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Jennifer Klepper is an ex-corporate attorney turned PTO president, volunteer child advocate and Cwist contributor. She is leading a discussion on inspriring curiosity and independence in girls with nature. Read and Comment »
Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and author of Free-Range Kids. Read more »
Sorry, Lenore Skenazy is no longer taking questions.
Can you ever leave your child alone, even for a minute? It's certainly a subject of great debate, as you can see from these stories:
1. A mom had just gotten her three pre-school aged sons seated in a surprisingly uncrowded Ikea cafeteria when she realized: she forgot to pack lunch! So she told the boys to stay put and left them at the table, watching a movie on a nearby screen, while she got them food. A few minutes later she was back - and pounced upon by an older woman. "I've been watching your kids," the woman announced. "Several people passed by looking at them. They could have been gone just like that."
2. Another mom was in the children's room of the local library with her 5-year-old daughter. They only had a few minutes before they had to leave, so the mom said, "I have to go upstairs to check out a book in the adult room. Do you want to stay here or come with me?" The girl, busy with a felt board, said, "Stay here." The mom told the librarian -- the only other person in the room -- "I'll be back in three minutes." To which the librarian replied: "Fine. But the dangers of the world do not stop at the library door." Slightly unnerved, the mom nonetheless sprinted upstairs. When she returned, right on schedule, the girl was still at her felt board. (The librarian was still alive, too.)
Final story: A mom in the supermarket parking lot loaded her kids into the car, and the groceries, then went to return the cart. When she got back to her car, another shopper yelled at her for putting her children in "danger" by leaving them.
Welcome to the world we're living in today. A world where any time an adult leaves a child, even for a few minutes--even for a few seconds (how long does it take to return a cart?)--someone just may accuse them of placing their children in mortal peril.
The thing is: Those accusers are wrong.
Oh, they're right that the world is not a perfect place. Criminals do exist. But to operate as if predators are prowling behind every plate of Swedish meatballs, ready to pounce on a table full of children, in public, in broad daylight, is the stuff of bad Bruce Willis movies. Why didn't the older lady who was watching the kids so intently think about the fact that she was watching them so intently? If nothing else, her own concern for those kids was keeping them safe!
Then there's the mom who let her kid wait in the children's room at the library for three minutes. WHAT could possibly have happened? A pervert lurking outside the window, peering in for hours and hours, or even weeks and weeks on end, finally sees his chance and bursts in -- without the librarian noticing? He grabs the child without the slightest scuffle? He does this all in the 90 seconds between the time the mom is walking out and walking in?
Can anyone seriously think this is probable? Not whether it is POSSIBLE. Anything is possible. Hey, the library could be firebombed by someone with an overdue book! It's possible. Maybe no one should risk going there!
There's a big difference between possible and probable -- a difference that parents are being encouraged, by busybodies and sensationalist media, to ignore. That's what is making parents so fearful these days: We are "What if?"ing ourselves to death.
Finally, there's the mom in the parking lot, getting yelled at for "leaving" her kids in the car. As if there is no difference between truly leaving your kids for a while, and having them wait for you while you finish a brief task. To not take that into account means thinking of every event in terms of the absolutes: It is NEVER safe to leave your children, no matter what. Leaving them for a single minute is as bad as leaving them for a day.
Thinking that way is driving us nuts. It is making us not trust our neighbors, our kids, our own rationality. Indulge in constant worst-case thinking and every situation begins to look like the Titanic. Every parenting decision becomes fraught with sadness: "This could be the end for my child!" And meanwhile, every busybody feels free to yell at those of us who trust the odds. As if THEY love our kids more than WE do.
Thank God, the world we live in is not a Bruce Willis movie. It's a lot less dramatic (and, for the record, it has a lot more hair). Moreover, it has always afforded parents the chance to grab some grub, check out a book and return a cart. No matter what the busybodies say, these are not life and death decisions. They're just plain ol' life.
Sorry, Lenore Skenazy is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.