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 home owner's association 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.