When I was at the dentist last week I picked up a Readers' Digest to read as I waited. The title of an article caught my eye, so I started to read it.
The article was written by a woman in New York who let her nine year old son ride the Subway home by himself. He had been begging forever for her to let him "find his way home" from somewhere, so one day she left him in Bloomingdale's with a subway map, bus pass, $20 and some quarters (she didn't give him a cell phone because she thought he might lose it) and went home. She thought nothing of it. A little while later, her son came home ecstatic, wanting to know where else he could find his own way home from.
Since then the woman has been shocked to find that almost everyone who has heard her story wants to turn her into CPS. She's been all over the news, defending herself. As the article went on and I read her defense, I went from being shocked and horrified (and ready to call CPS myself) to seriously thinking about what she was saying.
I've had many conversations with my fellow mom friends about how different the world is today and how things that we did growing up, things our parents allowed us to do without blinking an eye, we would never in our wildest dreams allow our kids to do. It does make me sad (and frustrated) that I don't feel safe letting my kids play in our front yard without me. I can't imagine letting them walk down to our mailbox alone. The fear of abduction and getting hit by a car has me keeping my kids within a five foot radius of me at all times. I don't even let them ride the school bus. All my friends, in varying degrees, feel the same about most of this. We've shared horror stories of people we knew who let their child do this or that (gasp!) and didn't ever try to hide the fact that we were judging them for their horrible parenting skills.
But as I read this woman's reasoning, I started to feel a little ridiculous, and a little sad at the things I've deprived my kids from. She said the number of child abductions is actually way lower now than it was fifty years ago. We think it's become an epidemic because everywhere we turn there's another headline of a missing child, but really it's the opposite. Because there are fewer now, they are covered more in the news. We're just hearing about them more.
Think about it: Our kids are no more likely to get hit by a car nowadays than we were twenty(ish) years ago. So why don't we let our kids cross the street when we were roaming the neighborhood (often past dark)?
I couldn't deny her logic, and part of me sat there, hopeful, thinking, "Really? Can I let my kids go play in the front yard and continue to do my dishes inside? Can I really let them walk down to their friend's house, five houses down?" But as much as I'd love to relax my limits with reckless abandon, I can't just forget seven years of maternal paranoia.
So, I'm taking small steps. I know I shelter my kids, way too much. I have to remind myself that I am doing them no favors by keeping them ignorant to what goes on outside these four walls. Tonight I was looking at pictures of the Hurricane Ike damage, and Macy started looking over my shoulder. Normally I would have shooed her away and quickly changed screens, thinking it would freak her out and give her nightmares, but instead I took advantage of a good teaching moment and explained to her what was going on in the pictures and what these people were going through. She looked in fascination and made numerous comments about the plight of these poor people and how thankful she was to live in a place that doesn't have stuff like that. Maybe tomorrow she'll go get the mail. Maybe not.
So what do you think about all this? Do we have reason to protect our children as fiercely as we do, or have we been scared into thinking the world is not safe?