Yesterday, I had a crisis of parental decision-making. While buying my 4-year-old a bike.
My moment of indecision had nothing to do with the bike itself. I was excited to find someone on my local Facebook swap group selling a gently used Spiderman bike for $25. My son was excited, and I knew he was going to love it.
No, I agonized over another decision–the best way to get the cash I needed from the ATM to pay for said bike.
We live in a quiet, very residential neighborhood, and there aren’t any drive-thru ATMs conveniently located near us. I was alone all weekend with both my boys, the 4-year-old and the 11-month-old. We had been out and about all Friday evening and most of the day Saturday, and now it was late afternoon and I needed to get some cash. Quickly.
There’s an ATM near us, sure, but I’d have to get out of the car and go inside to use it. In my mind, as I drove, I debated. And debated.
I really, really don’t want to get both these kids out of the car, carry the baby, corral them into the ATM booth, wrangle getting the cash, wrestle them back into their car seats. I really, really don’t. It’s two minutes. They’ll be fine in the car.
And then the other side of the equation: But someone could see them alone in the car. Someone could call the cops on you.
Not, Someone could kidnap them. Not, They could get hurt. My only hesitation was that somebody would see a stranger’s kids alone in a car and call the police.
This is parenting in the 21st century.
My social media feeds have been flooded the past few days with stories like this one, in which a family went through the trauma of police questioning their parenting ability because of a preschooler frolicking naked–right beside his father in the front yard.
Let’s be real. There are absolutely risks associated with leaving young children unattended. Accidents happen. Tragedy can — and does — strike. But can we all take one big step back and relax for a second before going straight to panic mode?
It’s easy to fall back on the familiar “back in my day…” arguments. Because yeah, my mom left me and my siblings alone in the car ALL. THE. TIME. when we were little. Because running errands with small children in tow is a pain in the ass.
But I’m more concerned about what this says about our generation as parents. Why is it that we automatically assume a parent is making the wrong decision for their child? Especially when we’re looking at a stranger we don’t even know? My question to anyone who’s called the police on a stranger for “unattended children” is this: who the hell do you think you are, and what makes you qualified to second-guess another parent’s judgement?
Why are we so eager to assume that every child we see is being neglected? If you see a kid playing alone at the park, or in his or her yard, you’re likely not in a very good position to make that determination. So why do you?
I’m an educator, and as an educator, I’m also a mandated reporter. Mandated reporters, for those unfamiliar with the term are those of us who have regular contact with children — teachers and child care workers, public health professionals and doctors, lawyers, social workers, and others. If those of working in fields designated as mandated reporters suspect child abuse or neglect, we are legally obligated to report it to authorities.
Guess what all mandated reporters have in common? We are professionals who have regular contact with any children and families we’d potentially be reporting. I’m a mandated reporter when it comes to children I know and teach every day. Not when it comes to a kid I’ve never met before that I see in a parking lot or in his yard or on the playground.
So again I ask, can we all take a step back and a deep breath? Can we trust that parents, and teachers, and doctors, and social workers, all generally know what they’re doing? That we all know what’s best for the kids in our lives, and that no stranger on the street is ever going to know somebody else’s whole story and context?
In the end, yesterday, I drove a total of 20 minutes out of my way to go to a drive-thru ATM. But I’m over it. My son got his bike and he loves it. Guess I’m a pretty good mom — in spite of the fact that I briefly contemplated leaving my kids in the car alone for 2 minutes.