Free-Range AND Obsessive-Compulsive?

 Hi Readers! Here’s a little note I got that I thought you might like, too.

Dear Free-Range Kids: As the pseudo-aunt of a 2.5 year old nephew and 4 day (yes, DAY!) old niece, and as someone who wants children of her own, it is so refreshing to hear your point of view. My sister  and I have arguments about her toddler’s safety : Do we REALLY need to religiously apply sunblock on him for the twenty minutes he’s going to spend in the sun on the deck? Do we really have to use bug repellent on the off chance a mosquito traveled all the way from Africa surviving, against all odds, on the blood of jumping fish, and now might  bite him, giving him malaria and causing him to die? And don’t even get me started on “if we give him sugar, it’s ALL HE’LL EVER EAT!” (Because sugar, apparently, is the new crack. And we’re all addicted.)

I’m all for safety. Don’t play with matches. Don’t run with scissors. I certainly don’t leave him alone with my loaded gun. No need to COURT danger. But sunlight? Sugar? Killer mosquitoes?

And, by the way, I have a clinical diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I’m big on what-ifs. There’s a reason I wash my hands thirty times a day and quadruple check my door locks. Of course I worry. I’m better than anyone at finding things that could potentially be harmful. But I also know how miserable living a life afraid of “what might happen” can be. And if OCD me can let the child watch a movie (might harm his eyesight, you know, if he sits too close), or play with my Labrador (the puppy might suddenly, without provocation, attack him then turn on me and rip out my throat, leaving us in a bloody mess), or help me cook by adding pre-cut ingredients into a soup pot (I might lose my grip, drop him head first into the pot, causing him to sustain large burns and eventually drown in vegetable beef soup) — if I can do this, with a disorder that’s colloquially called ‘the doubting disease,’ then by God, there’s no excuse for the rest of us. — Signed Auntie OCD

30 Responses

  1. Hey Auntie OCD,
    As an OCD mother of three boys, I’m with you! Maybe they have the cleanest hands in the city (okay, the country), but apart from that … what if they climb a tree and fall out? what if they watch their auntie drink a glass of wine and turn into alcoholics?? what if they see me naked and TURN INTO PERVERTS??!!
    nahh …
    Incidentally, just in case you’re worried about your future offspring ‘catching’ OCD (as I was originally), as they’ve grown up, have they become obsessive about germs? No. It’s just Mum’s funny little ways. We have a tacit understanding that if they do something really grotty and germy, it’s on a need-to-know basis (and Mum doesn’t need to know). Just like if someone in their class throws up – no need to tell Mum that a raging stomach bug is patrolling the area, When they’re in my presence they wash their hands after the toilet and before eating. What I don’t know don’t hurt me (or them, apparently)

  2. As another clinically diagnosed OCD person, I have to say that Lenore had me worried here yet again. But, as always, she did just fine. My OCD has nothing to do with germs but everything to do with fear (I won’t discuss the particulars, sorry). I also try to raise my kids without “catching” my fear and that is one reason why I love this blog. It’s refreshing to see that others like me are fighting this and trying to do their best with their kids (or psuedo-nieces and nephews). I hope that Auntie OCD never gives up the fight and good luck with the OCD too. I’m right there with you.

  3. What a great note, thanks for sharing!

  4. I would jump on the pro sunscreen bandwagon. But then again, I live in Australia and have a read-headed daughter, so 20 minutes of summer sun would be enough to turn her into a lobster.

    In fact, sunscreen, good food and exercise are three things I think we can force upon our children without throwing out the free range ethos.

  5. Sunscreen, like many things, is a mixed blessing. Many people are now not getting enough vitamin D for good health, in part because of lack of time outside and in part because of sunscreen use. So my physician is now recommending that we don’t use sunscreen constantly, though obviously it’s still important when we’re spending a lot of time in the sun.

  6. Yes, growing up in the tropics we were very carefully kept out of the worst of the sun to protect our skin – and as an adult I’ve avoided it, as both grandparents had melanoma. Now I have osteoporosis from Vitamin D deficiency – a pretty good trick with the strength of the Australian sun! I try not to let my boys get sunburnt, but I don’t keep the sunscreen on for ‘ordinary’ sun exposure.

  7. I’m a little bit OCD, as is my son, but that is exactly why I need Free Range Kids. The way I grew up, free range, is way better for kids’ mental health than the way kids are growing up (practically shackled) today. Maybe that is why my OCD (undiagnosed but still somewhat there–with diagnosed anxiety and panic attacks) is milder than my dear 12 year old son’s is.

    By the way, Lenore, the latest issue of our local magazine Minnesota Monthly has a great interview with Patty and Jerry Wetterling, parents of Jacob, on the 20th anniversary of his kidnapping. You would like it because in it Patty talks about how rare stranger kidnappings are and how we can’t live in fear because of what the media portrays about it. It’s really great to have her saying that, because our “fear culture” seemed to really kick in after Jacob disappeared.

    Here’s the link to part of the article: http://www.minnesotamonthly.com/media/Minnesota-Monthly/October-2009/Without-a-Trace/

    If you email me an address I could send you the entire article.

    Lisa

  8. As the parent of a 7 month old, I’m always astonished by the warnings that babies under six months are NEVER to be exposed to direct sunlight. What, will they fade, like curtains and photographs?

    We took the 5 month old to a week long camping event this summer. He wore longish clothes and a hat. He turned pink once, so we applied sunscreen on his chest, but otherwise he was fine.

  9. I know just what you mean about one kidnapping like that sparking a wave of fear. In Australia, it was the Daniel Morcombe case. Daniel was almost 14 – by all accounts, a smart, sensible, strong kid – when he was apparently snatched from a bus stop near his home – and that’s the last anyone ever saw of him.His body has never been found. I think it’s been five years now. That’s the case that comes into my head when I’m trying not to be neurotic about letting my boys have their freedom. I tell myself it’s only one boy among probably millions of boys who haven’t been abducted – but a thirteen year old! And only about 50 miles from where we live, on a busy highway … you can see how paranoia can grow.
    For my mother, it was the Beaumont children. In the sixties, three kids went to the beach as they had many times before, and simply disappeared. They were about the same age as the three of us, and I know it haunted Mum, the way they just vanished – and 40 years later, nobody knows what happened to them. Although to do her credit, she let us have a lot of freedom anyway.
    That’s why this site is great – to give some balance, and to reassure one another that it really is OK to let them go out into the world. For example, next year my eldest goes to high school, and I’m really not too worried about his getting to and from alone – because I know that’s what everyone does. It’s that feeling of being responsible, especially when there’s no other parent to hold your hand and say it’s OK.

  10. those stories are so wrenching,they hurt ME and i’m half way around the world. but they are the exceptions and we’d best embrace the world or miss out onwhat we’re sorry they’re missing out on. thanks for the note! L Lenore Skenazy Columnist, founder of http://www.freerangekids.com 212 600 4123 646 734 8426 (cell) Busy twittering at FreeRangeKids

    Author of, “FREE RANGE KIDS: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry.” BUY IT NOW! http://tinyurl.com/rxtujv Also author of the trivia book that puts the fun in short term memory loss:”WHO’S THE BLONDE THAT MARRIED WHAT’S-HIS-NAME?” PRE-ORDER IT NOW, TOO! SEND MY KIDS TO COLLEGE! http://tinyurl.com/pbofuv

  11. I think as a parent we develop this tremendous anxiety about our children’s safety. Much like sufferers with OCD, we rely on our little rituals to defuse it– my child will be safe if I do this/ don’t do that.
    (My favorite is my friend telling me with pride about her stroller with a FIVE-POINT safety harness… I guess the next step is airbags)

  12. This post (and the comments) made me cry. I’m not in the habit of tearing up over parenting posts, let me tell you! Just to know there are other ocd (or ocpd) parents working toward Free Range kids out there is amazing.
    Thank you.

  13. Wow. And I thought I was a worrier. I have a thing about heights, but my way of managing it is to relay on my hubby “I can´t watch them doing that, darling. Would you mind?” Then I turn my back on them and cringe, waiting for the thump that never comes…

  14. “Wow. And I thought I was a worrier. I have a thing about heights, but my way of managing it is to relay on my hubby “I can´t watch them doing that, darling. Would you mind?””

    I have a terrible time with heights that way, too. If they’re going to one of the local places that has some cliffs and such, hubby often takes them alone. Once in a while I’ll suck it up and make a family outing of it, but I have to turn my back a lot, and constantly remind them when a near panic attack hits, “I’m not panicking because I don’t want you to do that, and I’m not actually afraid anything’s going to happen to you, so you shouldn’t be either. I just can’t help being this way around heights. BUT, Mama will be a lot happier if you stand over HERE instead of over THERE or hold my hand.” Unfortunately, either I’ve transmitted it to my oldest daughter, or she’s inherited the tendency, though I think my openly fighting it has kept her from getting it quite as bad as I have it.

  15. another clinically diagnosed OCD mom to four boys here. yeah, if we can do it, anyone can : )

  16. Here is a link on the latest research regarding sunscreen. Melanoma rates have apparently gone up since the usage of sunscreen has gone up. Exposure to the sun is healthy. (I knew it all along and never went along with the sunscreen at all times craze)

    http://www.smelanoma.com/2009/06/sunblock-does-not-stop-skin-cancer.html

  17. Here’s a good video that discusses health tips, including discussing sunscreen.

  18. I think too many diverse topics have gotten started by this post: OCD, the-case-that-started-it-all, and sunscreen use!

    Anyway, God bless all you OCDers for “fighting the good fight” with one very clean hand tied behind your back.

    @ Lisa, I would love to see that whole article. What I did read gave me one ah-ha thought. This event took place in 1989. At the time, I was living in the let’s-hitch-hike-to-Galway version of Ireland (1988-1994.) I must have simply missed out on a lot of hysteria not to mention a whole raft TV shows. On a serious note, I’m so sad to think this tragedy took place on one of my birthdays.

  19. I know the sunscreen stuff was a little off topic, but THANK YOU for it!! I feel vindicated, just like I did when it came out that you don’t REALLY have to drink 8 glasses of water a day. Some things just seem too stupid for me to believe, so I do my own thing and end up being right. As far as sunscreen goes, I use it when I think I might burn, and that’s it. Same for my kids. I couldn’t even afford the amount of sunscreen per month that the experts recommended. The sunscreen companies were probably responsible for this myth! I also appreciate hearing from OCD people, because I may have had an unfair attitude toward you before. I am un-germphobic almost to the point of being a slob, so it’s hard for me to relate to. But the people who commented here sound like they are doing their best with what must be a very difficult disorder.

  20. Calories don’t exist when you live in Manhattan, a walkers paradise.

    I’m glad I found your site Lenore, it’s very affirming. Incidentally, salt does not always cause high blood pressure. Your adrenal glands help your kidneys know how much salt and other electrolytes to get rid of when making urine. As people age or they get on medications, then that process may go array.

  21. Here’s a good webpage explaining how the kidney works.

    http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/K/Kidney.html

  22. Here is the pertinent information of absorption of sodium in the distant tubule of the kidneys. Aldosterone is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands.

    Sodium
    Although 97% of the sodium has already been removed, it is the last 3% that determines the final balance of sodium — and hence water content and blood pressure — in the body. The reabsorption of sodium in the distal tubule and the collecting ducts is closely regulated, chiefly by the action of the hormone aldosterone.

  23. You’re leaving Manhattan? I love that place. You’ll probably gain weight living in Queens. Haven’t you noticed that people in Manhattan are all skinny?

  24. KarenW – Not all people with OCD have a problem with germs. I am not even slightly germophobic but I do have OCD.

  25. Auntie OCD is a hero. With all her worries, she’s still sensible enough to give those kids some freedom. Well done.

    That said, if the sun is out, sunscreen is probably a good idea. Kid skin is sensitive and with cancer on the rise, I think protecting their skin is a sensible thing to do. But yes, you can do that with hats and longish clothes too.

  26. […] Free-Range AND Obsessive-Compulsive?  Hi Readers! Here’s a little note I got that I thought you might like, too. Dear Free-Range Kids: As the […] […]

  27. I’ve actually read discussions between public health experts on the sunscreen issue, and they actually say that while there’s no evidence that brief sun exposure is harmful, if they don’t pretend it is people will take it as a license to sunbathe for hours. I’m not aware of any proper research implying that’s the case, and I suspect a lot of them are projecting based on their personal battles with addictions (many recovering alcoholics, for example, say that they were utterly astonished to learn that there were people who could drink without reaching the point of passing out or puking, and some of them don’t really believe it). Part of it is a tendency to think in worst-case scenarios, which while somewhat justifiable when it comes to things like disaster planning can be nonsensical when applied to everyday behavior (e.g. if you’re trying to determine whether levels of an environmental contaminant near an elementary school are problematic, you assume that all the girls 8 and older are pregnant). Of course, even sensible warnings get sensationalized by the media, and as they get passed from person to person, each person adds their own margin of safety.

    My understanding is that really bad sunburns during childhood represent a risk for later development of melanoma, so protecting against that is reasonable.

    Also as I recall, about a quarter of people with high blood pressure are salt-sensitive and restricting salt makes sense for them. The problem is giving health advice based on extrapolating beyond the range of observations: there’s no evidence that salt restriction provides health benefits to people outside that group, or that salt consumption in childhood predisposes people to high blood pressure.

  28. Another OCD mom here. Perhaps reading this blog can be like free exposure therapy for us! 😛

    Re: sunscreen. I have a vitamin D deficiency–it causes fatigue and muscle aches. I thought I had fibromyagia! So I agree that a little sun can be a good thing.

  29. Today, OCD is a common disorder that many people even joke about, but for people who deal with the disorder on a daily basis it can be detrimental; there are a few natural ways to overcome OCD. For people who suffer from the disorder, they often times do not realize their problem until it is too late.

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