?” the more it seemed somethign was out of place. I mentioned the two minor children at home? I have them, plus two adults with their significant others and their children. No jobs, no clue. Yes, we are working (with a counselor) to remedy this living situation, but out of the children I have only one is what you call independent. I never intended my family to turn out this way. Maybe I can’t be blamed for all their choices, but now that I look back I wonder that if I had let them fall on their butts a few more times they might have learned a few more lessons.

    I recently threatened my teenaged son with the typical “I won’t be there to fix it for you” remark. When I mentioned the conversation to one of my daughters, she said “Oh, Mom, of course you will”. That was a blow, but a fair one. Habits are hard to break.

    And then there is the subject of my ex-husband. I think he saw it coming. We had fights, huge arguments about the children, with him specifically saying I needed to step back, especially when they were adults, and let them make their own mistakes. He hated having adult children and their families living in our home. He hated having to provided for them.

    I don’t want to place the typical nuclear family up on a pedestal and say it’s the best one for everyone, but I’m beginning to wonder if this focus on being “the best parent” isn’t a bad idea. My ex and I were supposed to be PARTNERS. It should not have been about him simply being about an accessory to be used occassionally in the child-rearing department. I married him because we were in love and we seemed a good fit. Not to have kids, but to be companions to each other. Ideally, most of my kids should have been out the door years ago. Isn’t that the idea? Marry, raise a few kids, send them off to live their own lives, and continue being married?

    Divorce happens. I’m not championing staying together just because. But we should be entering marriage with more focus on our partners, not any potential children. Instead of spending so much time worrying about my children, taking care of my children, I should have been giving my relationship with my husband a little more attention.

    By all means, we should love our children. By all means, we should take care of them. But we should be viewing the family as a whole.

    Was my divorce the right thing? It’s complicated, there is so much more to it than just kids, and in light of everything it was the best choice. But I have to wonder, if I had let my kids be kids and let myself be a wife, maybe things could have been a little different.

  58. JJ March 12, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    I have found the comments on this post to be very interesting and thought-provoking. I especially liked reading those from you historians that point out that grief from loss of children could be vast, even in “olden times”.

    News ooverage and the need to attract viewers has changed our society so much. I also agree that the Internet age has given all of us a platform, even when we have nothing constructive to say–like the commenters on the Philadelohia site that Lollipoplover mentioned. My brother died as a child in an accident. My family received an outpouring of support from our community including both friends and casual aquaintances. But that was the 80’s. Mercifully there was no platform for onlookers to comment about why was he allowed to do so and so and it’s the parents fault. Not only are such comments anonymous (which has the potential to bring out the ugliness in us all) but they are also made by people who don’t know the whole story. They might get certain facts but they don’t know things like parents were wonderful or the conflagration of events that led to this particular thing happening. I hope that parents going through such tragedy today would refrain from reading such comments but still–those anonymous comments from unconnected standers-by fan the flames of guilt as well as the defense mechanism of “that could never happen to me because I would never do x or y.”

  59. Heather March 12, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    I think also if you only have two children or three, it’s not that you love them more, but you have more time and energy to invest in their safety. Whereas back in the day, you had lots of children, started when you were young, and there were a lot more diseases and accidents that you didn’t see as preventable. But you also couldn’t spend nearly as much time making sure that your 5-10 children, many of which might be really close in age, were always safe. And while I’m wi

  60. Heather March 12, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    I hate my computer. And while I’m with you for the most part, I know also that a lot of good things have happened to make childhood safer. And that for the most part those things are good. But people always take things too far. It’s human nature.

  61. Katie March 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

    Actually I think parents back then and free range parents love their kids more.

    Both parents back then and free range parents take the time to teach their kids skills and then encourage their kids to try them out.

    The helicopter parents I see on the overhand rarely teach their kids anything useful. They might hoover and be around their kids or driving their kids around a lot but they really don’t seem to teach them much of anything, especially not skills they need to become independent.

    Although the time for this might be less overall to be a free range parent the the amount of quality time is much greater.

    I also think back them people accepted fate so although they may have loved their kids even more, they didn’t have the guilt factor if something happened to them. Now days if something happens everyone says here is a list of 10 extreme steps which could have prevented that even though all 10 of those steps completely stifle normal development.

  62. Katie March 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    @ Frankie I agree that is ridiculous they are saying don’t let kids walk to school. Given some of the ways the helicopter parents drive their Minivans and SUVs I can’t imagine that driving kids to school is any safer nor do I think it statistically would be, nor do I think any of this is so dangerous we should be concerning ourselves with this. If blame should be placed anywhere it either should be placed on the garbage truck operator or the company of the operator depending on the circumstances if that is even appropriate.

  63. EricS March 12, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    @ K Watson: “For instance, people now delay getting married and having children until they our older, so they have fewer children.” That is one reason. But I have found that more people wanting get married later, is because they see people (family and friends) getting married in their early-mid 20s, and seeing it fall apart after a few years. It’s no surprise that majority of people REALLY mature, after 30. You realize you made poor decisions (even though you were convinced they weren’t) when you were in your 20s. And you end up learning and using that experience and knowledge to make better decisions in your 30s.

    And as Pentamom mentioned, when parents invest all their time and energy in coddling their children for as long as the children have been alive, they feel the need to continue with that investment, because there is nothing else they know. I put that obsessive mentality under the category of “addiction” or “bad habits”. And just like any addiction or bad habit, it’s extremely hard to get over. Imagine, 18 years of the same thinking and conditioning (mental and emotional) of ones mind about a specific thing (in this sense, their children). It becomes a habit. But a bad one at that. Parents should get into the habit of raising their children to be independent and confident young adults. Not into the habit of treating them like they will break the second you take your eyes off of them. And as I’ve always pointed it out, even these extreme helicopter parents are hypocrites. Because the second it becomes an inconvenience for them, they will start to compromise with their own rational and thoughts. And bend a little away from their fears. ie. Their mentality is ‘never leave your child unattended’. But they get into a situation where they are running late. Will take too much time to get the kids out of the car, and into the store to pay or pickup a quick item (kids are 10-12 years old let’s say). So they just tell them to stay put, and mommy/daddy will be right back. So if they can bring themselves to think like this at that moment, why can’t they do it all the time. That’s why I’m a firm believer that it has more to do with how parents feel, than the actual “safety and care” of the children. Which I think is very selfish.

  64. EricS March 12, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    @ Beth, I don’t think K Watson was primarily referring to parents and them wanting to keep their kids (even at 21) on their insurance plan. I wish that were the case for us when we were that age. lol It’s more to do with the mentality of society today. Perhaps, insurance companies have fallen victim to the “worse case thinking” hysteria of today. After all, many of those insurance big wigs are parents too. It’s not the parents who demanded it, it’s the insurance companies who decided they would extend converge after 21. Maybe in their “wisdom”, realized that children (even 21+) are just too incompetent to know what is best for them. And in many cases of today’s youth, I would tend to agree. But that would partly fall on how they were raised as well. Plus, it’s more money in their pockets.

    @ A Fischer, society has become a bunch of [email protected]$$ies (pardon my french), having babies, and raising them to have the same mentalities and fears as they do. It went from a trend of rearing strong children (physically, mentally, and emotionally) for thousands of years. To a trend of risk free, disappointment free, danger free, “I don’t want my child to hate me, so let’s spoil them”, and fearful child rearing in just the last 20 years.

    @ Gina, I have no doubt that neglect is a cause for child deaths. But those are so few compared to the uncontrollable, inevitable situations that cause the death of children everyday. It’s the perception and mentality of people that instill “neglect” as the main reason. It’s like when people believe that predators are in every corner, out to get THEIR child specifically. When in reality the number of STRANGER assaults/kidnapping of children, are dwarfed by the assaults/kidnapping of children by someone they already know. A teacher, a coach, a priest, and yes (sadly and overwhelmingly) parents and relatives. The ironic part though, is that many of these parents do not realize, that the BEST way to protect your children, is to teach them to protect themselves. If a child never learns to cross the street on their own, chances are they will run out there never knowing consequences. If a child never learns how to spot dangerous situations or people, and learn how to deal with them, they are none the wiser and are open to manipulation and coercion. On top of that, they never learn self confidence and independence. And become that fearing, weak minded, spoiled, unknowing child their parents are teaching them to be. So the very thing many parents believe causes child deaths (neglect), is the very thing they are doing to them. When you don’t have the child’s best interest in their future, and everything a parent does is to make themselves feel better about their decisions, that IS neglecting their child. Because they don’t teach them what they need to know to survive growing up, and as grown ups.

  65. Katie March 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    @Kristina Well you can’t change the past. All you really can do is change things now. I guess acknowledgement is the first step in solving a problem. My mom was a bit of a helicopter parent too. You have to have faith that your kids will be fine ultimately. You could even do little things to start cutting off the ones who live at home. Tell them if they want to use the internet (for anything other than filling out job applications) or watch the tv then they need to pay their fair share of it. Give them a stack of coupons and tell them they have to clip and organize a certain amount since they aren’t paying for food. Don’t make life easy for them.

  66. Claudia March 12, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    I definitely think that modenr overprotection in the Developed World is connected to the rarity of childhood death in this time and place. In place where it is was or sadly still is common, parents mourn equally I’m sure, but as has been suggested it is more accepted as not necessarily avoidable.

    I don’t think one can talk in terms of loving ‘more’ or ‘less’ – simply that in different contexts the way we feel about our children and the way we respond to child mortality may differ in a number of ways, often subtle.

    Re: older parents. My mother-in-law made an interesting comment, acknowledging she could be a little neurotic about child safety – ‘Well the thing is that by my age you’ve heard so many more awful stories’. So maybe older parents, as is the societal trend, tend to be more cautious parents as experience also brings many cautionary tales!

  67. EricS March 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    From the dawn of man, our off spring has always been important to us. As a social species, affection and love comes to us naturally. Whether it’s the early evolutions of man (pre-homosapiens), to modern humans. Which stem from the ice age inhabitants of this planet, to the earliest civilizations of Babylon, to the rise and rule of the Roman Empire, to today’s modern day family. Unless there is some mental issue at play (ie. post-partum depression), we as a human species are genetically engrained to procreate. And in having children, we are naturally predisposed to care for our them. This comes out in the form of love. After all when do we ever mind things we don’t care about? An ancient parent, and a free range parent doesn’t love their children any less than a fearful helicopter parent. The only difference is, the rational in thinking when it comes to the ideals of raising their children. That is what sets helicopter parents apart from all other parents in history. They don’t raise their children to be self sufficient. They don’t allow them to grow, and learn as children have in the past. They aren’t allowed to meet with disappointments, failures and loss. In essence, they aren’t allowed to be children. They become the automatons of their parents.

    Rearing your child in time proven methods doesn’t mean you love them any less. If anything, it’s because you love them that much, that you prep them to be strong adults. For when their parents pass away, they can grow up, have children of their own, and raise them with strength and will as they were taught. How do else do we think the human species has survived? I seriously doubt we would have if helicopter parenting was the initial choice of our ancestors. That’s just fact. And none of today’s “experts”, and coddling parents will ever disprove that to me. For me, ten thousand years is a pretty good record for child rearing the right way. Compared to the 20 years of helicoptering. Don’t fix what isn’t broke, I always say. Especially when it doesn’t even make things better. 😉

  68. Katie March 12, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    @ Gina
    I don’t think anyone on here is advocating not having a locked gate on a pool. But accidents do happen. I imagine sometimes someone might forget and leave a gate open, or a child might figure out how to open a gate unexpectedly (and if you don’t think this is possible I have a cat who has figured out how to open some doors). Also not all drownings occur in pools anyway.

    Almost everything could potentially present some level of danger. You can’t prevent every possible scenario that could possibly happen.

  69. EricS March 12, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

    @ Claudia, I find the opposite. Older parents tend to be more free range. Or what I call “old school”. It’s the last generation of parents that have become more and more fearful. Mind you there were those parents in the past too. But very, very few. And even if they were fearful, the mentality was less the “holier than thou” mentality of today. They didn’t sue, they didn’t chastise, they didn’t get CPS knocking at your door. They kept to themselves, and left other parents to raise their children as they saw fit. Which is what most parents did back then. The “over protective” parents I knew back then, did still try to over come their fears. Whenever we went over a friend’s house (who had one or both fearful parents), the mom would make sure to go through a checklist of things. And we were told to keep an eye on him/her. Then they would shoo us off to go have fun. We were 7-10 years old. No one ever died. No one got kidnapped or assaulted. We had our bumps, bruises, and cuts. But we wore those like badges of honor. I even remember, comparing injuries. To see who had the biggest cute, or he biggest bruise. Not many of the kids we hung out with “cried home to mommy”. We were more afraid of getting in trouble for getting hurt, than getting hurt. So we bucked it up, and tried to hide it from our parents as long as we could. And by the time our parents found out, they could already see that we were fine. So the only thing they would say was “Learn from your mistakes. Be more careful next time.” And for many of us I’m sure, that mentality is what got us through high school, college, young adult life, and now with a family of our own. Mind you, some of the kids I grew up with turned to be helicopter parents of sorts. Only because of the things they constantly see in the media. But they do try to over come the fears.

  70. pentamom March 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    For those who say there’s no “one explanation,” well, I agree with that. But at the same time, it’s only logical that we can observe how various factors play into it.

    Do I think that people overprotect *because* they’re apt to believe it’s possible to protect their children from all harm? Not solely. But certainly, it plays a role. If you live in a situation where a thousand things that are beyond your control could kill or injure your child, and it’s normal to see that happening around you regularly, then you won’t fall into a mentality where you think you can prevent that, obviously. (OTOH, you might become overprotective, if you have the luxury, because there ARE so many dangers to fear.) So a greater child life expectancy might not cause overprotectiveness, but it certainly gives it room to operate. And that’s the way a lot of things are. Ultimately, people choose their behaviors for complicated reasons, but cultural conditions certainly reinforce or detract from certain manifestations.

  71. Gina March 12, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    OK..I apologize for offending some people with my “inexcuseable” comment. I think my point was missed. There are accidents and there are mistakes and there is just stupidity. My point was in response to the original article because I sometimes think that FR parents imply that no injury or death to a child is the responsibility of the parents. That is not true and if you heard some of the lame explanations for drownings in the Phoenix area you’d understand why I said this.
    And I stand by my statement: Anytime a toddler drowns in a pool where this is no LOCKED FENCE it is the fault of the adults.

  72. Beth March 12, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    “Maybe in their “wisdom”, realized that children (even 21+) are just too incompetent to know what is best for them.”

    My daughter, and I’m sure many young adults, know that it’s best to have health insurance. The problem is, in this country we tie health insurance to employment. If a person is in school and/or employed at a place without that benefit, now they’re incompetent?

    Sorry, just not buying it.

  73. Donna March 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm #

    Gina – Your point was not missed. Your position is still indefensible. Accidents happen, even around pools. All it takes is an accidentally unlocked gate or a split second of lack of attention.

    Is the death the “fault” of the person who left the gate unlocked or the parent who left the child alone watching TV while s/he peed? I guess, but what exactly is the point of blame here? No harm was intended. There was no maliciousness. The person is really only guilty of being a human being who is not perfect. A person who inadvertently left a gate unlocked or a person who didn’t anticipate that her 3 year old would leave Dora and run out of the house in the 30 seconds it takes to pee.

    I live in a place with an unlocked pool. There is a gate but no lock. A couple toddlers live here and have as long as I have lived here. There has never been a single near miss with either of these kids. Not one single time that either has been seen outside without an adult/teen in the 455 days I’ve lived here. But it is certainly possible that one will one day give a parent the slip, run into the pool area through a gate left open by another resident (a toddler can’t open the gate) and drown. In your mind, 455 days of diligence is negated by a single instance of not anticipating the whims of a toddler and the parents automatically negligent. That is simply ridiculous.

    And, no, the parents (or me) didn’t choose to live here. We work for the government and housing is provided as part of the contract.

  74. Let_Her_Eat_Dirt March 12, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    I think it’s a matter of humility, rather than love or blame. We don’t love our children more today, but we are less humble about ourselves and our ability to prevent bad things from occurring. In colonial days or pre-modern days, people were more apt to attribute bad things to misfortune or God’s will — i.e., something over which they had no control. Today, we think we can indeed prevent bad things from happening. Indeed, with our technological and medical advances, we have done a great deal to lower infant mortality and prevent/cure diseases. But we are not, and can never be, perfect or perfectly safe, and we should have the humility to appreciate that. Life itself entails risk.

    Let Her Eat Dirt
    http://www.lethereatdirt.com
    One dad’s take on raising tough, adventurous girls

  75. Linda Wightman March 12, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    “I live in the Phoenix area; it is the drowning capital of the USA. The average demographic for a drowning death here is an 18-36 month old boy. No child that young should ever be unsupervised around water. No home with a toddler should ever have a pool without a LOCKED gate.”

    I live in Florida, where pools are also very common, and I disagree. Where I live pools are required to be fenced, but not locked. When our children were young there were no special kid fences for pools, no pool alarms, and “supervision” often consisted of an attentive ear and an occasional glance through the kitchen window. How did we manage that? We taught our children to swim. By the time they were three years old, they were accomplished swimmers — by which I mean they could easily jump off a three-meter board and swim the length of a commercial pool — and well before that they knew how to get to the side and climb out if they should accidentally fall in. In the summer they practically lived in the pool, and if I’d felt I had to be out there with them all the time, nothing ever would have gotten done. But they were as safe in the pool as in the back yard. (One thing, though — they didn’t swim alone. You always swim with at least one buddy.)

    Such a simple solution, and the attitude expressed in the above comment is exactly the problem what used to be considered “normal” parents face today.

  76. Linda Wightman March 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

    I’ll admit I’ve not read each comment closely, but I haven’t seen mentioned one other change between colonial times and now. Of course parents then loved their children as much as we do now! What kind of special pinnacle of very recent evolution do we think we are??? But one thing that is very different is that today death holds a special place as absolutely the greatest evil and most horrendous tragedy, because it is faced without hope. My colonial ancestors grieved the deaths of their children greatly, but they also knew that death was not a permanent parting, and that they would be reunited with their lost children when their own turn came to die. Death, like birth, was a part of life — not the absolute ending of it.

  77. lollipoplover March 13, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    @Linda Wightman- it’s the avoidance or snow plow parenting, thinking that locking everything up and keeping it away is the best way to parent. One of these days you’re going to have to address how to teach children to be safe around water- never to swim alone, how to get to the side of the pool if they’ve fallen in (getting on your back and floating).
    Teaching your children water safety not avoidance is critical. Kids are naturally curious and sometimes locked gates are left open. It’s human error. And so far, no has been able to eliminate that.

  78. Emily March 13, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

    I agree with Warren about the superfluity of flu and chicken pox vaccines–I never had either, and I grew up perfectly healthy. Instead of getting a traditional flu vaccine, I get a homeopathic one from the health food store each year, and also, I take a multivitamin every morning, and wash my hands regularly, and I get through most Canadian winters without any problems. On the other hand, my mom gets a flu shot every year, but she always gets the flu anyway. As for chicken pox, the vaccine for that wasn’t available here until I was twelve, by which point I’d already HAD chicken pox three years prior, when I was nine. It wasn’t a huge deal then–I spent a relaxing-but-itchy week at home taking oatmeal baths and watching “Leave it to Beaver,” and reading a lot, and survived the experience relatively unscathed, except for a small scar on my forehead, between my eyes, where my biggest, itchiest spot was, that I couldn’t help scratching, because it was RIGHT THERE. But, my point is, it’s a memory of my childhood that I can look back on and laugh about now. If kids are protected from every little childhood illness, and prevented from swimming, tobogganing, climbing trees, biking around the neighbourhood, etc., then what are they going to remember when they grow up? Sitting inside and playing Angry Birds all day?

    As for water safety (as opposed to water avoidance), I agree with that too. I was enrolled in swimming lessons beginning before I could walk, and if I ever have (or adopt) a child, then that child will take swimming lessons too. Swimming is the only sports activity that I would require my hypothetical future child to be reasonably proficient in, because it’s ultimately a survival skill. I mean, if you fall into a pool, or out of a boat, you can’t slam-dunk or pirouette your way to safety, but basic swimming skills could save your life. Locking pool gates isn’t going to help any child in the long run, because you can’t also lock up every expanse of open water in existence, and a child could get into much worse trouble falling into a lake or ocean (from a dock or a boat/jet ski/whatever) than if they fell into a little backyard pool.

  79. Andy March 13, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    @Emily Your mother gets every year flu or common cold? They are not the same sickness. Flu is highly contagious and hard. By hard I mean unable to work hard. If one person have it, multiple people around him are going to get it too.

    Common cold is easier and less contagious. You can work while having it and only few people will get sick out of you.

    Flu shot will not protect you against common cold, it can protect you only against most common flu strains. The weaker your mothers immune system is, the more sense it makes for her to get flu shot.

  80. Emily March 14, 2013 at 1:40 am #

    @Andy–Well, both, but yes, my mom gets the flu every year–the one with fevers, vomiting, and spewing out of both ends. She sometimes has to leave work early because of it, and she knows the difference between the flu and the common cold. I rarely catch this, and if I do, I maybe feel feverish for a day or so. My mom gets the traditional flu shot, and I get the homeopathic equivalent (or nothing at all). We both take multivitamins, wash our hands regularly, eat healthy, and exercise. She gets sick every winter, usually more than once, and I don’t. I’ve suggested that she forgo her flu shot for one winter, just as an experiment, but I can’t seem to convince her, but if she was willing, then it’d be interesting to use that experiment to figure out whether or not the flu shot actually works for her.

  81. ebohlman March 14, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    Emily: The condition you’re describing in your mother isn’t influenza; vomiting and diarrhea aren’t common symptoms of influenza in adults. It sounds like viral gastroenteritis (usually caused by norovirus), which is commonly but mistakenly referred to as “stomach flu”. It’s a completely different disease, so of course getting flu shots won’t prevent it. It seems that she doesn’t “know the difference between the flu and the common cold” since nothing you’ve said indicates that she knows what the flu is, which may be because she gets a regular flu shot and that’s one of the factors (probably not the only one) protecting her.

  82. Emily March 14, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    @Ebohlman–My mom actually gets the “looking at life from both ends” thing in ADDITION to the coughing, wheezing, fever, etc. I forgot to mention that, because it was late at night, and I was tired. The first few winters it happened, she went to the doctor and got diagnosed with the flu (regular flu, not stomach flu), and after that, it’s been such a regular occurrence of the same symptoms, that she doesn’t bother.

    As for the flu shot, again, I’m really not sold on its benefits, not just for my mom, but in general, because it has to be repeated each year, with varying effectiveness that isn’t even close to 100%: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm. Now, I know that a common refrain of this site is “we can’t expect life to be perfect,” but there’s a much smaller margin for error in medical science than in general, day-to-day life. For example, when I was in grade six, there was apparently a study done that the standard measles/mumps/rubella vaccines we’d all gotten before starting kindergarten, were only 95% effective against red measles. As a result, our whole school (and, apparently every kid at every other public school in Ontario) had to get a second measles shot, which was administered at school.

  83. Danielle Meitiv March 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    Remember when we talk about parents being overprotective today it’s in contrast to parents from a single generation ago. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and certainly benefitted from vacines and penicillin yet my parents didn’t coddle me to death.

  84. Patty D March 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    I am new to this website and find all the comments fascinating. I believe that we live in a world with 24/7 soundbites and because of that, we feel informed and “on top of things” in the world. Unfortunately, those soundbites are just that “bites” and don’t cover the big picture. I think as a culture, we are so busy focusing on the “bites” that we miss the big picture. Do we want to raise responsible, respectful, fully contributing members of our family and society or do we worry about what everyone else is doing/thinking of me as a parent? Common sense has been flushed down the toilet and instead we are parenting out of fear, rather than long-term love of your child. Let our kids make their choices (sometimes not great ones) and please don’t rescue them from the consequences! Life is messy and no-one is perfect.

  85. Suzanne March 16, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    I agree with Pentamom and Lenore’s comments. I believe that when childhood death was more common people had skills to cope with that loss. I don’t think it’s that they loved their children less and we love them more, I don’t think love is an emotion that can really be quantified that way. I’m not sure it’s even fear of being blamed that drives these actions I think inability to accept, deal with, etc. with childhood death now is a strong force behind this. Also, the idea that we should have been able to prevent anything that might happen.

  86. KC March 16, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    I don’t think it’s a difference in love but as others have mentioned, death and danger was far more common and in the past and therefore accepted more as a part of life. Nowadays it seems like death can be preventable and if it occurs…well it’s because the parents or someone have dropped the ball. It is less a “fact of life” and more “your fault”.

    Also I think the proliferation of parenting books and advice places great pressure and fear on parents.

  87. JP March 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    Well, last time I checked, love still wasn’t owned by the cerebral, analytical or politically correct. “Proving” you love a kid by obsessing over their safety doesn’t necessarily prove love at all (but it may prove you’re prone to obsessive behavior.) Some people love well. Some don’t.

    The freedom I had as a kid had nothing to do with measurement of how much or how little my parents loved me. It had everything to do with societal norms.
    If it takes a village to raise a kid, that has less to do with love, and more to do with common sense and social responsibility.
    Personally, it’s been my own experience that kids are easy to love. This is just a natural human response.
    But does a mama bear get between you and her cub because of love? She’s just doing what comes natural.

    I prefer to look at this historically, within the span of my own lifetime.
    I don’t believe that we as a society are somehow better “lovers” today, than folks were 50 years ago.
    I do believe that we are definitely much more overwhelmed by real and imagined dangers.
    But it’s still a relative thing.

    There are places in the world where kids commonly move through spaces with all kinds of dangers….natural, and man-made. We avoid that by chauffeuring kids everwhere – through one of the most dangerous environments we’ve ever created – our public roads. Go figure.

    But how exactly does endless anxiety over safety “prove” love? It can just as easily prove how prone one is to being judged by others. It can also lead to social disengagement, and failure to measure up to societal expectations. In this way we compete instead of cooperate. We become shrewd and adept analysts of ideologies and philosophies, instead of compassionate participants in a public realm, shared by all. We become fractured and dysfunctional by what overwhelms us, instead of joining together for common support.

    We can laugh at how cute and naive (and supposedly less loving) our social orders were 50 years ago.
    But I would question: even though I grew up in an era of pretty draconian punishments (the strap still existed in public schools) that the potential punishments awaiting children today (zero tolerance) are not of a decidely worse kind. And these changes and measures taken prove that we love our kids more?
    Has parental love become immersed within the familial and private ownership (investments in a domestic future) and less compassion and tolerance for childhood across the board?

    People can prove every single day of the week that they’re capable of doing some pretty weird and desperate things, motivated by love. This doesn’t prove that they love well. It proves that they’re capable of being weird and desperate. In this way, love can provoke hatred, I suppose. Ironic, isn’t it?

    If I think I love my son more or better than my father loved me……what measurement am I using? I may exercise more tolerance and understanding. I may be more prone to a socially cohesive acceptance….but do I love better? Do I even need to? I think that comes down to the dictates of my own conscience, really.

    Society needs to find a way to justify it’s collective actions. That’s a steep hill to climb. Many would rather go around it. Detours. Lots of conficting signposts.
    Personally, I think we would do well to just love children more, and own them less.

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