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Moms Talk: Are You My Village?

Is there a right time to step in on someone else's parenting?

If you read last week’s column’s comments, you know that I opened up a huge can of worms by talking about leaving my child in the car while I go out of her sight into the library. While there was a dramatic split of opinions on the issue, the most interesting comment to me was one who said she’d be in her car calling 911 on me, and hoped I would be charged with child endangerment.

I learned, also from the comments, that I’d be fine if an officer came, as my daughter is 8, and we live in Redmond. However, I was fascinated by the question of when is the right time to involve yourself in someone else’s parenting.

Obviously this commenter thinks that leaving your child in the car is dangerous, and feels that you should intervene when someone puts a child in danger. I can’t really argue with that position. I think that’s right. But, as the recent philosophy of “free-range kids” has put into sharp focus, different parents think of danger differently.

I have mentioned in the column before that my kid goes out and roams our little neighborhood with nothing but her wits and a walkie-talkie. Nobody has said anything directly to me about that, but apparently someone in our HOA is very concerned. There will be a meeting tonight about kids roaming about without direct parent supervision. 

And recently someone was horrified to hear that I leave my daughter in the house alone while I walk the dog around the block. Again, as I said last week, I know my kid. There are many 8-year-olds that I would not leave alone in a house for the three minutes it takes to walk the dog, for fear of returning to find the place on fire. My daughter is more likely to have gotten a book and a jar of Nutella out. When the biggest danger is smears, I’ll chance it.

Obviously, I am putting her at risk. I am making a judgment call of risk versus reward every time I let her be in the slightest danger for any reason. But what is the alternative? I cannot actually wrap her in bubble wrap. Child Protective Services frowns on that, too.

If we had to keep our kids away from what are actually the most dangerous things for children, she could never go to the home of anyone who owned a trampoline or gun. Trips to Idylwood beach would be right out. And I don’t know how she’d get there in the first place, as I could never let her into a car. But we couldn’t walk there either. 

Wild Waves wouldn’t exist. Children wouldn’t be allowed into Seattle or, frankly, anywhere but a panic room. And buying one of my favorite books, “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Child Do),” would put you on an FBI watchlist.

Thankfully, we don't live in that world.

Instead, parents make judgment calls. When my daughter is 16, she will be able to sit in a car not only without me, but in the driver’s seat while the car is moving. Some time before that, I have to be OK with her staying in the car alone. It is a parent’s job to decide when that time is, and it will definitely vary by kid. But in Redmond, I’m okay to have decided that 8 is enough. 

I believe that Hillary Clinton was right when she said it takes a village to raise a child. I have chosen my village. I have chosen it by where I live, and who my friends are, and what I do. But when it comes to parenting, I'm the chief. And I get to vote people off the island.

I get all kinds of parenting input, from friends who are parents right now to those whose parenting days are long over to strangers who feel the need to say something to me when I’m having a nervous breakdown in a Target.

If you interact with my child, you are part of my village. If you see my kid farther away from me than you think is safe at a park, feel free to speak up. If you see her in the car alone at the library, feel free to call 911.

But know that I will not change my parenting to match what you think is safe. I will thank you for your concern, or explain to the officer that she is 8, or do whatever else it takes to keep parenting at the safety level that I find acceptable. And then I will go right on making these dangerous calls, because that’s the chief's job.

Parenting. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Jennifer November 09, 2012 at 06:04 PM
I think sometimes people forget that we as parents are actually raising children to become self sufficient adults. My husband and I often feel we are judged because we see it as our job to give our kids opportunities for growth, independence, responsibility, and yes, even risk. This goes against the parenting norm in this area that seems to require keeping kids wrapped in a shroud of security. I am constantly thinking of the long term goal of fostering confidence and common sense. There is a difference between teaching a child to asses risk and make decisions and teaching them to be afraid of the world. Thank you for this article, I love knowing I am not alone.
Sheryl November 09, 2012 at 06:09 PM
We are definitely in the age of people falling in the helicopter vs free range parenting. I definitely want a village to help if my child is in need of it in the same way I would step up and do the same but I wholeheartedly agree with you. Each kid is different. Every family is different in how they want their life to be. We just have to respect each others choices and know that they come from the same place as yours - a place of love.
dorimonsonfan November 09, 2012 at 08:59 PM
great article!
Michelle Smith November 09, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Thanks for this. Couldn't have said it better myself. I think I definately fall into the free-range parenting category. I come from a large family and a small town so the notion of "it takes a villiage" has always been my reality. At family functions it's a long running joke that you just need to leave with the same number of kids, doesn't matter which ones they are. I understand that not everyone has this kind of experience but I wish we (as a society) would look more to help our fellow parents than judge them.
Ann November 10, 2012 at 07:25 PM
I believe most of us exist in the middle ground between free-range and helicopter parenting. I can say I'm sick and tired of both sides of this debate (which is not a debate at all, really) totally ragging on one another. If the free-rangers want a village, they must embrace the helicopters, too - when you call them busy-bodies or compare them to Simpson's stereotypes, you are only alienating people willing to help you. Ask yourself, if you saw a young kid walking alone, would you just keep going or would you take a moment and assess the situation and act if you felt the child was lost or maybe has wandered into an unsafe area? If I saw your child sitting in a car alone, I would wait until you came back. I wouldn't call the police and I wouldn't confront you. I'd just quietly keep a Village eye out for you and your children. That's what we are supposed to do. But, I have a feeling you'd rant about me butting in if you caught me being your Village.

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