Maybe Safety Shouldn’t Always Be First (At Any Age)

Hi Readers — A few years ago, when my sister and I were contemplating assisted living for our mom (who has Alzheimer’s), I visited a place that was really pretty and cheerful and had a lot going for it, including a cool program whereby patients each had a box with some artifacts from their old life in it: A former secretary might have a typewriter. A former engineer might have some blueprints. The folks could take them out and “use” them, which seemed pretty ideal.

But — of course there’s a but — I happened to arrive at snack time, when one of the ladies was asking for another cookie. “No,” the attendant told her patiently. “It’s not good for you!  You can’t HAVE another cookie.”

Whereupon, big surprise,  the woman asked for another cookie. And the cycle began again.

That incident came to mind when I read this fantastic article about the focus on safety, and sometimes ONLY safety, in caring for the elderly. It seemed to me, at the assisted living place, that if a woman has lost a  lot of her mind and yet  KNOWS she wants a cookie — give her a cookie! If it shortens her life a little, so be it! At least it’s  making  whatever time she has left here WORTH IT. Ultimately, I didn’t want my mom to be at a place that would deny her life’s little pleasures in pursuit of something supposedly more important: more days on this planet without life’s little pleasures. Here’s what the article, by Paula Span, says about all this:

The safety-first idea permeates so many discussions about how best to care for old people who can’t function fully independently. It’s our mantra as we try to persuade our parents to change their habits, to exercise caution, to move from one setting to another…. Is it possible we’re awarding safety too much significance?

….At root, though, this question is a philosophical one: how to balance safety with the things that make life worth living. [Gerontologist Dr. Rosalie] Kane has developed a list of factors that contribute to quality of life — security and comfort, meaningful activity, relationships, dignity, autonomy, privacy and others — and she’s not much in favor of policies or decisions that reduce those things, even if they might, say, reduce the risk of a fall.

Exhibit A: Her own father, who died last winter at age 102. He was blind, had high blood pressure and kidney disease, and occasionally aspirated his food (meaning that he choked and took food particles into his lungs). He lived in a city apartment with a live-in helper and driver. And he routinely did things few nursing home or assisted living administrators would tolerate. …He was [not]  about to trade the pleasures of sharp cheddar, dark chocolate and pickles for pureed foods and thickened liquids. Besides, Dr. Kane asks, “How would you thicken a rye and water, his five o’clock libation forever?” Her father learned a few guidelines for mindful chewing and swallowing. Still, she said, “He decided to take his chances, and we decided not to be the kind of family who said, ‘No, you shouldn’t do that.’”

So how is this relevant to Free-Range Kids? Because the same safety obsession that goes with elder care often goes with kinder care, too. When we focus ONLY on our kids’ safety, even when they are already pretty darn safe (I’m not suggesting baby bungee jumping here),  we are apt to deny them a lovely part of life. “No you may NOT ride your bike down the block.  Yes it is VERY safe, but it is not completely, 100.000% safe, because you COULD hurt yourself,  so let’s play it safe and keep you inside.” Same with: No you cannot go knock on your friend’s door to see if she’s home. No you may not go on that sleepover. No you may not play in the woods, etc., etc., etc.

As you know, I love safety and do not court danger. Hooray for car seats and helmets.  But when safety crowds out every other consideration, including beauty, joy, fun, growth, experience — and cookies — something is wrong.

That’s not the kind of life I’d want for my mom. It’s not the kind of life I want for my kids. — Lenore (who thanks a reader for sending in the NY Times piece).

Let her live it up!

49 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more! As a society we’re so worried about safety that we’ll suck everything that makes life worth living out of it, like tag for kids and properly seasoned food for our elders.

    When my husband’s grandmother was failing we stayed with her for a week while his parents went on vacation. We’d been chatting and Laura mentioned how much better food had tasted when she was younger, how she used to love Chinese food, and how she wasn’t “allowed” to have it any more because of the sodium content.

    Naturally, I did what any Free Range parent (or grand-daughter-in-law) would do and bought the lady some Chinese food. Laura said it was the best meal she’d had in years and it was a pleasure for me to restore her joy, at least for that moment, in one of life’s little pleasures that had instead become a chore.

    Is it any wonder there are so many elders willing to consider suicide, considering this mind set?

  2. Yep . . . Pixar with the quotable from Finding Nemo.

    Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
    Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
    Marlin: What?
    Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

  3. This is one of the reasons why I’m so happy that we in California are getting the chance to vote on adult use of cannabis. Once legalized, I think it will make getting older a generally more pleasant experience. Of course, you won’t be able to smoke anything in a nursing home, but that’s why we make brownies and cookies.

    The the whole “can I have another cookie?” conversation takes on a whole new meaning.

  4. This reminds me of Mike Rowe’s Ted Talk celebrating “Dirty Jobs” – about halfway through the talk, he mentions the crab boat captain for whom it is *not* about “safety first,” because that’s putting safety in the hands of others, abdicating personal responsibility for our actions.

    I love the story about the author’s father – they were willing to take personal responsibility for her father’s safety. They didn’t foist it onto an outside organization who then had to be overly cautious lest they get sued. We’ve somehow decided that our first (and ONLY) responsibility to is to make sure that no one gets injured – at least not in a way that’s immediately apparent and with an obvious source of blame.

  5. I am a social worker at a nursing home. There is a difference between nursing homes and assisted livings. Nursing homes are much, much more highly regulated. All actions that are taken are always done with “the ste” (department of public health) regulations in mind.
    I’d like to be a bit of a devil’s advocate here and suggest that maybe this woman had asked for a cookie 100 times that day. She may even have already eaten 10 cookies, and the aid was only resisting on cookie number 11. If she were given one every time she asked, she really would have been acutely sick, and the aid would have been negligent.
    That said, I do often find myself advocating for people who are of more or less sound mind, or who aren’t, but have children who clearly express certain wishes. I have advocated to allow things like real food when there is a risk of aspiration and the speech therapist would have a heart attack if she saw the horrific sight of grandma eating nonpureed cake at her 90th birthday party surrounded by all her loving family.

    Are nursing homes overly regulated? Yes and no. There are some ridiculous rules in place. However, we have all heard horror stories of abuse and neglect at facilities and without these regulations, I’m afraid of what might happen.

  6. Two thoughts on this post. First a story about my grandmother who had diabetes as an aging adult. I still vividly remember a scene in my aunt’s kitchen one Christmas. A different aunt had made a chocolate silk pie. My grandmother had a piece and then asked for another. All three of my aunts insisted that she shouldn’t eat another one, but she was more insistent. She ate it and by morning was in a diabetic coma that she never came out of a died 4 months later. Now whenever I make the pie I call it the “pie that killed my grandmother”. We laugh about it because she died getting what she wanted.

    On the other hand, my mother is to the point that she really should be in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, but instead is being cared for by me and my siblings, each of us taking turns bringing her to our homes. We all exhibit varying degrees of control over things my mother shouldn’t be doing. I am the least controlling, pretty much buying her what she wants to eat and letting her get away with not doing what she doesn’t want to do. However, there are consequences to her “misbehavior”. As a diabetic, what she eats really does affect other parts of her health and many times the results create more work and frustration for her caregivers. In certain cases I have insisted my mother take a medication which had side effects she didn’t like because the outcomes without the medication were ones I didn’t like.

    So, it’s a balancing act. If the consequences of my mother’s choices are hers alone to deal with then I don’t interfere and let her do what she wants. However, if I am her caregiver and non-compliance will cause me more work, I reserve the right to limit a few freedoms.

  7. You know, I’m sure that nursing home attendant was tellling that lady no because she knew that if she gave an old lady a cookie, she’ll ask for a glass of milk to go with it. And then that will lead to a mirror to check for crumbs, and a broom to sweep… Kidding!

    I think life is best lived with a little danger. Otherwise, how do we learn? I read somewhere that our brains remember negative instances in our lives because it helps us rewire them and prevent us from repeating past mistakes. Life is too short to not eat cookies. Now I shall go eat one for me and one for that little old lady who couldn’t have another one.

  8. I agree completely about the elderly, but I think with children the safety impulse is from a different motivation: that of thinking the child is too young to do something NOW that he or she will be able/allowed to do successfully and safely LATER. Presumably the parent who won’t allow a child to bike down the street or go to the playground alone doesn’t think adults should be prevented from doing the same. Excessive safety today is intended to ensure a life that extends into the future.

    Like most Skenazy-ites, I disagree with the prevailing community standards about the right age for most activities, but I do understand that motivation (and I say this having received baffled/concerned/disgruntled stares today because I let my 2-year-old get 10 feet away from me at The Container Store).

    With elderly people, there’s not much future to look forward to, and that’s why it’s foolish to deny pleasures — even potentially harmful pleasures — today.

    I have an aunt in her mid-80s who refuses to fly, on safety grounds, and because she moved from Massachusetts to Florida she’s cut off from a large and loving family and has been so for years because her husband can no longer sit for a car trip that far. I really want to ask her: At your age, what death can you envision for yourself that would be BETTER than a plane crash??? For a 10-year-old to die in a plane crash would be tragic, for an 86-year-old it would be a blessing.

  9. Today’s over-the-top focus on SAFETY came about because we allow the media to re-define “anything” as dangerous.

  10. This is absolutely relevant to kids. It speaks to the egocentric mindset that people with aging parents and kids assume that they know what’s best. Protect them from harm to the best of your ability? You bet. Be mindful, present and attentive? Of course. Who would be anything else?

    Yet, each of us has to learn to let go, to know what’s our responsibility and what’s not. We have to trust the unknown and accept that we are probably not going to be able to be there at any moment or stop every bad thing from happening. To believe we can is what they call co-dependency. We need to set up the safest environments possible, educate kids and geriatrics. (not for nothing do they call it “second childhood”) to the level of their understanding and then hope for the best. Particularly with aging parents, when they are conscious of what they are losing, it’s worth a risk to allow them their dignity.

    My 88-year-old father is finally thinking about assisted living. He’s “needed” it in my opinion for several years. But he has had the freedom to make his own choices, and while it’s been tough to watch at times, I have to let go of the fact that “I know what’s best.” And we have had to accept that their might be a crisis at some point. But I think it would be reprehensible to take away my father’s choice and feelings of independence so I could feel better.

    Similarly, when we limit our kids so we feel better, we don’t allow them to learn and grow. At some point, we have to have faith that they’ll be okay. And we have to be very careful to distinguish between faith that they’ll be okay and demanding “knowledge” that they will be. The two are incompatible and mutually exclusive.

    I think of the Serenity Prayer–God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference. It’s a wonderful, humbling prayer, and when we can, at times, live it, we realize that there is very little that is in our control. So we can relax and do our best, accepting the outcomes–positive and negative–as they come.

  11. “No you may NOT ride your bike down the block. Yes it is VERY safe, but it is not completely, 100.000% safe, because you COULD hurt yourself, so let’s play it safe and keep you inside.”

    Oh goodness, just today at the park I heard two different mothers tell their toddlers not to play with the mulch because they might get splinters (actually, what they said was, “you will get splinters,” meaning they must be able to see the future for fact). Here’s what I thought, in this order:

    1. It’s playground mulch and doesn’t have much in the way of splinters. And why would it be under playground equipment, where you could fall on it, if it was likely to hurt you?

    2. They aren’t eating it, for heaven’s sake (and our pediatrician told us that eating mulch was unlikely to do terrible damage unless it had chemicals on it. Yes, I’ve been there with that).

    3. If they get a splinter, they’ll learn not to play with splintery things without you telling them.

    It’s not like we’d have to call 911 if someone got a splinter. Let them learn. And then give them a cookie.

  12. Have a wonderful*saracasm* article for you, Lenore. Mom who lets 3 year old run around naked outside angry google had him on streetview because she’s worried a pedophile might see him naked. Yeah, if she was so concerned why let him run out naked in the first place.

  13. And how we treat the Elderly: disgraceful. I worked in an old age home as a cleaner, and it’s like once you reach a certain age you are no longer and adult anymore. Yes, they may need help, but doesn’t mean they can’t make their own decisions. I understand those with dementia and alzeimers need special care, but for crying out loud, they ask for something that isn’t harmful let them have it. If Granny is 89, not like restricting her diet is going to make her live any longer.

  14. I have a 98yo grandmother with dementia. My family and I have for years likened her to a toddler, except that she regresses in her cognitive abilities. At first it was simply a metaphor that helped us subdue our frustration when she did childish things or asked us the same question 12 times in the space of 20 minutes. But, it has also helped us learn to deal with her as well. For instance, as a mother, I try to say no as little as possible… that’s my philosophy. I do the same with my grandmother. The elderly woman probably had asked for a cookie 10 times already and maybe had been given one, but couldn’t you just say that… “you just had one.” Yes, I change my answers when my grandmother asks me the same question incessantly, but I try not to make anything about what she *should* do. My husband and infant daughter have been staying at my grandmother’s house for the last month and I now know for a fact that the way I respond and speak to her makes a difference in the quality of her life. By the way, she started eating pretty much as much ice cream as she wanted 10-15 years ago and it hasn’t seemed to have had much of an effect on her longevity. My other grandmother died over 10 years ago… just a few days after she said she didn’t want ice cream anymore. Lesson learned: eat the ice cream.

  15. That is astoundingly clear-headed advice.

    Person 1: If you stop (long list of everything enjoyable), you might live a little longer!

    Person 2: For what?

    “Do not go gently into that good night. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

  16. My late Aunt Ann also started eating only ice cream in her 80s. She got a little more demented every year but lived another 10 years with her daughter. The problem though is not eating other food too, which can make you malnourished and dehydrated and a little less with-it. Dehydration and malnutrition exacerbates elderly folks’ problems. So give them some juice, peanut butter, or cereal with that Ben & Jerrys!

    Also, it is a pet peeve of mine that people tend to call everything much beyond middle-age moments Alzheimers. Alzheimers is a specific disease related to areas of plaque in the brain that can be definitively diagnosed only through autopsy. It is often found in middle-aged people, it often progresses rapidly, and there is currently not much hope for improvement. However, really old people who seem to be deteriorating can be suffering from minstrokes or other circulatory problems or depression that make them act like Alzheimers patients. But these kind of problems are not so hopeless or clearcut or scary.

    In my aunt’s case, her kids fought to have her glaucoma and other problems fixed. She was much more lucid for a long time after that, though partly I am sure this was due to being around more people and getting more stimulation at her daughter’s house.

  17. Oh wow, do I EVER agree with this. Safety run amok drives me crazy.

    I am already applying the free-range principles. I let our 15 month old run around a fair distance (say, 100 feet) from us at, say, parks; as long as he’s within viewing distance & not at the edge of a deep hole or near the road etc, I just glance every now & then and figure him to be ok. Naturally people around me think I’m nuts, but I tell them I’m not going to be ruled by fear.

    My big pet-peeve: people who take their kids to the lake, I’m talking 5-7 year old kids, and won’t let them near the water at all. By contrast, with our 15 month old, we had him in the lake & he ventured in over his head but appeared to be swimming somewhat. I was right there, just the same for about 5-7 seconds I let it ride like it was, then I plucked him out. Of course he was upset, but he calmed down & went right back at it.

    You can’t let fear rule your life, people. I refuse to let it rule mine.

  18. My big pet-peeve: people who take their kids to the lake, I’m talking 5-7 year old kids, and won’t let them near the water at all.

    Mother may I go to swim?
    Yes, my darling daughter.
    Hang your clothes on the hickory limb
    But DON’T go near the water.

  19. Many years ago my mother asked to be put in one such home. We were opposed to it, but she thought it would be best and selected the best in the region, which was an hour’s drive from my house where we had been taking care of her.

    Long story short, don’t put your parents in these places, they are hell holes, even when they do a dog and pony routine to make you think it is all wonderful.

    But a short related anecdote to the cookie story. One day she wanted an orange and asked for one – they said “NO.” Well she is a professional woman who made a lot of money and lived her whole life able to get an orange if she wanted to. The idea of “no orange for you and shut up if you don’t want to be forcibly restrained and given an injection” was deeply offensive to her, so I would get the phone calls (since her use of her own phone in this place was restricted) “Your mother requests that we call to tell you she wants an orange.” “Can you give her an orange?” “No.” “Do you have an orange?” “Yes, but we can’t just give food to guests who want it.” “So I have to drive there to bring her an orange.” “I am just forwarding a message.”

    So I would drive an hour there and back. I could not bring a sack of oranges because “No food in the rooms” rule which meant after she went to bed they would search her room and throw out all food “because of health department rules.”

    This particular story is probably the only one about that place that wouldn’t have you convinced those who ran it should be tried and executed for crimes against humanity. And I assure you it has the highest rankings, is well regarded, and costed an absolute fortune.

  20. Oh and Lenore, I can assure you that what you saw at that home had little at all to do with cookies being “bad” for that woman.

    The reason the cookie was denied is because asserting power over the helpless gave a feeling of pleasure and control to the worker there.

    Many people working at such places have a main joy in life of using their power in that position to punish and torment those who are too weak to protect themselves. People who like to control and abuse other people seek out jobs in these places in order to pursue their darkest urges.

  21. Well, shoot. There goes my retirement plan to eat nothing but chocolates all day, drink Martinis from sun up to sun down, and wear nothing but a big flowered muu muu.

    Zero Tolerance will be the death of us.

  22. I was struck by Dr. Kane’s assertion in the article that “ordinary people may prefer the best health and safety outcomes that are consistent with a meaningful quality of life.” (rather than best quality of life consistent with health and safety).

    When taking a rational approach to risk assessment (as a previous post urging us to think like an economist suggested ;-)) the calculus for children is going to be different than for seniors at the end of their life. The years and possible opportunities still to come for a child significantly alter the cost benefit analysis. But for me Dr. Kane is right in that quality of life is the driving factor – not simply life.

  23. The nursing home story just made me think of my grandmother. She lived with us from the time I was about 16 because she felt she could no longer care adequately for herself. It was probably a good call, if a little early. A couple years later it was obvious she was going down hill and was diagnosed with dementia. My mom (this was my dad’s mother) took care of her as best she could but the whole thing nearly tore my family apart (main reason both me and my dad REFUSE to have our children care for us in our old age…we want to go to homes).
    After years and years they finally agreed my mom couldn’t keep caring for her. My mom had already had 1 stroke (in her late 40s) and had limited use of her left side. My gramma was belligerent and defiant. She stopped bathing, would pee on her bedroom floor instead and only ate toast and tea (that’s it, 3 times a day). She was down to like 70lbs.
    So she went to a home that was supposed to be better equipped to care for her. A month later, on Christmas morning, she died. She was 86 years old. In that month she fell twice taking a shower. A shower they FORCED her to take but didn’t supervise. She could barely stand on her own. The official report said she died of some stomach bug but one of the nurses said she might have hit her head the 2nd time she fell.
    It’s really sad when the people that NEED the supervision for their safety don’t get it but those that are capable of making their own decisions are denied.

    As for the free-range side. I get so tired of reading stuff online that says I’m negligent because I choose to take a nap while my kids are awake or take a shower when they are alone in the house (oh noes!). Heck, when my youngest was a baby I’d leave her in the care of my then 5yo son so I could go take a shower or a quick nap. If the baby got into anything he would come get me. I tried to time it for when she was napping but she always woke up, lol. Online I hear from people that won’t even allow their 7yos to sit in the living room for an hour alone while they take a nap in another room. “You just never know what might happen?”

    What the heck is going to happen?

    Today my 10yo walked over to the park to retrieve her DS from her sister. Why the DS was at the park I have no idea. Thing is she took the 4yo with her. Normally I don’t allow the 4yo to go to the park without me. All I heard was, “you have to hold my hand the whole time,” and they were gone. I’m 37 weeks pregnant and can barely move. I just sighed and made a mental note to have a talk about the 4yo going places without me.

    10 minutes later my 7yo comes in upset that the 10yo took the DS back but the first thing she said was, “Nora crossed the street alone!” The 7yo had walked her home and Nora (the 4yo) decided she was big enough to cross on her own. More sighing from me. She pouted, with her arms crossed and said, “but I stopped on the circle (the manhole at the corner) and looked both ways and there was NO car coming so I crossed.” Oy, she’s a handful.

    I’m not sure when I’ll allow her the same freedoms as her older siblings and that’s partly because she is so independent. She thinks she can do anything and it makes me nervous. I actually lost her the other day. I thought she was upstairs visiting with my dad in his room when she suddenly walked in the front door. I never heard her leave and the older kids were at the park. I asked her where she was and she was down the street at her friend’s house playing. I didn’t even know she was gone and it have been over an hour since I had last seen her. That scared me. I’ve been thinking of tying a bell to her, lol. And I can understand how lojacking kids seems like a viable option sometimes. Now I have to be on my toes to keep track of her because she thinks she can come and go as she pleases like the older kids.

  24. One doctor would like to see my son eat none of the things he enjoys in order to stave off diabetes. Skim milk, no soda, fruits his only sweets, and bread so packed with fiber & Good Things that it’s repulsive. I won’t do it. I AM trying to get him to scale back portions, make wiser choices when he’s not home. I’m the one that needs more exercise, not him.
    Food heavily affects quality of life. You may have to limit some things, but no need to completely remove them, for the most part.

  25. This story reminds me of my compulsory hospital rotation.
    Another woman I was doing it with came to me all upset, saying she the worst thing. Now, knowing what this woman does for a living, I was a bit taken aback by this and queried what horrific accident had occurred.
    No, she had seen an elderly woman denied a simple pleasure in life because “It’s not good for you”. Never mind she was 89 and at the very end of her life (terminal illness, weeks to live).

    God help any nurse who tries to get between me and a simple pleasure should I be terminally ill 😉

  26. The nature of facilities is that they are regulated by the state, but you really can work around licensing to give residents a little more independence.

    When I lived in California I worked in an assisted living facility for the elderly with behavioral and mental health problems (frequently bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression). We were highly regulated in what we could offer them at meal times if we had a doctor’s order for a specific diet BUT – our administration actively advocated for independence and autonomy in our residents (most of whom had at one time or another spent time in locked facilities) and they had a refrigerator just for them, cabinets for their own food and they could eat whatever they wanted that they had purchased. They also worked directly with the dietician/chef to decide meals that they wanted to eat. Aside from taking their medications every day and showering three times a week (many were on conservatorship and were out of locked facilities on the stipulation that they take medications and work with staff based on behavioral health plans) they could do what they wanted. We helped them get bus passes, arrange appointments, and sign up for classes IF they needed it – and they were encouraged to do much of this on their own – because it is BETTER for them to remain autonomous for a long as possible in as many areas as possible.

  27. For over 7 years my mother lived with us. She was a diabetic, but we were controlling it with her diet to avoid putting her on one more type of medication. (She has multiple serious health issues.) There were many frustrations and many arguments concerning what she was and wasn’t allowed to eat. However, we were able to keep her fairly healthy and off of insulin (or other diabetic medications).

    She’s been in a nursing center for almost 3 years now, and they let her eat pretty much anything she wants. Then they call me when her glucose count is 200-300, and she’s having bowel problems due to the high amount of sugar in her system, and want to know what they should do. If it weren’t for the fact that she needs round-the-clock medical care that we cannot provide in our home, I’d bring her back home and go back to fighting over foods. The frustration is much less.

  28. I think that, often, older people are just like children in that they will rise, or stoop, to the levels we expect of them. There was a report on NPR about “nursing homes” that were designed like small homes, with only a few residents in each with a consistent care-giver. I think that they were called garden houses. The point was though, that when people were treated like adults, they started acting like adults again.

  29. I had to chuckle when I read this. I have a 5-year-old in daycare, and he has a lot of fun there. They have “water play day” twice a week, where they get to go out and play with all sorts of water-type stuff like sprinklers and whatnot. Well, apparently, one of the kids didn’t take his sandals off, and he jumped in a puddle, and his sandals got a little wet. Consequence? He had damp feet for a while. Also, the daycare center decreed that from that day on, NO children in the daycare could wear sandals, flip flops, or any other type of open-toed shoes. They must wear socks and sneakers at all times. I don’t know what they do during water play. I guess they just end up with soggy sneakers and socks, because they’re not allowed to go anywhere barefooted. But hey, safety’s all that counts, right?

  30. Brian J…. thanks for making me spew coffee all over my keyboard! and, be sure to let me know which nursing home you’re planning on going to…

  31. @Sgtmom — when the time comes, come join Brian J and I in our nursing home… just like building that critical mass of children at a playground, if we all descend upon the same nursing home, we’ll win! (I don’t think I’ll go with the muu muu.. but I do already have my purple hat lined up!)

  32. The rule for playing in puddles (as opposed to don’t do that, which we got) was boots or bare feet, and no splashing others. What harm could it do?

    His daycare was in a home-like environment, run by a bro/sis pair in their 20s. First time I was there, there was a 4 yr old starkers in the living room–she shed her clothes often! They were relatively relaxed, very sensible, and one of the kids was autistic, getting therapy. My son didn’t notice anything wrong, and often dragged him into his own imaginitive play, for which his mom thanked me. Told her it was A’s work, not mine.

    No soggy sneakers there!

    Shopping with him as a toddler varied: grocery, no problem. Shops where he had nothing constructive to do while I checked things out, disaster, because he wanted to explore EVERYTHING, and he was a little clumsy. One bead shop run by moms had goods on tables with lots of space under them, so kids were occupied while their moms shopped for little tiny sparkly things that kids’ hands needed to leave alone.

    Son got migraines & other headaches early, so he understood why we needed quiet when we had ours.

    I was afraid to take showers the first year, for fear he’d cry all the way through, attracting the attention of neighbors who might call CPS. It was more than PPD for me, having a history of depression. At 4 months, I got him to a mom who I paid for a few hours daily so I could shower, sleep, or shop without worry. Naps with him were no problem, as he fell asleep at the breast after the second one. He was in the center of the bed.

    My mom was in the best Medicare nursing home my sister could find, and she was there weekly. C had taken care of our mom at home, to the detriment of her own health & sanity, for 6 long years, the thought being she wouldn’t have lived that long, and that it was expected of her. Took a felonious caregiver (while C was recovering from surgery) to break the camel’s back. She lived 4 yrs longer. They were mostly a good place, but mom had a few small strokes that went unmentioned or possibly unnoticed. However, mom was neither happier nor more unhappy there than she’d been at home, and C’s health gradually improved.

    My MiL is fine with a nursing home if the time comes we can’t take care of her here. Don’t know how I feel about my own eventual needs. If I have a bad stroke (runs in mom’s side of family), I say put me in rehab, maybe somewhere less challenging than this house, for mobility’s sake. This is one reason why I couldn’t move my sister, after her 2008 stroke (she was 52): all the stairs, and no friends close by.

    Enough babble.

  33. “You can’t let fear rule your life, people. I refuse to let it rule mine.”

    Thank you! Now, can you please explain that concept to my husband?

    We get into safety arguments all the time in regards to our 2 1/2 year old son. My husband is a wonderful, caring, devoted father, but if there is one major parenting fault I could cite it would be that he is way too overprotective. (The jury is still out on whether he’s a full-fledged helicopter.) His one fault of me is that he feels I’m too lenient.

    For example, during our son’s bath time I’ll take the opportunity to clean the morning dishes, throw a load of laundry in the washer, or clean the cat boxes. My husband thinks this it is the height of irresponsibility t let our son sit in the bathtub for five minutes or more by himself. What if our son falls, hits his head, and drowns? What if he pees in the water and drinks it? What if, what if, what if…..

    First of all, the chance of him falling, hitting his head, and drowning is fairly slim considering he’s sitting down. Second, I’m still in the house and can hear what’s going on in the bathroom. Third, I’ll consider myself lucky if the worst thing he ever does is drink pee water.

    There are numerous examples I could give, but that’s the most recent. My husband’s argument is always, “I don’t want him to get hurt.” My response is always, “I don’t either. BUT, I also don’t want him to grow up being afraid of trying anything new for fear something **might** (and that’s a big MIGHT) happen.”

    Yes, I realize he’s only 2 1/2 and does not and should not have full free-range powers. But my feeling is that the more we limit him now, the less likely he’ll be to handle more independence later. The trick is to use some common sense and know when it’s okay for him to have that little bit of independence and fun and when we need to limit him. It’s tough, but I hope that the two of us can come to some sort of compromise.

  34. I forgot to add that I know we are sending that poor child mixed messages in regards to independence, which is why the need for compromises we can both live with is so crucial.

  35. DMT- my husband is more overprotective than I am as well, but he generally doesn’t interfere with what I do. Just freaks out about stuff that wouldn’t bother me (touching the toilet is the big one). I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks the recommendation that kids not bath alone until age 5 is ridiculous. But I was just thinking yesterday as my 2 and 4yo played outside while I took a shower, and again while I fed the baby, that I’m glad there are two of them, so one can come and tell me if something happens. That allows me to let them out of hearing range sometimes. As for the tub, as long as I can hear splashing and voices, I assume all is well.

  36. This one is tricky. I have seen old people who are very physically weak, but mentally still quite functional; they should be assisted, but treated as adults, and allowed to make their own decisions. I have also seen people who are quite mentally incompetent. What do you do with the old woman who asks for a cookie, eats it, and two minutes later forgets that she ate it, and asks for a cookie? What do you do when she asks for the 20th in a row?

    The transition point for my mother-in-law was when we decided to stop trying to prolong her life, and instead just try to make the end pain-free. We still all believe that was the right decision, although it was not an easy one. But it was one we had to make for her; she was beyond the point of being able to make it for herself. This was a woman who raised ten kids and was nobody’s fool, but at this point, someone else had to decide whether a cookie was a good idea or not. Each and every cookie.

  37. I agree with the sentiment. Remembering my grandmother, It is possible that this specific incident was a woman demented enough that she didn’t remember just getting a cookie. My grandmother couldn’t remember eating lunch 5 min after eating it. Her care home gave her laxitives Since She also couldn’t remember going to the bathroom– why would you ask someone about that if they can’t remember 5 mon ago?? Let’s just say she had an unnecessary accident…

  38. I agree with everything you said… except for the “Hooray for car seats”. If I could take up 20 minutes of your time, you might find the following talk interesting, which uncovers some of the statistics of car seat safety and the political advocacy by manufacturers.

  39. I worked in a nursing home many years ago and I certainly did not take a job there to pursue my “darkest urges” as one poster so nastily put it. Walking into a nursing home and overhearing part of a conversation, it is impossible to know the real situation. I took my mom out for lunch (she lives in a nursing home) and when we got back I went to the bathroom. When I came out, I heard her telling the nurse she needed to eat because I hadn’t given her anything but just drove her around. My mom had just eaten a very large steak dinner but had no memory of it. If she’d been given anything else to eat, I know from prior experience she would most likely have had explosive diarrhea. As for no food being allowed in the rooms, residents where my mom is aren’t allowed to keep food in their rooms either because they hide it and it brings ants and mice which cause health and health dept problems. I can, however, bring food and give it to the nurse to keep in an area of the kitchen reserved for patient’s food with her name on it.

  40. I try to be laid back but if I walked into my child’s daycare and found her hanging out in the living room naked, there’d be a problem. I’m betting that wasn’t a licensed daycare.

  41. My dad was a stickler for no sleepovers. He was convinced we’d be molested if he ever let us go on one. Kicker is, long before sleepovers were even an issue the babysitter had already done it.

    Legality doesn’t necessarily equal safety.

  42. I never got invited for one, or if I did, my mom must have said “no” every time.

    I hated always having to be the one taking the sitter home, but I understood the reason. I was just more tired than my husband at that time of night, usually due to a long period of insomnia.

  43. […] give the poor lady a cookie [Lenore Skenazy via Amy […]

  44. Everything you do can get you killed – including doing nothing.

  45. […] Maybe Safety Shouldn’t Always Be First (At Any Age) Free-Range Kids (blog); July 1, 2010 “I love safety and do not court danger. Hooray for car seats and helmets. But when safety crowds out every other consideration, including beauty, joy, fun, growth, experience — and cookies — something is wrong.” […]

  46. I disagree, safety should be first. without safety, you might not even be able to live

  47. assisted living is nice if you got some people and a home that cares very much to its occupants ;”*

  48. I really like what you post here. Very insightful and intelligent. One problem though. I’m running Opera with Debian and parts of your current layout pieces are a little wonky. I realize it’s not a typical set up. Yet it’s something to keep in mind. I hope that it will help and continue to keep up the top quality writing.

  49. artykuly: Strange. I just tried the site using Debian Squeeze and Opera 11.10 and it looked just fine (I usually use Opera 11.10 under Windows XP, and it also looks just fine). What versions are you using?

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