The parent trap
May 8, 2015
By NATHALIE HARDY | Yamhill Valley News-Register
I just had an idea for the best mother’s day gift in the history of ever. Maybe.
I mean, it’s no child-crafted macaroni necklace. Those are so precious they are priceless.
This is something we can give freely to mothers everywhere. And what the heck, dads deserve it just as much.
What I have in mind is giving each other a break. Some slack. A giant portion of grace.
I can’t worry about watching my kids and my back at the same time.
Parents make mistakes. All the time. I’ve made several today and it’s not even time for lunch.
We make bad calls. We lose sight of our priorities. We forget what matters most.
Look, it’s hard parenting under constant public scrutiny, which, if you haven’t noticed, is the deal these days. It’s hard knowing anything you say or do is game for being disseminated, dissected and distorted on social media.
While people still tend to avoid the messy places where actual abuse and neglect are occurring, it seems it doesn’t take much for a busybody to dial 9-1-1 to tattle on a parent doing something outside of his or her own personal threshold of comfort.
If anyone reading this takes it as an indictment of getting involved in instances of actual abuse and neglect, that represents a willful choice to ignore the intent of my message. Simply distilled, it is this:
I help manage a local information page. Whenever a scanner post details of a call about a child who could be in danger, people seem to ignore the fact that, in all likelihood, the concern will prove unfounded. Police are just running a check to make sure nothing is amiss.
Sometimes it turns out a child has suffered an injury, but not necessarily due to any lapse on the part of parents. Accidents do happen.
I get why these calls are placed. Better safe than sorry, for sure.
But their posting routinely triggers a slew of comments to the effect, “Where was the mother?” — often in all caps following by a series of exclamation points. That makes me want to hit my caps lock key and scream, “Maybe she had to pee! Or even just blink.”
Sure, it’s possible she made a bad call. It happens. But for most of us, it doesn’t take more than one lapse in judgment to exercise greater care next time.
My 7-year-old recently broke his arm. When someone asks him about it, he is quick to respond, “I fell off the monkey bars after school.”
“After school,” of course, means it happened on my watch.
If you’ve been tuned into social media, you know “free-range” isn’t just for chickens anymore. It’s another label assigned to parents. It’s intended to be the antithesis of the “helicopter” parent.
We are generally loath to put labels on children, but somehow eager to slap them on one another.
If I were asked to pick between being a helicopter parent, always hovering about, and a free-range parent, letting my child wander completely unsupervised, I would refuse to accept either label.
I think we virtually all fall somewhere on the continuum, not at one end or the other. And I don’t think that wherever we happen to land makes us any better or worse as parents.
The whole “free-range/helicopter” debate was kicked up when a couple in Maryland was charged with child neglect for allowing children 6 and 10 to walk to and from a park roughly one mile away.
Suddenly, everyone wants to know, what kind of parent are you, as if any single phrase could sum it up.
I’m glad we’re having this conversation, though. Because the message I hope to see rise above the noise is one of solidarity.
My wish is to parent in a culture where we trust each other to all want what’s best for our kids, even if we come at it in different ways.
My sincerest desire is to live in a community where we look out for each other rather than looking at each other, eyebrows raised. After all, smugness does not make us safer.
There’s the “it takes a village” mentality and the “everyone is out for herself” attitude.
Middle ground, people. Middle ground.