Sign up FAST! Login

The day I left my son in the car -

Stashed in: Risk!, Parents

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

I asked if I could start by telling her a little about my story, but I’d hardly finished the sentence when she interrupted. “Don’t bother,” she said. “Instead, let me tell you your story.” Apparently, she knew it by heart. “Just let me close the office door first because my husband’s heard this spiel a million times. OK, so, you were running errands with your kid when you decided to leave her in the car for a couple minutes while you ran into a store. The surrounding conditions were perfectly safe, mild weather and such, but when you came out, you found yourself blocked in by a cop car, being yelled at by a nosy, angry onlooker, being accused of child neglect or endangering your chid. Is that about right?” Skenazy’s heard it all before. But her demeanor suggested the outrage such charges elicited in her hadn’t dissipated much over the years since, in response to her son’s subway ride, news outlets dubbed her “the worst mom in America.”

We talked for about an hour, and what stuck with me and surprised me most was not her sympathy, but her certainty, her utter lack of equivocation or doubt. “Listen,” she said at one point. “Let’s put aside for the moment that by far, the most dangerous thing you did to your child that day was put him in a car and drive someplace with him. About 300 children are injured in traffic accidents every day — and about two die. That’s a real risk. So if you truly wanted to protect your kid, you’d never drive anywhere with him. But let’s put that aside. So you take him, and you get to the store where you need to run in for a minute and you’re faced with a decision. Now, people will say you committed a crime because you put your kid ‘at risk.’ But the truth is, there’s some risk to either decision you make.” She stopped at this point to emphasize, as she does in much of her analysis, how shockingly rare the abduction or injury of children in non-moving, non-overheated vehicles really is. For example, she insists that statistically speaking, it would likely take 750,000 years for a child left alone in a public space to be snatched by a stranger. “So there is some risk to leaving your kid in a car,” she argues. It might not be statistically meaningful but it’s not nonexistent. The problem is,” she goes on, “there’s some risk to every choice you make. So, say you take the kid inside with you. There’s some risk you’ll both be hit by a crazy driver in the parking lot. There’s some risk someone in the store will go on a shooting spree and shoot your kid. There’s some risk he’ll slip on the ice on the sidewalk outside the store and fracture his skull. There’s some risk no matter what you do. So why is one choice illegal and one is OK? Could it be because the one choice inconveniences you, makes your life a little harder, makes parenting a little harder, gives you a little less time or energy than you would have otherwise had?”

Later on in the conversation, Skenazy boils it down to this. “There’s been this huge cultural shift. We now live in a society where most people believe a child can not be out of your sight for one second, where people think children need constant, total adult supervision. This shift is not rooted in fact. It’s not rooted in any true change. It’s imaginary. It’s rooted in irrational fear.”

In the three years since it happened, it seems like more and more people are talking about the crisis of helicopter parenting. In an essay in the Atlantic, “The Overprotected Kid,” Hanna Rosin writes how “In all [her] years as a parent, [she’s] mostly met children who take it for granted that they are always being watched.”

Other publications and websites and social media outlets and message boards are awash in eight ways to know if you’re over-parenting, or how to give your kid the freedom he needs and deserves. Psychologists and social scientists wonder if we’re not instilling children with a sense of learned helplessness that makes them into subfunctional, narcissistic young adults who have an overinflated sense of worth and sensitivity and, more recently, require trigger warnings on college syllabi.

But what I always find lacking in these warnings is some explanation, not only of how expectations have shifted so radically for parents, but of why they have shifted. The tip-of-the-tongue answer is often that the world is a more dangerous place than it was a generation ago. But it doesn’t take much research to debunk this myth and find that nationally, violent crime rates are lower than they were in the ’70s and ’80s. So how do we explain that activities that once seemed harmless — letting a kid play at the park without supervision or sitting in a car for a few minutes — have now become not only socially taboo but grounds for prosecution?

There is some risk to ANY decision you make.

You May Also Like: