Thursday, May 14, 2009

Benign Neglect

OK, let's finish this off- I've got other stuff to write about.

I was saying how it's hard not to be a "helicopter parent" these days. While in reality it's extremely unlikely that any one child is going to get abducted (and those who are will almost all be taken by someone known to the family, not "strangers"*), if you watch or read the news for any length of time, you'll become convinced that there are kidnappers around every corner and every babysitter's a child molester in disguise.

I don't want to live like that, and I don't want my kids to grow up being afraid of the world. I want them to know how to handle themselves in suspicious or scary situations, but I want them to enjoy this world that is overwhelmingly a good, safe place. I want them to know that it's never OK to go with someone without mommy or daddy's permission, but I want them to know that it's OK to respond to the young mother on the street who asks how old they are when we're out for a walk. I want them to be smart, not paranoid.

One of the difficulties of being a parent these days is facing the expectation that you'll spend every waking moment entertaining your child with "enriching" activities. That's not to say that I don't enjoy playing cars once in a while, or that I don't love a good story time; I just don't agree with the notion that my kids shouldn't be left to fend for themselves when it comes to play time.

Call it "benign neglect" or call it free-range parenting- what it comes down to is that I think kids today are missing out on a lot by not having the freedom that their parents and grandparents had. As much as I hated being bored as a kid, I now appreciate the fact that my mom didn't immediately jump in to intervene when it happened; being bored sparks creativity.

I love my children, and I want them to grow up to be confident and independent- something that a lot of "grown-ups" my generation and younger simply are not. I hope my boys will learn how to solve problems on their own, always knowing that their mom and dad will be there if they need us. Does that make sense?

Here's a website by "America's Worst Mom," Lenore Skenazy. Do you remember the outrage when she let her 9-year old son ride the subway alone and then wrote an article about it? No? Good story. Anyway, she's got a lot of information about what she calls "Free-Range Parenting"- giving kids freedom to be kids while still being a responsible parent (and taking care of kids while refusing to give in to the fear, uncertainty and doubt that plague our society). I'm definitely more cautious than she is; then again, my kids are a lot younger, too. Have a look, if you're interested:

*And they don't get much stranger than my family.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Most of the stupid e-mail forwards I get I can just dismiss, but I usually check them out on just to see what the facts really are (see: poisons in bottled water, toxic tampons, etc). Other times I'm just not sure; I know I won't be passing along any petitions, but I wonder if the cause or problem being petitioned is true (and current).

Then there are the ones I look up because I pray they're not true.

I got a forward of that last type a few years ago. I chose to think that the petition was a sick hoax- I don't think my brain could even process the idea that the story I'd read was true. So I looked it up... and it would appear that every horrible detail of the abduction and torture of a small boy was true- the only part that wasn't was the petition itself, which is outdated by years.

Here's the article- I'm not copying it to this post. Don't read it if you have kids... or go to malls... or have any remaining thoughts that "no one is truly evil."

After reading this article, I was scared to let Simon out of my sight when we were out in public. Now, let's be clear on this: I knew that there wasn't a sociopath hiding around every corner for me to leave my innocent child unattended; I knew that the vast majority of people would never hurt him, and would be more willing to help a lost child than to hurt him. But it didn't matter. All I could feel, deep in some primitive part of my mommy-brain, was fear that this COULD happen. The chances might be one in millions, billions even- but it COULD happen. I just kept thinking about that poor little kid crying for his mommy... about the guilt that his poor mother shouldn't feel, but likely will until the day she dies... about how I wouldn't be able to live if the same thing happened to us... and about how suddenly the death penalty didn't seem so unreasonable in some cases.

I've actually had to train myself to not think about this story. I'm usually more of an optimistic type, but this story ripped into my heart to the point where the scars stood out for a long time. If I was lying in bed at night and I started to think about it, I had to say a quick prayer for the parents of this kid, and then pray for God to take the whole thing out of my mind. I had to teach myself to close those thoughts off in a concrete bunker in my mind, because I couldn't make them disappear.

It's funny- I have a terrible memory. Horrible. Can't remember my own cell phone number or new friends' names. But can I forget something when I want to? Nope.

This whole thing was obviously not good for me as a parent. Some people might think of this as a cautionary tale, one that will make parents think twice before letting their children out of their sight... I think that's a problem. I don't want to be a so-called "helicopter mom," hovering around my children day and night, protecting tham and solving all of their problems for them. There are too many people out there who want us to live in fear, either because it gets them ratings, it makes them money, or because they need everyone to be as scared as they are so they feel like they're right...

I'm not going to let them win.

More on that next time... for now, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Anyone else out there had a similar experience? Am I nuts?

Monday, May 4, 2009

The One I've Been Putting Off

I've been meaning to write this post for a long time. What I mean is, I had the idea to write it a long time ago, and I really meant to... but it's not something I like to think about.

Let's start with the smaller issue then, shall we? It's about chain letters. Chain letters and e-mail petitions (and bears! Oh, my!). I don't get a lot of the "Send this to EIGHTY people or you'll DIE! OMG!!!!!!" type of chain letter. Most of the time, these are forwarded by well-meaning people who are concerned about the contents of the letter- carjackers using flyers to get you in the parking lot, some movie about Jesus being gay, Bill Gates will pay you fifty gajillion dollars if you forward this... the problem is, the vast majority of them are either untrue or entirely outdated, and people don't tend to check on this minor detail before they hit "send". has a handy search tool- enter a few words from the topic of the forwarded message, and odds are, there'll be an article about poor old Himalayan goat boy (or something telling you that the Amber Alert you just received is 7 years old and the missing child is back home and enjoying high school, thanks very much). I don't get mad at people for sending me things they think are important, but it's a bit of a pain in me arse to get them, you know?

OK, the bigger issue... do I still have room here? Do I need to put this off until tomorrow? Yeah, let's make this a three-parter. I have enough issue for that. Yippee!

In the meantime, bookmark and do a quick search next time you receive a "factual" forwarded message. Heck, just head on over and browse through their huge collection of urban legends, just for fun- very entertaining.

Tomorrow we'll move on to the forward that was totally wrong in its intent (if not in all the facts) that has haunted me since the day I received it.

I gotta go hug my kids now.