Child Left Alone: Getting the government out of parenting is the seriously great title of a new (and first!) book by journalist Abby Schachter. It begins with this story:
Do you want to see government operating as if it can and should raise your kids for you? Try enrolling your child in state-licensed daycare. When our eldest daughter was 18 months old and started at the local preschool, the intrusion into our family’s decisions started almost immediately with strict rules about which foods I could send from home and how I should prepare and portion fruits and vegetables. My husband and I would joke by singing “Peel Me a Grape”!
I used to inquire about the reasons behind each of these policies. The answer was always the same, whether it was an issue of safety or hygiene, cleanliness or health: The state says so.
As the years passed, the rules piled up. No plastic bags. We had to provide multiple sippy cups because once a cup is profferred it cannot be used again. Requirements for daily sunscreen slathering, and a state mandate that all uneaten food be thrown out lest anything become “hazardous” over the course of the day—these are just a few of Pennsylvania’s daycare decrees. We got used to all that. It was annoying but tolerable, until I had my fourth kid.
When my son’s caregiver inquired what she should know about him, I asked for exactly one thing: Please swaddle him for every nap. Swaddling means snugly or tightly wrapping baby in a blanket. It keeps them feeling safe and secure, and it is the only baby advice we followed. No can do, the daycare lady said apologetically. The state doesn’t allow us to swaddle.
I was shocked. In the three years since my third child began daycare, Pennsylvania, along with several other states, had changed the regulations to include a ban on swaddling. The reason is safety, because there have been cases of babies suffocating when covered by thick, loose blankets, and the overarching threat of SIDS. This is less common now that we’re all taught to sleep babies on their backs, but it is still a danger, though there are no reported cases of babies suffocating due to loose blankets at daycare, certainly not in Pennsylvania (I checked). But I wasn’t thinking about any of that when I learned about the new rules. As a mother, I want to do what works, and what worked for my other three kids—whether sleeping at daycare or at home—was wrapping them tightly in a blanket, like a burrito.
I demanded to know what I could do and was told that a doctor’s waiver would allow the daycare workers to wrap my son. I eventually found a pediatrician who signed the waiver and became my instant hero. I was happier, my son slept more, and the daycare workers had an easier time caring for my baby.
After four kids you’d think I would be used to this sort of bureaucratic intrusion into my personal decision-making. But more and more government-mandated parenting started getting under my skin.
Schachter started connecting with other parents who didn’t want the authorities — or busybodies calling the authorities — to micromanage their childrearing. The result is her book on why parents are not given the benefit of the doubt, and how to fight back. A good fight!