The Great Parenting Reverse: Special Needs and Non-Special Needs Kids

Hi Readers! The post below this one is about a principal who chastised a mom for letting  her 10-year-old daughter take the city bus to school. The daughter loves the bus  and has made “people friends” (as opposed to “school kid friends”) on her daily commute. But the principal, as well as Child Protective Services, wanted to know why the mom would “choose” not to drive  the girl. Here’s one comment the post got:

My tarnbtzkih
friend’s younger sister has Down’s Syndrome. She graduated high school at 21 and took a job about 10 miles from her home, which she shares with her parents. She can’t read or do most things adults do, but she has gotten herself to work on the bus without incident for over 10 years. She even manages a bus transfer. I bet she has “people friends” too.

Which made me think about the Great Parenting Reverse: The parents of special needs kids work really hard to help their kids become independent. But society works really hard to make sure the  kids without special needs do not become independent.  It does this by telling their parents they should be over-involved. If you don’t spend all day “rescuing” your child from something or other (danger, fatigue, disappointment, failure), you are clearly selfish AND myopic. Your job is to keep swooping in. Your job is to “choose” to drive your kid to school even when she’s fine on the city bus.

I love the amazing things children with special needs end up doing on their own, often after great pains are taken by their parents. But maybe it’s the great pains part that is the connection? The special needs kids do, by definition, need special things from their parents. The other kids  — why, their parents don’t have to invest quite as much effort on a daily basis. They can go about their day without, say, personally dropping off their kids at school.

That kind of freedom from constant childcare is suspect nowadays. A parent who isn’t sorely inconvenienced is a parent who isn’t doing it “right.” So even though they don’t need it, children without special needs are treated as if they are handicapped.

Strange times. – L.

61 Responses to The Great Parenting Reverse: Special Needs and Non-Special Needs Kids

  1. Earth.W November 16, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    One day in the future we’ll have ‘normalisation programs’ for the non-disabled.

  2. Sally November 16, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Terrific, insightful post.

    “A parent who isn’t sorely inconvenienced is a parent who isn’t doing it “right.” — excellent summation. Amen, sister.

  3. Warren November 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    With the constant threat of CPS and their mandated reporters, it will be a long and hard road to change things.

    I am so depressed that in a country so close to mine, that parents actually stop and think, will I get in hot water for letting my child do “X”?

  4. gap.runner November 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    You had a post that was very similar. Someone wrote about dropping a child off at school that had both a special ed section and a regular school. The kindergartners in the special ed class were encouraged by their teachers to take off their jackets and put them on their hooks by themselves. But the neurotypical second graders at that school had helicopter parents who took off their jackets for them and hung them up. I don’t specifically recall the post, but that was the gist of it. I thought it was crazy that the younger special ed kids had better self-help skills than older neurotypical kids.

  5. Helen November 16, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    I’d bet on that too, Earth.W.

  6. Ali November 16, 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Well said!!

  7. mollie November 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm #


  8. Karen November 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    This is so intersting. Sadly I think it is due to overall low expectations for special needs kids and overall too lofty expecations for “typical” kids. We are, perhaps, overly surpised at how capable special needs kids are when given the opportunity. We wish to unburden their parents by encouraging them to let their kids learn skills to help themselves.
    I remember sitting on my hands in Occupational Therapy with one of my kids while he learned to use his own body to do stuff. The therapist, his teachers and everyone in my life really wanted me to be more free! And they wanted Henry to be more free as well! And it worked.

    However, with typcial kids (like my other 2), we don’t really want the parents to be more free. Or perhaps most parents don’t want it. We stick with the ridiculous idea that if I removed the burden of my kid having to hang up his own jacket he will have more time to be smarter, more successful, achieve more sooner and get out on top! It is a kind of lofty expectation – he should be spending all his energy doing important stuff, not learning to take the bus! – that leads to kids without basic skills that would have been normal two decades ago.

  9. LRH November 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    A parent who isn’t sorely inconvenienced is a parent who isn’t doing it “right.”

    Exactly right, Lenore. Your needs are irrelevant. Heck some people think you’re supposed to give your kids what they WANT as well. When I tell people how I will make spaghetti if I feel like it even though my kids hate it, they think I’m a monster. They’re the same ones I hear talk PROUDLY of how they ate at McDonald’s on their ANNIVERSARY because it’s what the kids want. Yeah whatever.


  10. Alecta November 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    Absolutely accurate, Lenore. I was considered special needs from 7th grade until I graduated and was in a class for kids with Aspergers syndrome and high functioning autism for several years before being mainstreamed in high school.

    There’s many things I can say about my time there and about my current participation in the autism community, but all special needs classes and parents of kids with special needs are so driven and focused on making sure their kids are independent and self reliant. My parents never let me feel bad or use my autism as an excuse.

    More parents need to raise their kids like special needs kids in that they need to be taught life skills and have them enforced. Teach how to cook, to do laundry, to sew and clean. Teaching life skills builds better adults.and a better world.

  11. JA November 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

    Infantilizing children is an exercise in perfection, IMHO. Once you know your child isn’t already “perfect,” it frees you up to take risks.

  12. Adrienne Bashista November 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

    I’m the mom to a boy who has FASD, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which is permanent brain damage caused by alcohol exposure in utero. Kids/adults with FASD often need an “external brain” – someone to help them in everyday life, make sure they do what they need to do, etc. People/kids with FASD almost always look perfectly “normal” although they can be significantly impaired behaviorally. They often lack cause/effect thinking or good executive functionig and their processing is slower than other people’s. They also might be emotionally volatile and act younger than their chronological age.
    Special needs parents – even those who are parenting kids who will ALWAYS need some kind of assistance, like my son – are treated as if they are coddling their children when they accommodate their disability, particularly when it comes to school. I could give a number of examples of this. I was constantly treated as if I was being too meddling, too nosy, too controlling when I was trying to help my son. When he went to the bathroom at school, for example, he needed supervision as he would go in and play, do whatever inappropriate thing older kids told him to do, pee in the drain, whatever. And while we had it written in his special ed. plan the teachers wouldn’t follow it because he “should” be able to behave himself. And when they talked to me about it it almost always came down to something I hadn’t done or taught him, which is B.S.
    A good friend of mine is being told that the reason her 12-year old child with multiple disabilities (including dyscalcula, ADHD, social anxiety, and FASD) cannot sit through a 90 minute math class without being disruptive is because her daughter got too many “accommodations” when she was in the lower grade and that my friend makes too many excuses for her. They are blaming the mother instead of the disorder.
    I WISH I didn’t have to do this and I know my friend wishes she didn’t have to get phone calls from her daughter’s school every single day about her misbehavior. It’s ridiculous. I know that some of it is that our children look “normal” and have moments of very high function, so if they’re functioning poorly or overreacting or “acting” like they don’t understand something then it’s considered to be on purpose. And if a child behaves poorly on purpose then people go straight to the parents for blame. Bad parents have poorly behaving children.
    I agree with almost everything you write about on this blog about helicopter parenting, child abduction, stranger danger, and the need for kids to be independent – all kids, to the degree that they can. I had a ton of freedom when I was a kid and it made me very self-sufficient and confident. I have a 13-year-old son who also has a lot of freedom and has learned to work out his own problems. It’s wonderful. I don’t like having to micromanage my child, but nor do I like having ignorant people judging me for doing what he needs.

  13. Tiffany November 16, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    What many people and government representatives don’t realize is that the dangers from inactivity such as obesity, childhood diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc. (and lets not even get into vehicle accidents, exposure to vehicle exhaust during commuting hours, etc.) far outweigh the dangers of walking (to school or elsewhere). If parents and others recognized that walking to school is actually the “safe” thing to do compared to being driven around all the time, maybe they would consider giving their children some freedom and independance to become healthy adults.

  14. Elizabeth November 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    I suspect the divide has to do with an inaccurate assumption that is made about non-special needs parents. My thought was triggered by your line, “I love the amazing things children with special needs end up doing on their own, often after great pains are taken by their parents.”

    I think most people assume that when a special needs person is behaving in an independent way that someone spent time and energy and love teaching that person how to be independent. Therefore, the independence is viewed as a positive.

    I’m a person trying to raise my non-special needs children “free-range”. What appears to be at the root of all the criticisms and challenges I hear from others is the assumption that what I’m doing is ignoring my children and foisting responsibility on them that they can not handle.

    I think if people realized that raising non-special needs children “free range” requires the time, energy, commitment, and love of teaching that independence it might not be viewed as such a terrible thing. “Free range” is still perceived as neglect when I frankly think it takes a lot more work and attention than just swooping in and doing everything one’s self.

  15. Jill November 16, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    As a homeschooler, I have to work to make sure that my only-child daughter becomes independent because she naturally spends lots of time with me. I go to great lengths to find opportunities for her to be self-reliant. Lenore, your posts give me lots of ideas and inspiration for this plus the confidence that I’m doing the right thing. Thank you!

  16. mollie November 16, 2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Elizabeth, indeed. Free Range takes lot more work and attention. At least on the front end. Especially when it comes to teaching kids about contribution, responsibility, and accountability— things that kids who are chauffered and accompanied everywhere and overly “provided for” don’t have to evidence, really, in any sort of meaningful ways.

    Oh, right, there’s school; a place where individual achievement is overemphasized, and community means fun activities like parties and pyjama days, not cleaning up common areas or cooking food for others.

    Going against the tide of “do it all for them” is a herculean task in and of itself, at least for me, at times. The cultural message is one that bombards our kids, and convinces them they have a God-given right to slack. “No one else has to ride their bike to the game!” And he’s right! No one does!! “My friends don’t have to cook for their families!” Indeed not. “I’m the only kid who has to do their own laundry.” Too true! That you are!

    I’m noticing, though, that my kids are closer to me after we struggle mightily through their resistance (oh, my, if you’d been a fly on the wall the day I insisted that my 11-year-old spend his Saturday learning to fix his bike himself, spending money he’d earned on replacement parts), with each hurdle they clear of assuming some responsibility, making contributions, and learning skills, they flourish. They glow. And we are closer and more bonded as a family.

    It’s WORK. It’s a LOT of work. And yet, then the rewards: the dishes miraculously cleared from the table and put into the dishwasher, without anyone saying a word; the bedrooms clean and tidy; the occasional honey-toned murmur of, “Here, I can get that.”

    But if I rest on my laurels too long, that icky entitlement creeps back in, because my husband and I are swimming against the tide, and wash over us it certainly can, if we stop paddling.

    This is not lazy parenting. It is not. It is so conscious, so carefully thought through, so full of effort and energy. Sometimes I want to just give up. But I don’t. Thank God for this blog!

  17. Jessika November 16, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    The great parenting reverse or perhaps the great parenting paradox. How parents with children with special needs struggle to create independence for their children, and how “other” parents are being told to diminish the development of independence in the name of safety. The paradox being that you’d think the opposite apply. More safety for the children with special needs and less for the others.

  18. Denise November 16, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    With students with special needs, there is a push towards employment as a means of social interaction if nothing else. Teachers work backwards from that goal- they need to know how to read time to get up on their own, need to manage money in order to have lunch money, wash their own clothes to have clean ones.

    In the normal classes, the goal is college. A continuation of education, so not much else matters.

  19. Andy November 16, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Just a through: it may have less to do with kids and their perceived abilities and more with weird adult wish to find faults in other adults and “punish” them. Seems like a lot of people are focused more on finding faults and punishing others then on policy reasonableness. Parents (especially mothers) are a great target for that.

    Something like: my life is difficult and she is having something easy, so it is not fair. She should be punished for that.

    My observation is that similar sentiment dominates also a lot of non-parenting discussions. Related example would be any discussion about school policies – people are more focused on punishing bad teachers then on what would by a good general policy.

    Unrelated example would be sentencing rules, people seems to be more focused on “being tough” then on “being fair”. Or any discussion about anyone who has some non-standard benefits – they are supposed to take what is coming to them, because getting the same benefits (healthcare, retirement package) is hard for average person.

  20. JKAsbhy November 16, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    I think part of our challenge about safety is that having a child kidnapped or hit by a car while walking feel like immediate dangers, because when it happens it happens in an instant. There is nothing, we as parents, can do about it if it happens. But there are things we can do to keep it from happening: drive our kids; watch them all the time so we can step in if something suspicious happens.
    Yet the things that are far more likely to hurt our children are subtle and/or gradual. They are easy to forget or categorize as something that can be fixed later, perhaps when “life” gets less hectic. Driving in a car is, statistically, far more dangerous than walking to school, yet as a driver I have never been in a serious accident, plus he’s buckled in and I have a very safe car, so I can see how many would feel he’s safer with me. As far as obesity and independence in neurotypical children, I think there is an underlying belief that these are things kids just absorb from their parents, not things they need to be taught, because it’s so easy for them. But it’s the cumulative behavoir and habit of NOT walking that’s the issue. We know that not walking means less cardiovascular health, less independence of movement, etc, etc, but they aren’t immediate, instantaneous dangers. They are dangers that parents probably believe they will counteract, maybe with things like organized sports. Independence is so much a part of the mainstream American culture, but most people do not understand that culture is not automatic, it is both learned and taught. I suspect we cannot teach independence. I suspect it must be learned…independently.

  21. Caro November 16, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    Mollie–great comment! You expressed beautifully what we’re trying to do. I’m so thankful for this blog and the thoughtful comments.

  22. Michelle November 16, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    I think this idea that parenthood is about constantly working and sacrificing every minute of every day is the source of the major disconnect between me and many other parents that I meet. People constantly ask me how I could possibly have 7 kids AND homeschool and ever get a moment to myself. Meanwhile, I’ve always wondered why other parents always seem to be so desperate to get a moment to themselves, and so worried about maintaining their “identity as a person” separate from their “identity as a parent.” When I say that, they think I’m judging them as somehow not doing enough, but really, I don’t even see how it’s an issue.

    My parenting style doesn’t create any conflict between “me as a person” and “me as a mom,” because I’m both all the time. “Me as a mom” reads books and surfs the web while my kids do their school work independently. (I have to be in the room, and available to help, but I don’t have to hover over them and assist with every problem. If I did, I’d be very concerned!) “Me as a mom” trusts my kids to take care of themselves while I walk to the grocery store in the middle of the day, and trusts my teenagers to babysit when my husband and I go out at night. “Me as a mom” trusts my small children to play in the fenced-in backyard, and my school-aged children to run around the neighborhood with their friends. And “me as a mom” expects my kids to help around the house, rather than expecting that I will have to do everything for them.

    I am looking forward to tonight and my weekly night out with my husband, sure. But I can’t imagine parenting in such a way that every minute is so exhausting that you can’t wait to get a break from your kids.

  23. Scott Lazarowitz November 16, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

    We have a society now in which our government bureaucrats treat us ALL like we’re “special needs” people who need a nanny state tyrant to hold our hand and lead us forward. They make laws upon laws and regulations that constantly choke our ability to live our lives as we wish, they stifle our speech because it might “offend” one person, they enslave businesses to the point of bankruptcy.

    Meanwhile, the kinds of government bureaucrats ruling over us who are doing all these things to us (such as Obama, Bloomberg, Christie, Boehner, McConnell, etc.) are the most “special needs” people I’ve seen in my c. 50 years.

    Imagine if there were no government, no plunderous taxation-theft, no regulatory monopoly power, only the dreaded private sector, how on Earth would those aforementioned buffoons actually survive?

  24. Lollipoplover November 16, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    The Great Parenting Reverse! It IS baffling…

    Growing up, my parents taught us early and we were expected to contribute to the household. I remember mowing lawns and cleaning rooftop gutters at age 11, cooking and doing my own laundry even earlier.
    Now parents brag about how their 17 year-old has too much schoolwork to have a job and clean her own room.
    I “choose” not to drive my kids to school because I’ve actually taught them how to get their on their own. And they do it quite well! I’ve been approached by other parents with offers of car rides for them, some to inform me that they “look cold”. How do you know if your child is trustworthy if you never trust them to do basic activities?This reminds me of the Ben Franklin quote:
    “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

    What is a child learning from the back seat of a car?

  25. Donna November 16, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    I don’t think it is really a reverse. I think that it is simply different mindsets.

    From the birth of a Downs Syndrome baby (or diagnosis for those special needs that are not evident immediately), there is a realization that your nest will never be empty. This child that you have will need some help for the rest of her life. She will never be completely independent. So every little glimmer of independence is fought for for both yourself and her because, if you don’t allow her to do somethings for herself, you will be caring for her 24/7 for the rest of your life and she will have no life.

    From birth of a average child, there is a realization that your nest will be empty before too long. This child will no longer need you at some point in her life. And that is really true of almost every “normal” child. Even the most helicoptered child will likely eventually strike out on her own and learn everything she should have learned growing up. Learning to do laundry, mow the lawn and cook meals is not like learning a foreign language. There is not a window of opportunity that shuts down so that you never become completely proficient after that point. You do get it eventually even if you never try it until you are in high school.

    So there seems to be a lack of urgency in teaching “normal” children to care for themselves. We don’t have large families that we need help tending now. We generally aren’t out working the farm and need hands. Grocery stores, machines, microwaves, processed and ready-made foods, take out, delivery and all the other conveniences of life in the 2000s have made caring for families fairly easy and quick compared to previous generations. So making children do things around the house seems unnecessary. And, frankly, it is generally easier and less time-consuming to just do it yourself.

    Combine that with the effects of the women’s movement. Somewhere the right to choose how to live got lost and now it is not okay to work or stay home if you are a mother. Working parents are constantly told that they are letting other people raise their children and many feel a need to prove that they are still caring parents by going overboard. Stay at home mothers are accused of not working and/or wasting their talent, education, brains, etc. and many feel the need to run themselves ragged to justify giving up their careers. It is a no-win situation for any mother and sitting back while your kids do chores certainly doesn’t win you brownie points whichever side you fall on.

  26. GS November 16, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    My son is right on the border between special needs and non. But he started out with significant delays, so I went right into special-needs parent mode, pushing him and pulling him to learn the skills he needed to catch up. And he has largely caught up, and in the process learned a great deal about hard work and doing things himself. I’m sure other moms think I’m a pathetic pushover when I allow him to make decisions, and terribly neglectful when I sit and read at the playground. I’ve gotten some comments; nothing nasty though. He’s young-looking and still has speech delays, so that heightens the effect – who lets a 3yo do THAT or THAT?! What they don’t realize is that there’s a whole history behind whatever I’m letting, or making, him do by himself. And it’s not like I’m letting him drive… but man, that kid sure can navigate.

  27. Warren November 16, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    Wow, Lenore is really getting risky, today. LOL. Just that in the past I have seen some great polarization and heated passionate debate, on this site, whenever the topic of special needs comes up.

    Here’s to keeping everything friendly and objective.

  28. Donald November 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    People generally conform to the role that society assigns to them. This is a huge part of psychology.

    A special needs child will often improve up as society treats them like
    Ok you have a problem but you’re still a normal person. You can do it.

    The converse is also true.
    A child will decay as a society treats them like
    You’re too frail. You can’t look after yourself

  29. p-f November 16, 2012 at 9:36 pm #

    I see this everyday. I don’t consider my daughter special needs she is just blind but this works. She is a lot more independant than her sighted peers. She walks home with her brother. we drop the kids off and they get out of the car and go into school themselves. I see some of her signed classmates still walked to their classrooms by parents (which is creepy). Wework very hard at my daughter doing things herself. I see a lot of parent who just don’t see it as important. Its always been important to us and its not because our daughter is blind it is an important lesson for all children.

  30. AW13 November 16, 2012 at 10:07 pm #

    @Adrienne Bashista: I feel for you. It would be difficult to deal with a special needs kid who looks “normal”. I had a kid like that in my classroom with a one-to-one aid. He looked “normal” and since his issues were mainly emotional, the only real thing that his IEP made allowances for that impacted academics was extra time to complete homework. I know that some other teachers seemed to resent students like this, feeling that his parents and he were milking the system, getting extra help that he didn’t really need. And when I asked them further about their experiences, it turned out that over the last decade or so, there had been a huge upswing in parents demanding all sorts of accommodations for their children: extra time on tests, allowances to retake tests (until they got a grade they liked), extra time for homework, extra time for projects, etc. And a good number of these kids had only slight issues, if any at all, but the administration kowtowed to them, and as a result, right or wrong, some of the teachers began to resent anyone that they perceived as getting accommodations that didn’t need them. So that may make people’s reactions more understandable, though still not appropriate – if they have a problem with accommodations, they need to speak with whomever is writing his IEPs and attend the meetings, not berate you at conferences – and certainly no less angering or exhausting.

  31. tam November 16, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

    I have been reported twice to CFS, once for letting my kids play outside in our neighbourhood and once for letting my daughter ride ahead of me on her bike on the way to school. I don’t think so much in terms of what the kids can handle responsibly anymore, but rather what neighbours will see as appropriate. It drives me nuts. I cant let my kids have the freedom I had as a child born the responsibility. Its disappointing as a parent to feel monitered this way.

  32. Uly November 16, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    What did child services say, tam?

  33. Andrea G. November 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    You’ve made an amazing point here, Lenore. You should try to bring this up next time you’re on some exploitative show like Dr. Phil or The Doctors.

  34. linvo November 17, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    @Donna, I think that perception of the parenting role is a very interesting observation. I notice it a lot in the media (social and traditional). These days parents seem to have to justify why they were so selfish to have kids. Why they dare to expect the government spends money on those kids. Why they expect their community to make allowances for them. So yes, I think lots of parents feel they need to prove their worth somehow. And that they do everything they possibly can to not let their kids inconvenience or burden anyone. Of course, by hovering over them – because god forbid that someone else would feel obliged to comfort your child when they scrape their knee – they are well on the way to achieving the opposite.

    The attitude that letting your child do anything independently in the community forces others to be their ‘babysitters’ infuriates me.

    And then the other side of course is that people expect non-special needs kids to grow into functional adults automatically. Because they always have. But the helicoptered kids are way more likely to expect the government and the community to look after them when they are adults, I reckon.

    I think the seeming unwillingness of our society to invest in our kids – all kids – is a huge problem here.

  35. Snow November 17, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    p-f, I understand what you’re saying! My son is deaf, but I don’t consider him disabled at all and he is a lot more independent than most of the other ‘normal’ kids in the neighborhood.

  36. Gina November 17, 2012 at 3:08 am #

    My 23-year-old son has autism. He operates at the level of a 13-year-old, and his development is excrutiatingly slow. Still, he walks to the grocery store, to the mall, to his favorite electronics and discount stores. The most important thing we have taught him is how to count money. The second is how to get around his community, and the third is how to use a phone. While he cannot wash his own clothes or ride a bus or cook more than one item at a time, we insist that he do what he can. Thanks, Lenore, for giving us parents who do spend so much of our time and energy giving our special needs children the independence that will be the difference between living and not living a life a thumbs up for our courage to dare to not parent 24/7, 365 days, 35+ years.

  37. Tam November 17, 2012 at 4:52 am #


    It was a mess with CFS. The allegations against us were about something inappropriate our daughter, aged 5, was over heard saying, along with my son (age 7) and daughter being outside all day (on a beautiful spring day playing with all the other kids in the neighbourhood, we live in a small town on a block with a lot of other kids the same age and they like to roam backyards to play), and them not being adequately fed. So, CFS came and interviewed the children at school (without us knowing) and then called later for us to come have a meeting where I had to fill out a risk assessment and discuss the allegations. Apparently there are no laws against children playing outside, and I had to explain that they were playing with other children and it was a nice day etc, and they were allowed to come in side to eat any time they wanted to. About what she was over heard saying, it was inappropriate but nothing a child won’t accidently overhear from any evening tv show or from other kids at school, and it was compounded by her answering a question of “does anyone make you uncomfortable” by answering “papa”… to which she was asked again and explained that it was the keys in his pocket that made her uncomfortable when she cuddled with him.
    The case was closed.

    A week later we got another call from CFS saying someone reported our daughter riding her bike around town alone. – to which I explained I was BEHIND her with her pokey brother and she waited at the intersection for us to catch up. And so CFS thanked me and moved on.

    All this goes to have made me quite suspicious of our neighbours, and second guessing anything the kids say or do in public. What if I don’t come across as attentive enough? Will I get reported for being negligent? What is the line between teaching independence and getting reported? If I make my daughter take off her own jacket at school in front of other parents, how are they going to judge my parenting skill which has already apparently been judged as lacking? In light of the paranoia that has set in, no matter how much I want to teach them independence, it feels like in public I have to put on a show of being the ‘perfect’ parent which translates into being a helicopter parent.

    That is why, at least for me, if I am seen being a helicopter parent in public or letting my child get away with being a brat in the grocery store, it is because I feel paralysed with the paranoia of getting another call from CFS. It is too easy for little things to get misconstrued into big things for anyone to be safe.

  38. LRH November 17, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    Tam I hear you very well about the CPS nonsense, let me tell you how I deal with it.

    I parent as I please anyway. To me, if I have to edit my parenting style to please embicles who wouldn’t know ham-hocks from bean dip, then frankly, I’m not even their parent to start with & I just might as well sign them over now.

    I’m fiercely proud of my parenting & highly defensive of my right to parent as I please without any meddling, and won’t hesitate to say so. I even once told a CPS worker to “crawl back into whatever hole you crawled out of.” Seriously, I did that. I still won the case and my child is home.

    I find you have to be that way. You can’t let them win, and if you edit how you parent your child based on the opinions of outsiders, you’ve let them win.

    On one occasion at a McDonald’s last year my son kept standing up in his high chair, and I would gently tell him to sit. He kept on, so I decided to “drop the hammer” as it were, actually saying out-loud and very clearly ‘sit your ass down!” He started crying & I said to the effect of “zip your lips, or we’re going to the bathroom & I’ll zip ’em for you.” Someone called the police, but after they checked things out, they left and that was it. My wife wanted to leave, she’s the type to back down from such interference, but not me–I said out-loud “no, I’m finishing my food, I’m not leaving here with my face stuffed with food because some nosy dumb-ass who doesn’t discipline their kids thinks I’m not supposed to either.”

    I’ve ridden with my 3½ year-old son with me on the back of my bicycle (in a proper chair), I’ve let them go play in the playground while I order food, have them go to the bathroom themselves. Once at a lake I even went out in the water about 100 feet from shore while they played on the shore about 100 yards long, running the entire length of it unlimited, vs me walking with them every step as most parents do, and they were only 1½ and 3½ years old.. No one else was there initially, but when someone else showed up later, I continued to do it.

    That’s the way you have to be. You can’t let these people dictate how you parent.


  39. Andy November 17, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    @Tam I guess someone does not like you. I would end up scared after such experience. But, the good thing is that CPS closed investigation without additional troubles for you. Good to hear that they are not always evil :)).

    “I feel paralysed with the paranoia of getting another call from CFS. It is too easy for little things to get misconstrued into big things for anyone to be safe.”

    I think that is sort of how fear of secret service worked in communist countries. People have been non-stop afraid of little things being misconstrued. Great way to achieve compliance and removes your freedom more then any explicit rules could.

  40. Uly November 17, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    In contrast to many, I don’t think they are usually evil. Overworked, more often. Sounds like they only checked tam out because they were required to “just in case”, not because they didn’t think those allegations were ridiculous.

    The plus side here is that if you get one or two more obviously spiteful accusations they’ll possibly end the cases even sooner.

  41. gretchen November 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    For a long time, it bothered me to hear people woefully regret the growing up of their children. After all, we had no idea if Charlie would ever really grow up. Marriage and Parenting classes would talk about preserving and nurturing the relationship with your spouse as the primary relationship, as one day the kids will be out of the house and you’ll have an entire stage of life of being you two together again. I’d be thinking, ‘will we ever have that?’

    When something is a given in your mind, it’s easy to want to delay it. Baby milestones and childhood accomplishments have a bittersweet nostalgic twinge to them when they are part of the natural progression. But when it has to be an intentional goal that you work towards, it’s never a bad thing. Terrifying at times (like when Charlie went to regular first grade with modifications but no aide or special class) but are also things that you worked and fought so hard for that you cannot possibly regret them.

    It was terrifying to put a four year old on a school bus without mom or dad to go to a campus on the other side of town for a special class. But, with all of the things I had to worry about with him, it was the least of my worries.

    I think a large part of it is simply that, as the mom of two kids with special needs, I don’t have the luxury of worrying about things out of my control. Random, statistically unlikely things do not bleep on my radar because the reality of my children’s lives day to day gives me sufficient worry material with which to work.

  42. Violet November 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    Two thoughts. First, I have to remember not to judge other parents for hovering because I can’t tell if the child has special needs. Second, most people who are mentally retarded or intellectually disabled have similar capabilities of the average sixth grader.

  43. Carol Everett Adams November 17, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    What Elizabeth said. Often, I do something for my kids out of pure laziness on MY part! — it is so much easier and quicker for me to do it then to teach them how or to let them take on the responsibility & consequences of their actions. Being a free range parent is hard work! But helicopter parents think we are either inept or we don’t care.

  44. Tracie November 17, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    I have a daughter with autism who is almost 18. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I’ve thought that she obviously has more freedom and independence than her neurotypical peers! When she was in 5th grade, she was invited to the birthday party of girl in her class who lived a few blocks away. Rachel walked our dog in the neighborhood and knew exactly where the house was, and so we were perfectly comfortable sending her there alone. Later, a mom of another girl who had attended the party remarked at how “brave” I was for letting Rachel walk to the party herself – this mom had walked her daughter over to the party even though she could practically see the house where the party was held from her own house. We also discussed house keys – Rachel had one because, one afternoon a week, I had to take my son to an appointment in the afternoon and Rachel would walk home and let herself into the house. This mom said she wouldn’t let her kids have house keys because they might lose them – and one of her kids was 15 at the time!

    That same year, at our parent teacher conference, Rachel’s teacher mentioned that she’d heard about Rachel walking our dog in the neighborhood and wondered if I really thought that was safe, because what if she ran into a stranger?

    I haven’t ever been made to feel really defensive about my parenting or concerned that someone would report me, but I have received these kinds of amazed and/or bewildered responses a lot over the years. I usually just say that Rachel knows her way around and likes to do these things on her own, and that I feel it’s safe for her. There have been fewer comments about allowing my neurotypical son to have the same freedom.

    Furthermore, although Rachel has always had a strong sense of self-worth, her brother struggled when he was younger with feeling capable and wanting to try difficult things. Imagine if I’d helicopter-parented him and not allowed him to master basic tasks like fixing himself lunch or himself to school? Now he is a confident 14-year-old who does well in school and will get on his bike and ride anywhere in town. I’m as proud of his independence as I am of his sister’s.

    As time has gone by, I’ve thought more and more that my children will both have a leg up on many of their peers when they are adults and have many years of experience doing everything from fixing their own school lunches to learning to navigate the public transportation system for themselves.

  45. Jody a special needs mom November 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    As a special needs mom, I have learned one thing—-ALL kids have special needs. As parents, it is our right, our obligation and our sacred duty to do the best for our kids. Unfortunately, we are the one’s who have to determine what that is. My goal is to make myself obsolete. I want to be loved, but, I can’t be needed by my child. Sometimes, this means that I have to be a “helicopter” mom and hover over my child. Some days, it means that I have to figuratively, throw my child off a cliff.

    The most important thing I believe I can do is to try to help him have a good heart. My son is like every other person out there—super smart at some things and really delayed at others. But, if he can love and be loved then, I have been successful.


  46. D November 17, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

    I am not completely sure that Freerangers fully understand the concept about helicopter parenting. Before debating about something, it would be wise to first know and wholly comprehend a subject. For example, maybe helicopter parents don’t mean to treat their kids as if they are extremely fragile. I understand that many who are free range were once helicopter or could’ve
    been. However, the people that are free range may have a common character trait that led them to the choice of being free range. Perhaps a medium type of parenting style between helicopter and free range might be better for the majority of America.

  47. Lollipoplover November 17, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    “So there seems to be a lack of urgency in teaching “normal” children to care for themselves.”

    Maybe, but not being able to do laundry or cook for yourself won’t hinder your chances of reaching your potential. You can eat out or get a laundry service.

    Not being able to handle transportation choices is a major stumbling block to independence. Even Alzheimers patients are rated as part of their activities of daily living on ability to handle their own transportation. A person needs to learn this skill in order to be independent. I think a huge problem with this chauffeuring our children to every function is they never learn basic street smarts. There are common sense practices to navigating cities and towns that take PRACTICE.
    We’ve had 3 teenagers killed in the last week in our county. How? They were struck and killed crossing streets (jaywalking). On the major street leading into my development, there are two roadside memorials, you know the DISTRACTING ones with teddy bears, balloons, and crosses. Both were teenagers who lost control at the turn and hit trees (one was texting, the other unknown). Yes, I know there will always be car and pedestrian accidents. I just see more and more older kids completely clueless when let out on their “own”.

  48. Donna November 17, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    “Not being able to handle transportation choices is a major stumbling block to independence.”

    Not really. Until I moved to Am. Samoa last year, I had never taken public transportation in a place that I have lived. Not a single time as an adult or child. I never needed to. I was either chauffeured, drove myself, walked or rode a bike. And yet, I’m decently traveled and I’ve handled public transportation other places well, including in countries where I don’t speak the language.

    The fact is that you can figure out public transportation systems as a teen/adult if you want to. I worry more about the lack of desire that I see in today’s youth to be independent than I do any particular skill. Skills can always be learned. The desire to be independent can’t. I want my daughter to go places herself and do things herself because I want her to have confidence that she can do things and not because I think any particular skill needs to be learned at 7 instead of 18.

  49. jc November 18, 2012 at 4:53 am #

    LRH–it is certainly within your right to parent as you see fit and there’s nothing wrong with raising your voice or being stern with a toddler doing something dangerous, it’s probably the “sit your ass down” comment that caused problems. Saying “sit down” loudly and “sit your ASS down” loudly are different things. Profanity at a kid stops being discipline and starts being about lack of control.

    It’s also REALLY hard to lose your kids. Most kids are returned to their parents. The standard is often shockingly low. Emotional abuse is also very difficult to prove or terminate rights over. So if you’re not physically beating them or neglecting them you get your kid back.

    CPS workers are usually bound by a lot of laws and rules formed at the state and federal level. People think it’s super cool to abuse them verbally for intervening for potential or actual abuse yet if something happens to a kid suddenly it’s the workers’ fault. It’s a really hard thankless job.

  50. Warren November 18, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    @jc in defense of LRH

    Given particular circumstances, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using an aggresive tone and telling your kid to “sit your ass down”.

    What you think is lack of control, I see as gaining control. My kids learned early that when the tone was there, and a word like ASS came out, it was over. Don’t hesitate, don’t try to push your limits, it was time to sit their ass down.

    Calling your kid an effin little whatever is profanity. Using a word like ass, to get your point accross is not.

    As for CAS, our version of CPS, you need to stand your ground. My wife’s ex tried to use them a couple of times. They showed up at the door, and were told to take a hike, and if they felt the need to come back, to do so with a warrant and a local LEO. They never did come back.

    But then again, it seems like CPS has unlimited powers, as compared to our CAS.

    I try to live by the rule of thumb, others only have the power that I let them have.

  51. hineata November 18, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    Wow, agree with everything you said, Lenore! Crazy….we see it somewhat less at the low-decile school I work at, but at my girls’ upper-decile school it always surprises me how many girls still get simple things doen for them, like their lunches made etc, and they’re all at least eleven. I do agree though with Donna that willingness to try things is more important in some ways than the actual skill – I forgot to teach my son how to tie shoelaces until he was seven (! – bad mother!) but he certainly picked it up fast enough then…

    Speaking of independence, a few hours ago I agreed that my son (just turned sixteen a couple of months ago) could apply to work with his regular outit at a music festival about eight hours away for a week this summer. It may be a non-issue because the festival itself, vis-a-vis festival-goers, is R18, but the point is that said festival is pretty much a weeklong booze and drugfest. Boyo knows most of the people that will be going – they’re all okay people, and they’ll be working fit to bust the whole time, but he is quite a bit younger than the rest. He’s a sensible kid, knows to get his own drinks etc, hates the taste of booze anyway, but….am starting to second-guess myself. Is this tooooo independent? Am not worried about the camping, who he’ll be with etc, just maybe about – Am I mad to allow a 16 year old around that much ‘fun’, even though he’s likely to be too exhausted to try any of it? He wants to go for the money, which’ll be great, and the experience – it’ll be his first, albeit short, experience of working away from home…

    Opinions would be gratefully received…:-)

  52. hineata November 18, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    outfit 🙂

  53. LRH November 18, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    Warren Exactly. Believe me, I’m not a monster to our kids, but I nonetheless have made sure they know who’s in charge around here, and that it’s not them. It’s exactly as you say–they may, just MIGHT, push you up to a point, but once you get them “the look” or “the tone” (of voice), they know–obey now, or you’re going to get it.

    I always knew, even before my kids were born, I would be that type. I used to see parents bargain & procrastinate, say, making their kids mind in a doctor’s office, and I always felt like if they would take action QUICKLY and make the consequences serious & unforgettable while still being within the realm of NOT being abuse, you’d get results. That’s how I’ve done it, and it works.

    In those early years, whining was the big one for me, the largest “no no” of them all. One occasion really illustrates my “poppa don’t take no mess” position very well–we were about to eat at an Arby’s and our son, then 1½, was playing with a certain toy. I knew that if he took the toy into the restaurant it would likely end up lost. I gently told him we needed to leave it in the car. He refused. I asked nicely, promising him that he’d get it back, but he refused.

    At that point, I did something other parents I’ve observed will NOT do–I forcefully took it from him. (Other parents in that case tend to go “fine” giving the child the idea that he can win & they act as if taking it from them is “bullying.” Not me.) He started bawling. I immediately told him “knock it off.” He didn’t. Maybe 5 seconds later, I whisked him into the men’s bathroom and privately became very stern with him. Not long after, he stopped, we ate, and in the car, I let him have his toy back, also pointing out “I promised you that you’d get it back.”

    We’re not supposed to criticize other parents here, but when I see parents in the same situation bargain with their child & get all nice “you poor thing, what’s wrong,” I want to scream “he’s being a brat, THAT’S what’s wrong!” On one hand it’s not really my business, but when it means the place is noisy because they won’t deal with it in a “nip it in the bud” manner (sometimes they don’t deal with it at all), I SORT OF consider it my business because of the stress of having to hear all of that noise knowing full well it could be avoided.

    That’s part of what I’ve noticed too–when a child cries, others always assume there is actually something WRONG with the child that needs to be fixed, and it’s always in the form of giving the child what they want because heaven forbid they’re upset. They’re not SUPPOSED to be upset, it’s your job to fix it. My reply–in those sorts of situations, no, it’s THEIR job to fix it, by getting their attitude straight.


  54. Jenn November 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    I really wanted my kids, 6 and 8, to walk home from school this year. My schedule at work increased hours so I finish at 2:15, and they finish at 2:30. I could make it to their school to pick them up but that means leave immediately at 2:15 every day, praying for great weather conditions and no traffic. I figured if they walked home, it would buy me 20 minutes to get home and meet them there every day. I knew that they weren’t ready (my oldest is very nervous) so I thought this year I could have them walk home with an older student so he could become more confident. So far it has been very successful and the kids are loving it. My oldest wanted to walk to his friend’s house who lives a little further than the school. We let him walk there this weekend, instead of dropping him off and he was so proud of himself! Our plan is to let him walk home from school with his sister next year but already we have had people commenting to us on how unsafe that is. I’m not sure how the 13 year old is `protecting’ my children but we see his role as teaching my children how to be safe so when they go alone they will know what to do. I would not expect a 13 year old to fend off an assailant (should there ever be one!) or jump in front of a car careening onto the sidewalk so I don’t know how our arrangement this year makes my children safer than what we plan to do next year. (other than this year my children were learning and growing confidence!)a

  55. Donna November 18, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    Hineata – My little bro used to work a big music festival in the states. The workers found plenty of time to have fun. He was older (20s) and is a total partier so was looking for fun though.

    That said, if you trust your boy not to give into peer pressure to try drugs or binge drink alcohol, then I don’t see a problem with it. Those would be my biggest concerns. I’m even okay with 16 year olds drinking some alcohol, but drugs and binge drinking can be deadly. You know your boy and if you trust that he won’t do either of those things, I say let him have a go. Sounds like fun.

    And my little bro didn’t learn how to tie his shoes until 9. He liked Velcro.

  56. Donald November 18, 2012 at 9:09 pm #

    I feel for CFS

    They work between a rock and a hard place. They try not to overstep their boundaries but they are at constant scrutiny from helicopter parents that are trying to turn them into the KGB

  57. hineata November 19, 2012 at 5:59 am #

    Ta for that Donna! Turns out he is allowed to work, so am going to let him give it a go.

    Probably the only thing that might go wrong is if his workmates think it ‘cute’ to get the young fella drunk/stoned,- he is the ‘baby’ of the group – but I don’t really anticipate that, as I think they’ll be wanting him to work extra shifts to cover their own drunken binges, LOL!

  58. JP November 20, 2012 at 6:32 am #

    @Mollie – what you describe used to be standard parenting. I recognize it – it is how I and most of my friends grew up (long ago.)
    My mom used to threaten and glower (in a benign way) that she refused to raise one more helpless man.
    So I learned things – of the domestic variety.
    The expectation was always to help out.

    I had friends who grew up in large catholic families (stepping stone kids – a dozen to the bunch) and believe me…those families didn’t function without the kids all pitching in. It was understood.

    So for this to be swimming against the tide – serves to show us how much we’ve lost. Do the kids benefit? Of course they do.

    You know, one of the things prisoners lose in a penitentiary is the freedom to do things for themselves. Everything is done for them (at a minimum, granted – but still, they lose that “right.”)

    Education (in the academic sense) is not all childhood or childhood learning is about. That is, after all – a rather small (but important) part of the picture. Life-skills isn’t only learning how to order wine in a restaurant, or colour-matching a shirt and tie. It’s about how to be a decent and useful human being – on all levels of living.
    If we have somehow forgotten the importance of this – then what exactly is it that we’re raising our kids for?

  59. JP November 20, 2012 at 4:14 pm #

    @ jc (and in agreement with Warren and LRH)
    You need to take another look at CPS – do a little research.
    The dynamics of parenting have followed certain rules for generations. Most would agree that a parent is an authority figure in the lives of their children. What exactly is authority?
    To a kid – it’s what they respond to and take seriously.
    Should other authorities step in and take over that role?
    Perhaps, in the absence of the parent – otherwise it’s the parent’s job.
    A nanny state will meddle with the relationships between parents and children (and don’t think this isn’t done for profit.)
    Obedience – is often a desired thing, for the right reasons. For the wrong reasons, it can also be quite conducive for easy management and productivity.
    I was an obediant kid, and by being so, earned endless freedom. My parents got what they wanted (a reasonably well-behaved kid) and I got what I wanted – freedom to do the things I loved. A pretty good trade-off.
    Undermining and dismantling parental authority also undermines a kid’s natural ability to understand their first and most basic rule of law: that this concept starts in the home. It utilizes the concepts of love, understanding and guidance. No state-empowered authority will provide these. Yet they are necessary for healthy growth.
    They are far from perfect. Listen to a thousand stories and get a thousand different answers. That’s the story of humanity. It is not a one size fits all (though the state would have it so.) That’s the nature of the beast.

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