That really is what it boils down to for me, plain and simple—I need to stay out of jail. I play the good-Mommy game, I wear the good-Mommy shirt, I sing the good-Mommy song...but deep down it’s not what my motherly instinct tells me a good Mommy would do. I do it not in the name of what is best for my children, but in the name of Child Protective Services.
“Can I please go to the library Mommy? You could just drop me off and come back to get me in an hour. Please!?!”
“No,” comes the answer. And instead of bothering to ask me why, I hear, “I know, I know, I know,” followed by a refrain very familiar to him by now, “so Mommy won’t go to jail.”
No, you can’t ride your bike around the block. No, you can’t stay in the toy section while I grocery shop. No, you can’t go to the park without me. No, you can’t go to the bathroom 20 feet away while I check out groceries. No, you can’t play in the street gutter while it rains. No, you can’t walk a few blocks to your friend’s house. No, no, and no. The answer is always a no. And why? So Mommy won’t go to jail.
I assure you that, though far from perfect, I am actually a loving mother committed to raising happy, healthy, contributing members of society. But not like this. The mama bear in me has been awakened, not to protect my children from every possible harm, but to protect my children from being stripped of their childhood. Being stripped of their creativity and imagination. Being stripped of the growth that comes from a reasonable amount of unsupervised and unstructured living. Of course kidnapping and harm will always be in the back of my worrying-mother mind, but letting my children experience the joy that only a child knows is always in the front.
In no way am I saying that we ought to allow our children to run completely amuck. We need to raise them to grow into responsible adults, to protect them from obvious dangers, and to teach them how to protect themselves. I am saying, however, that I did not bear my children in my womb for 9 months, risk death to give them life, nurture them in infancy, protect and direct them through death-defying toddlerhood—all to strip them of hard-earned childhood. No, this is not my purpose. My purpose is not to constantly coddle, control, and protect, but to prepare them to spread their wings and fly.
Am I overreacting? I only wish. But we have all read the stories. Enough stories to know that losing our children over such things is a real possibility. What about the Maryland parents who were found guilty of child neglect for allowing their 10 and 6 year old to walk home alone from a neighborhood park? What about the Texas mother who was arrested for child endangerment for letting her 6 and 9 year old play outside unsupervised? In their own front yard. In a cozy cul-de-sac. What about the Florida mother who was arrested for letting her 7-year old play at the the park not half a mile from her house? The list goes on and on.
I understand that for every scenario listed, there exists a counterexample of tragedy that really has happened. I don’t want to belittle these experiences or possibilities in any way. But we need to see things as they are. The media’s emphasis of remote possibilities as the norm is just another form of the fear mongering plaguing our nation. We have to keep in mind that the news needs drama to thrive. The norm is not newsworthy.
In reality, our children are in no more danger today than they were decades ago. Simply driving around with our children is statistically more dangerous than letting them roam freely. All of the overemphasis on the dangers facing our children today is not rooted in fact, it’s rooted in irrational fear.
How quick we are to go to extremes. How fast we are to fall for the fluffery of the media as I like to call it. Fluffery: all of this joy-of-life-sucking, good-judgment-trumping, anxiety-inducing information, disguised in a sugary coating of fluff called “heightened awareness for the health and safety of our precious little ones.” Who can argue with such a fluffy and nice-sounding cause? So we don’t. Because if we don’t eat the fluff, we’re irresponsible. We're negligent. We're gambling with the life of our child. Hence, we eat it, we play the game, we walk around as our peace and freedom of intuition is stifled by fluffy heightened awareness. Well, I’m done living in fluff.
So where does the solution begin? Our government, law enforcement, and even CPS—they all act on the voice of the people. This is a great privilege, one that needs to be used with caution. Your spoken word, and mine, have the potential to impact the life of another very quickly. In all the horrible stories I’ve shared, it was a citizen who caused the horror. It wasn't the irresponsibility of the parent. It wasn’t because the extremely unlikely abduction or harm actually took place. It was because a do-gooder misjudged, spoke, and acted either in haste or fear, due to the fluffery they’ve been feasting on for far too long. And now lives are forever changed.
Please, don’t be that citizen. Pause before you act in the name of “safety.” Of course, if you sense true danger, make an honest attempt to find a parent and talk to them...before you go all kamikaze. Don’t let your right to speak get so far out of hand that you rob children of their right to a mother.
Now, I realize that instances of over-zealous citizenry leading to SWAT-team-like reactions are probably just as rare as instances of abduction and harm. However, here is the difference: ask any parent you know, and they will have a personal story of a nosy citizen who bustled into their lives and hyperventilated over something that the parent actually had under control, where the parent had weighed the risks and made a conscious decision. That’s the difference: we all have had a personal brush with terror as do-gooders take us one step closer to the real possibility of losing our children.
I’m writing this at the park. My 10 year old was bored, so I just told him to walk the three blocks home. Alone. And I’m watching as my 4-year-old is proudly climbing up a small tube slide, on top of the tube. When you see all this, you may fear for my children’s safety or second-guess me as a mother. And that is fine, really it is. Judge on. Worry on. Heck, even lecture on. But when those thoughts tempt you to take action that could dramatically impact my life, that’s where I have a problem. I am determined to have my children fly the coop, but not yet, and not with CPS.
Let’s not forget that most often, behind those free-spirited and energetic children is a mother who is acting with purpose. A mother who chokes on her own heart at the mere thought of them coming under harm’s way. But also a mother who is giving her children the chance to be children, the chance to see the world as they soar on their own from above, even if it begins on the top of a tube slide.