Thinking The Worst First

Hi Readers — Let’s take a vow: Let us vow to see men and women as decent until proven otherwise. Let’s vow to interpret their deeds as non-malicious, until proven otherwise. And let us vow not to assume the worst first. Here’s why:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  You’re always talking about how its a real shame men are so often assumed to be predators, to the point that they hesitate to help a kid in need for fear they will be accused of having ill intent. A friend of mine told me something along those lines that is even more disturbing.

She was having a conversation with some male family members at a family gathering. There were kids in the pool and another male family member who didn’t have kids was in the pool, playing with them. The group of male family members who had children remarked that the other guy had no business out there playing with the kids because he didn’t have any. Since my friend also follows your blog, she began to ask them: Why? Why couldn’t this other male family member play with the kids? And why are men who either aren’t in uniform or don’t have children with them forever banned from interacting with children?

The men had no real answer other than that it just seemed “suspect.” My friend challenged that notion and told them about the little girl who drowned because the man who noticed her by the side of the road was afraid to stop and help her [for fear of being branded a predator if someone saw him with the girl in his car]. And do you know what their answer was to that? “It is a necessary evil. To keep children safe.”

Except — she wasn’t safe! BECAUSE of that attitude!

What is our society coming to that a man can’t even play with the kids at a family function? Or is considered suspect  for doing it because he doesn’t have children? Just so kids can be “safe,” men should’t interact with children unless they have their own?

To which I replied: This is sickening and sad — and ironic. Shouldn’t the dads be glad another grown-up is in the pool, keeping an eye on their kids? Shouldn’t we ALL be glad when we watch out for each other?

These paranoid papas remind me of the folks who were upset about the 3-year-old girl who walked a few blocks to the local fire station to help her dad, who was slipping into a coma. “She could have been kidnapped!” wrote some tsk-tskers.

What about the dad? He was ABOUT TO DIE and SHE SAVED HIM! But the “What if?” people actually feel smug and “protective” thinking up their hideous fantasies instead of looking reality in the face: The girl was NOT in much danger and her father WAS.

No, they think the worst, first: All children are in danger, all men are potential pedophiles, the boogey man lurks beyond the front door and any child who does anything on her own is asking for trouble (as are the parents who let her).

Our pledge is to reject Worst-First thinking. Our pledge is to think, period. — Lenore

87 Responses

  1. Amen!

    (It’s Sunday.)

  2. I think that is a fabulous idea.

    Brian P.

  3. Actually, this is not worst-first thinking. Because in these cases, her dad dying would surely be worse than possible kidnapping. What it is, is a perverted obsession with pedophilia and child abduction that kind of grosses me out, to be honest.

  4. I just finished watching Mr. Bean’s Holiday over my sons shoulder (yet again – it’s a family favorite dvd).

    Admittedly, it’s a totally unrealistic and goofy scenario (it IS Mr. Bean, after all), but it’s great fun as Mr. Bean, a “completely strange” stranger, escorts a kid (who has become separated from his dad) across France to reunite the boy with his father. We give the movie two thumbs up.

  5. “It is a necessary evil. To keep children safe”

    This line is used as excuse for EVERYTHING, not only in free range parenting related topics

  6. Ironically, it was the post about the 3 y.o. who saved her dad which pushed me to teach my 5 y.o. how to cross the street safely. We walk the four blocks back and forth to school each day, lots of practice. (My son, 13, crosses our busy street by himself, to wait for his school-bus, along with our neighbors who still walk their 13 y.o. to the same bus.)
    Here in the choir, continuing to listen to your preaching, keep up the great work!

  7. This week I was involved in a discussion about the father who recently “punished” his daughter for breaking curfew by putting an ad in the local paper for her for free babysitting. The argument was that it was dangerous for the teenager because you never know who is going to answer that ad. Please, the people who are going to answer it are parents of small children who want out of the house. Not only that but the father of the teenager said that he checked out the people who answered the ad. So what is the problem?

  8. As a more recently reformed overly-protective parent, it was truly exhausting always thinking the worst of everyone and hovering like that and honestly did nothing to help or teach my kids anything. I’m in.

  9. I am very thankful my parents never thought twice about my HS/College age Uncles taking us out for the day. The Uncles figured out/got my sister and I to fess up about how bad the bullying I was experiencing was at school. Specifically about the sexual aspect of the bullying.

    Can you imagine being 17 – 22 yo and going to your brother-in-law, who you have met maybe 4 times (we lived in different countries), and telling him his 10 yo was being threatened daily at school with sexual assault and you thought she might be suicidal? They did.

    When we got home 2 calls were made. To our lawyer and my doctor. I started therapy to deal with the violence I had already suffered. The lawyer made it clear to the school and parents of the boy either the violence/bullying would stop or criminal and civil charges would be brought.

    The song and dance changed from boys will be boys to of course this will stop.

  10. Brilliant! Admittedly, even as a woman, I am often reticent about my interactions with other people’s children, especially when mine aren’t in tow. I’m not overreactive with my own children, but I don’t know that I have the mental capacity to overcome the level of insult I’d feel if I were treated as a predator knowing that I’m just the nice lady that children seem drawn to. (I think it’s because I’m short!)😀

  11. my hubby currently works out of town. i can’t begin to tell y’all how grateful i am when one of the gentlemen, dads or not dads, at church reaches out to my son for a brief wrestling match, a toss in the air, or even a hug. i also really appreciate the guys who do the kids’ workshops at home depot. they’re really kind and patient with kids and parents! seriously, if one of our male friends/relatives wants to play with my boy, all i think is, “thank you for letting me have a moment.”
    cute stranger story- we’re at kroger, the boy is in one of those car baskets that’s like pushing a bus. he’s steering happily. a gentleman walks by and says, “are you driving?” “yup!” the boy chirps cheerily. “you’re doing a good job steering that basket.” says the man. “thanks!” says the boy. as we walk away, “mommy, did you hear what that nice gentleman said to me?” i wanted to cheer! not the scary stranger, not that creepy man- the nice gentleman! fearless and wise, that’s our goal for meeting people we don’t know!

  12. My husband is going to be the stay-at-home dad in a few months and as I look up local parent groups and playgroups, I worry about this mentality more and more. Every single group assumes it’s the mom who will be participating. Some are mom-only. I don’t know how the groups would react to a dad-hosted playgroup when I’m at work all day. Or a dad being present at all in the mommies-and-babies clubhouse.

  13. Children deserve to be surrounded by as many people who love them, care about them and who will be positive influences as possible and over protective parenting is ripping that away from kids.
    My husband always has loved kids and acts like a big one himself. Sometimes when we are at the park and he is playing with our kids ( usually soccer) other kids will join in on the fun. I usually see at least 1 parent hauling their kid off giving my husband “that look”. I often have to bite my tongue.

  14. Our pledge is to reject Worst-First thinking. Our pledge is to think, period. — Lenore

    THIS. Thank you, Lenore!

  15. What’s particularly distressing about your friend’s family’s attitude is the underlying assumption that everyone’s motivations are completely selfish. In this case, it manifests as the assumption that a male playing with children must be doing it either to benefit his own kids (not anybody else) or his own perversity. We can’t imagine altruistic behavior, or even simple reciprocity (maybe the guy enjoys helping others enjoy themselves).

    That attitude is also tied up with the notion of children as possessions.

  16. Elfir,

    In the homeschool play groups I go to with my littlest one the dads are welcomed and encouraged to show up. We need more males to show up in the group. Dad’s just play/interact different with the kids than mom’s do. So unless it says mom’s only find a group or two you like and just go, it might take them a little bit to warm up but once they do the mom’s might see the benefit to having a dad around. I know the groups I’ve hung out with for 16+ years sure have, as they did start out pretty much a mom’s club.

  17. “The group of male family members who had children remarked that the other guy had no business out there playing with the kids because he didn’t have any.”

    Okay, that’s weird. Because most dads I know would be glad for the break – yay, someone else is playing with my kids for a moment so they won’t bother me! And this is family, so they all presumably know each other?

    Is it possible they were uncomfortable with this SPECIFIC guy, for gut reasons, and that was just the excuse they used / the way they explained it? Because sometimes a specific person will give you the cautionary vibe, and it’s hard to explain it to people – “I know it’s not rational, I just SENSE there’s something off about this specific guy…” Nobody wants to say that, and we aren’t encouraged to trust instinct in that way, but often instinct is right.

  18. First off, I wholeheartedly agree. We desperately need to stop suspecting every male of being a pedophile. How can we complain about “deadbeat dads” when in the same breath we try to keep as yet childless males away from any sort of positive interaction with children? It’s like we expect men to suddenly figure out how to be good, loving dads, but only once they are able to hold their own infant in their hands. Until then, children shouldn’t even be looked at!

    Which brings me to my second thought. Why on god’s green earth would ANYONE think that a man with children is less likely to be a pedophile? Or conversely that someone without children is more likely to be one? I sincerely doubt that idea is supported statistically. The man who abused me as a child was not only a dad, but a grandfather to boot! And he lived next door, and all the children played together. Absolutely nothing would have made anyone suspect what was actually going on. Which is exactly my point.

    Look, we can take the attitude that EVERYONE could be a pedophile, and thus keep our children from interacting with ANYONE out of our sight. Or, we can realize that the chances of us being able to “point out the pedophile in the room” are close to zilch, and just teach our children how to respect themselves, protect themselves and send them out into the big bad world knowing that we love them no matter what.

    My son is now eight, and I really hope that by the time he is a young man that attitudes will have changed. He has always been kind, helpful, and gentle with younger children, and I hate to think that he would ever be discouraged from continuing to be that way.

  19. I read an article in a magazine recently that said that kids under 10 should not play with people over the age of 10 at family parties because it was too dangerous. The young ones could get hurt if the big ones are playing too hard and the young ones could trip the big ones and hurt them. Unbelievable.

  20. I note that the dads were standing around the edge of the pool, and were not playing with their own children. I note that they did not go up to the relative playing in the pool and say, “hey, Jim, we don’t want you in here playing Marco Polo with Suzy and Tim.” I note that none of them said, “gee, I never distrusted my own relative before!”

    Here’s what they did: They let a relative they play with their own children while they stood around watching and sipping beer on the deck, and didn’t say anything to the relative.

    Here’s what they said: I don’t trust my own relative; he shouldn’t be in there playing with my kids; he doesn’t have kids.

    Yet…he was still in the pool, in full view, playing with their kids.

    If they really didn’t trust the relative, wouldn’t they have spoken to him, hauled his butt out of the pool, hauled their kids’ butts out of the pool, and/or gone in to play with their kids themselves?

  21. If that girl hadn’t walked to the fire station to save her dad, he might have died. And then she would have been home alone. And then she could have electrocuted herself trying to use the cellphone to call her mom. And then she could have fainted and choked on her own vomit. And then a pedophile could have climbed through the rosebushes, jimmied the lock, killed the family dog, and spirited the unconscious girl away into his ice cream truck.

    But none of that happened–all because she was never left alone in the house, thank goodness. But it could have happened.

    (This is sarcasm. Thank you).

  22. I so love the voice of reason… I pledge! I am forever greeting, chatting, helping the people around me and modeling that for my children. People feel the loss of community, but can’t get past their fear and see the good in those around them. I would help a child and would hope that others would help mine!

  23. Sickening how an adult interacting in a positive manner with kids, in full view of a whole host of adults and relatives, mind you, is somehow branded a predator.

  24. @Sky said: “Is it possible they were uncomfortable with this SPECIFIC guy, for gut reasons, and that was just the excuse they used / the way they explained it?”

    Great point, and it’s important to pay attention to our intuition and our observations.

    It’s equally important, if you ask me, to check our assumptions about WHY we might be feeling uncomfortable. For some guys, it’s uncomfortable to be around guys who aren’t some recognizable combination of masculine, athletic, aggressive, or emotionally stoic. I myself am neither effeminate, nor athletic, nor stoic. And, yup, I am also openly gay. To whatever extent the discomfort of the men is rising from irrational thinking about men who are different from their best buddies, that’s worth challenging as much as the worst-first thinking.

    At any rate, as @Cassandra noted, the group was playing in full view of other adults, including parents. So, if any adult or teen acted inappropriately, steps can (and I suspect, would) have been taken right away.

  25. Our pledge is to think.

    Yes, that about sums it up!

    Today I’m in a “discussion” on that mighty-mom website about proper car seat use. The item of disagreement is whether it’s OK for a child to wear a coat during a drive. Apparently anyone who puts a coat on a kid who’s going to be in a car does not care about their kid at all. One person went so far as to say they won’t deserve sympathy at their child’s funeral.

    Nobody found it the least bit suspicious that this was strongly encouraged by companies that sell expensive products as alternatives to coats in the car. (The only videos offered as [sketchy] “evidence” were their product ads.)

    My question was, are we painting with too broad a brush? Are my coat-wearing preschoolers really going to fly out of her seat during an 8-minute drive at 30MPH? Where’s the proof? Crash test video? Statistics? Logic?

    But the verdict of the community is that regardless of the complete absence of any logic or evidence (pertinent to my kids’ age and size), my kids are going to “suffer” for my tendency to “think” and want to know the logic behind a safety rule.

    Fact is, there is an opportunity cost to every “safety” decision. 10 minutes per day (putting coats on & off in the car as recommended) is 60 hours per year – times three, since it would take all of our time – not to mention the aggravation of prodding two 3-year-olds to do anything promptly in cramped quarters when you’re on a schedule. Unless you have nothing better to do all day, how can you not do a cost / benefit analysis?

    [For the record, I don’t wear coats on my kids for long drives. And even on short drives in good weather, I don’t drive more than 55 on the freeway. (As for their argument that someone is likely to come at me and hit me head-on in the one-way freeway lane while we are both going 70 . . . I don’t think I need to address that here, do I?)]

  26. @SKL…I’m just sitting here in amazement that society has “raised” a generation of mothers who feel constantly compelled to criticize all other mothers, to the point that they recommend no sympathy at a child’s funeral, all over a COAT? I don’t even know what to say.

  27. Sometimes I think it best to illustrate absurdity by being absurd. Think of the scenario we were discussing a few days ago. Do not leave the kids locked in their car seats for four minutes while you pay inside. They could have been kidnapped, car jacked, overheated, etc. Turn it around. If you brought them in they could have been run over by a car in the lot. They could have been mowed down in a form of gang initiation ritual. There could have been an armed robbery at the checkout line. The air intake in the store could have sucked exhaust into the building causing CO poisoning. ….Oh on second thought that would probably make it worse.

  28. Count me in.

    My husband loves playing with kids – ours, other people’s, whatever. We waited eleven very, very long years to become parents, and one of the things that got me through it was seeing him interact with other people’s kids & seeing through that what a wonderful papa he was going to be when the time finally came. Thank goodness no one ever made him feel uncomfortable or questioned his motives; it would have been devastating for him.

  29. It’s as simple as this, it’s NOT about the kids to them. They just use children as the excuse. I’m certain they mean well in the safety of their children. But it’s primarily to ease THEIR own fears, THEIR own insecurities, THEIR own issues. No how they portray it, or how they justify it in their heads, they ALL KNOW what the reason is deep down inside. They are just too stubborn and ignorant to admit it. There by jeopardizing their children’s mental, emotional well being as they grow up. There by altering their future adult lives for the worse. A mirror image of their (the parents’) own lives now.

  30. I pledge!

    An issue I’ve noticed is against male elementary teachers. People think, what sort of man wants to work with small children? They don’t think, he must be kind, caring, and patient; he must be a pedophile!

    And yet so many single moms would request the guy teachers because they have the smarts to see Mr. teacher not as a creep but a positive male role model for their fatherless kids. Why can’t more people see it that way?

  31. I DARE ANY OF THOSE PARENTS TO GO UP TO THE PARENTS OF THAT GIRL THAT DROWNED AND TELL THEM “It is a necessary evil. To keep children safe.” I wonder how long it will be by before the parents of that girl knock their teeth off! I know I would.

    I would much rather live with the mark of pervert than to live knowing I could have kept that girl from drowning!

  32. Wanted to let you know that I posted a blog post yesterday profiling some of my fave blogs at the moment, and you are on it. Thank you.

    Lily, aka Witch Mom

  33. Good post.

    I am a martial arts and women self defence instructor – and have been researching the subject and helping other instructors and police officers design their own course offerings since the early 90s.

    Your post reiterates a common message I share in my self defence classes – and that is that most people cannot correctly estimate the many risks they face on a daily basis. Many in fact obsess on aspects of danger that are highly improbable. Then when faced with some form of danger, these same people are unable to make decisions that can save their lives.

    I am a huge proponent of increasing awareness, and I like the balanced approach promoted by freerangekids. You are doing a good job …. more parents should come here and get a dose of freerange perspective.

    Cheers,

    Colin
    SuperParents

  34. Of course, my good friend Mary Duval pointed me to this ordinance in Florida PROHIBITING adults from a park UNLESS they were accompanying THEIR OWN CHILDREN.

    Story: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38503012/

    NOTE: I cannot find the actual ordinance yet on Municode.com, so I can’t confirm its existence. Perhaps someone else has the code number.

  35. Eric – so just for fun, I’d want to know – how are they going to confirm I’m with my “own” children at the park? Demand ID (kids don’t have any)? Do a DNA test (mine were adopted)? Lie detector? Interrogate my kids? Am I likely to be shaken down regularly because I don’t look like the parent of the kids I’m with? Ugh – shudder . . ..

  36. My husband recently, at a trip to the park with our toddler, reached for a young child who was about to fall off of a high play structure. It was purely instinctual. Afterwards he was visibly uncomfortable and worried (justifiably) that someone was thinking he was trying to harm her. As a mom I wouldn’t have thought twice about reaching out for a child in a dangerous situation. The upside? The parent of this little girl was thankful to my husband, and even though he felt a little uncomfortable, none of the other parents gave any indication that my husband was being anything other than a helpful person. Not everyone is out there thinking the worst, or paralyzed by fear!

  37. About a month ago, I was taking my first ever flight with my then 8 month old son. It was just us two, a couple of bags and a stroller. It got aggravating at times trying to lug everything through the airports, especially when my son, who had just started the clingy stage, refused to be left in the stroller. So I was immensely grateful, while waiting for our final flight, to two gentlemen who entertained him so I could have a break. We were in the boarding area and I set him on the floor to move around. He crawled across the way to where two men were seated, one looked like a young grandpa and the other in his early twenties. At first I was concerned when he started crawling over, but not because they were men. I was concerned for their electronics and books and the fact that my baby might be disturbing them. But then the grandpa moved the book he’d been reading out of my son’s reach and started playing with him once he pulled himself up. And the other young man picked him up (after encouragement from me) and held him and played with him for a good twenty minutes. We chatted, and I found out he was the oldest in his family and had lots of practice with babies. It actually wasn’t until I was almost home that I realized not once had I considered that these men might be predators. I was just simply, overwhelmingly grateful that they were there to give me a brief respite from the struggles of traveling with an infant. And also, how can I forget the big, gruff construction worker who sat next to me on one flight, who held my son as well and even put up with him pulling on his goatee. He told me about his four-year-old daughter and how much she looked like her mother. I think it’s so sad that we forget that these “men” that society is so afraid of are fathers and grandpas, brothers and uncles. There are sick people out there, it’s true, but so many of the ones we’re willing to lump into the “pervert” category, just based on their gender, are good men, wanting to help where they can, if we’d just give them the chance.

  38. I’ve noticed my son’s various uncles ‘practicing’ for parenthood by playing with my son, which is great. Not only does it give me a break at family events, but also, most people have very little contact with small babies until they have their own, and it all makes those first weeks much more difficult.

    Plus, my son is now due to have two cousins within the next year *grin*.

    I reckon that boys, in particular, look to different role models at different life stages. First mum, then dad, then, as they get into their teens, they look outside the family. This is when a good male teacher, family friend, or older cousin can give them advice when they may not listen to their parents. Steve Biddulph, who wrote a book called Raising Boys, suggests that gangs spring in part from teenaged boys looking for role models and finding the wrong ones.

    In short, those dads better be willing to mentor each other’s kids, because if they won’t let family members play with their kids in full sight, there won’t be a chance for their kids to get a valuable perspective on their problems from outside the family, unless they get really lucky with their teachers.

    Heather (not the one who posted above)

  39. Does this mean that at some point some idiot is going to say people without children are not allowed to go to disneyworld?

  40. SKL, I’ve felt a bit uncomfortable when out with my Asian-looking grandchildren (I’m Anglo) and my wife not along. I make a point to keep photos of them in my wallet, preferably family groups that show us all together.

  41. After reading about how David and Charles Koch have funded organizations that further their radical libertarian views. I had an “ah-ha” moment. These guys and their rich buddies have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into encouraging us to be afraid- of change, of government, etc. And, not just afraid, but angry. I think that after a while of having them push fear through think tanks, conventions, and the media, it has become an infection, and has been magnified further by corporations that just do whatever to get you to buy their stuff. They have been remarkably, and frighteningly, successful. The New Yorker article did help me feel a little better in that the fear, at least in part, is coming from the outside of us and is not necessarily a natural part of each of us or of our society.

  42. April, you old hijacker . . . .

  43. I didn’t read the other comments, so I bet this has been mentioned..

    If the dads didn’t like another man playing in the pool with their kids why didn’t they get their lazy heineys off their chaise lounges and play with the kids themselves?????

    Grrr, this chaps my hide.

  44. John Walsh a has done a lot to spearhead the war against men. John Walsh has told people NEVER hire a male babysitter because all men are potential sexual predators. That means if you have kids, don’t let him near John Walsh. Besides, John Walsh is an admitted sex addict. Apparently, Mark Lunsford is safe because he’s listed as a “female” on his Facebook page, so he’s been successfully emasculated.

    By the way, there is also a “visual sexual aggression law” in Maine. If you look too long at a child, you could charged with a crime.

  45. Thinking worst first is a constant problem across many areas. The motivation of children is to ‘test limits’. The economy has NEVER been worse. Kids have it tougher today. The school bus is just crazy. Danger, danger. Men are all predators.

  46. The story above, about the men in the pool with the children and their fathers disapproving makes me incredibly sad. It’s disgusting how we’ve come so far in turning our children into hermetically-sealed pieces of art, instead of living, breathing people who are one going to have to live in the real world among *gasp* men and women.

    It also made me sort of laugh. Those dads would think I’m the worst mother ever. My two un-married brothers are living with my husband and I right now. They and their friends are always around my 18 month old. They take her swimming, take her to the park, etc. She absolutely loves them. I couldn’t imagine someone thinking it weird or wrong that these guys like being around my daughter. They’re her family and they love her…why is that suddenly cause for alarm?

  47. I’m thinking of the young men who work at my daughter’s summer camp. My husband was that same type of young man at a similar age and I have a cousin who is just the same. They are great with kids, relate well to them and the kids love them too. At what age do they go from being “great kids” who have a real rapport with younger children, to being potential predators? This is just such a disturbing attitude, and so unbelievable that family members are suspecting each others motives.

  48. This is why I like my new home city, Chicago. We’ve been here a year now, and I really enjoy the fact that the men in my neighborhood (both younger and older) do not have any problem showing interest in and talking to my boys (3 years old twins). We are regulars at a couple of playgrounds, and there are almost always a number of dads, older brothers, etc. present. Personally, I view the interactions between my children and other children and adults (male or female) as opportunities for my boys to have fun and hone their social skills. So far, the only time someone (a woman) asked me if it was ok to say “hello” to my boys (Wha??? I won’t even go into that conversation), it turned out to be a tourist. I am hopeful the insidious “what if” thinking won’t infect our community.

  49. My third child’s teacher is MORTIFIED that I am letting her walk to school alone as a kindergartener. Six houses down, turn left. Two others have survived this dangerous walk through the wilds of the vinyl siding jungle, with dangers like cracks in the sidewalk and other children walking at different speeds… the HORROR!

  50. It’s interesting that only men are thought of as possible predators and not women….

    I live in Italy and there isn’t so much paranoia as in North America and elsewhere. My kid is openly hugged by his swim and soccer coaches, and he regularly goes to the playground next to our house with his 11-year old friend. They know to leave if someone they do not know shows up (I live in a small town and this playground has its regular users).

  51. I think it is wrong to generalize in either case – ALL men are to be suspect – OR – NO men are to be suspect. Everyone must be taken on a person by person basis.

    The reason I asked if maybe their gut was telling them something was because of an experience I had at a family gathering, where there was a particular male individual who made me uncomfortable around my kids. I couldn’t have explained rationally why – it was a sort of SENSE. At the time, I just thought, well, thankfully there will never be any reason for him to be alone with my kids that I can think of, so I won’t have to explain why I don’t want him to be. Sometime later he was arrested for child molestation and is now in jail. I have only had this feeling twice, ever, since having children (I don’t know if it was accurate in the second case as I have no contact with him).

    I think there is a real intuition in these matters, but I realize that also our intuitions can be distorted by misinformation. I know nothing about this PARTICULAR case described here at the swimming pool, but, in my experience, it is so unusual for dads not to want other male friends and family members (strangers are a different matter, but friends and family?) to play with their kids (they usually see it as a break from duties and are grateful) that I wondered if their sense that this guy should NOT be playing with their kids was motivated by something other than the generalization that men without children should not play with children – a generalization they may have used as an excuse rather than saying, “I don’t want him playing with my kid because I feel hinky about him.” Of course, if I felt that, I would get IN THE POOL with my kids and stay in. Why didn’t these dads? So maybe they really were just making a borad general rule and had not instincutal reason to supsect this guy.

    I certainly don’t think we should make the generalization that a man without kids shouldn’t be playing with kids (and in both the cases when I had that weird SENSE, both men had kids – what, child molesters are more likely to be childless? Hardly!). On the other hand, I cannot possibly go so far as to vow to “see men and women as decent until PROVEN otherwise.” Proof is necessary in a court of law where punishments are meted out, but it is not always necessary in our day to day interactions where we choose with whom to leave our children, or whom to trust to help us bring our bags to our car in an underground garage at night. To insist on PROOF of indecency before assuming caution around certain people would sometimes require ignoring instincts that warn us against potential harm. It would also require ignoring warning signs of potential violence (because warning signs are not PROOF). It is so common to ignore these signs (until someone is raped, until someone shoots up the school, until someone shows up at work with a gun and opens fire). Violence and sexual abuse almost always has a trail of warning signs proceeding it, but people are so afraid to appear rude or judgmental or to make a scene that they often do not heed them. There are all sorts of fears that motivate us – not just fears of our children being hurt, but fears of others thinking we are judgmental or impolite or that they will know our private suspicsions about particular people with whom we are uncomfortable.

    Generalizations are a way people try to make themselves comfortable by covering the things they are worried about in a blanket sort of way, so they won’t have to point to any one specific person. We’re really worried about person Z, but we don’t want to say we’re worried about preson Z, so instead we’ll say we’re worried about group Y, which includes person Z.

  52. This kind of thinking is so wrong. We have a male den leader in our cub scout pack who has one daughter, no sons. But he volunteered to be a den leader because he enjoys being a dad, is great with kids, and wanted to be a role model for boys in the community. It’s hard enough to get parents to volunteer their time to be den leaders, committee members, etc. that we really appreciate this man stepping up and helping our pack. If it wasn’t for him we’d have to have another den leader take two dens and that wouldn’t be fair to the den leader or the scouts.

  53. Sky, I agree with you. The pledge would be better modified to something like “I will see men and women as decent unless I have a specific reason to suspect otherwise.” A “specific reason” can even be a hunch, if it’s strong enough — but it has to be person-specific, not generalized to something absurd and bigoted like “all men without kids” or “all men over 60 who like to play with kids” or something bizarre like that.

  54. “IF IT SAVES ONE CHILD”

    “PROTECT THE CHILDREN AT ALL COSTS.”

    Hitler did it for the children too, you know.

  55. This is so true. Men today even seem to be uncomfortable to bathe and change their own kids diapers, THERE OWN KIDS!!! What is going on here.

    I am so glad that my husband does these things, but I feel bad for other moms!!!!

  56. Really, Once? “If it saves one child”? What about the children that are obese, not from video games, but because their mother won’t even let them play outside without a leash to ensure their safety? What about the FACT that the world is as safe – and often safer – than it was when you were growing up in the, what, 90’s?

    PEOPLE ARE GOOD. The old man sitting on his porch deserves to be waved at and told “hello”. What a society we’ve become to believe that preventing our children from exploring the safe world, playing outside, walking to school, or whatever, is a “risk” not willing to be taken.

  57. I see nothing wrong with going off of intuition and gut feelings. I’ve seen people who are creepy in ways I can’t put my finger on…maybe they’re fine, but if a radar goes off it shouldn’t be ignored. Parents should use their heads–and yes, their feelings, even. I believe in that sixth sense.

    But that’s different than generalizing.

  58. For these talking about gut instinct two points

    1 how many times have you seen men convicted of child abuse and the mother says I never knew (there have been some cases where the mother has even turned against the child siding with the abuser)
    2 in the words of Penn and Teller’s show bullshit the only thing your gut is good for is telling you when you are hungry.

  59. Paula, you’re right that gut instinct isn’t 100% reliable. But as long as following your gut doesn’t actually hurt anyone, it’s just as well to regard it, rather than completely stunt it by ignoring it entirely. I don’t think anyone’s suggesting harassing or persecuting people that make us uncomfortable in that situation, just that it might be a time to direct the kids elsewhere in those situations, without making a big deal out of things.

  60. How ridiculous. I hate the mentality of “If one person/religion/etc does something bad, they must all be like that”

    Some of my sons favorite people are family friends that don’t have kids and I’m great full for the time they take to play with him. It gives me a few moments to stop and breathe.

    Of course most people who know me would also know that I would gut them like a fish if they harmed either one of my kids.

  61. Visit http://www.deadbeatdad.us This site has tons of helpful info regarding child support and related topics!!

  62. Interesting… if the childless man had been playing catch with the other kids, would he be “suspect”? Or was it only because they were all wearing bathing suits that made it somehow weirder?

  63. This whole thing about male adults is pretty silly.
    Like the parents who don’t want their kindergartners to have a male teacher.
    Or even sillier. At my house, my family is gone. My godson has lived with me for 22 years. He married a few years ago, and he and his wife now have a family of five. Last week, after accumulating the necessary documents including notarization, I took the 9 and 11 year-olds to visit relatives in Sonora, México. They consider me to be their grandfather. No problems, only idiotic delay returning to the US.
    But, at home, the toddlers are discouraged from speaking to me, much less normal physical contacts–pat on the head or their demands for “High Five”. And a simple glance at the 3-month-old results in the baby being spirited out of the room by my godson’s wife, away from “danger”. The older kids are sometimes allowed to ride bikes and scooters around our cul-de-sac, but only under parental (not my) supervision.

  64. Dino, is it possible some specific thing was misinterpreted? I am NOT suggesting you did anything wrong, but that there might be something that could be cleared up.

  65. Completely agree with all your excellent comments, above, and thought of one more point:

    My entire life I have gotten along better with guys than with girls. I have several great girl friends, but in general I have a better time hanging out and feel much more
    more like myself with the boys. I think it’s because I’m way more of a “Thinker” than a “Feeler”. Even as a young girl I got along better with my dad than my mom. So,

    a) it would have be awful and mean if adults, because of their paranoia, had kept me sequestered away from men (i.e. my dad, family friends, etc). I would have been missed out on some of my most memorable, positive childhood experiences, and I would have felt even more alone than I already did.

    b) it makes me sick to think that people might have looked at my dad et al. through suspicious eyes.

  66. Jennifer: I suspect that fathers being unwilling to change their kids’ diapers comes from a fear that their wife/girlfriend could use it against them if the relationship breaks up. For a while, false accusations of child abuse were a fairly common hardball tactic in divorce/custody cases (since the anti-retaliation clauses in most child-abuse legislation mean there’s essentially no legal downside to making false accusations; while it’s possible for a falsely-accused person to sue, he has to satisfy the same burden of proof as a celebrity suing for libel or slander, and that’s nearly impossible unless he can produce a written document in which the accuser admits that she knew the accusations were false).

  67. So our society says that if a man does not change diapers/bathe kids he’s lazy and uninvolved but if he does change diapers/ bathe kids he’s a pervert? Where’s the break?

  68. I’m not quite sure what definition people here have of “paedophile”. Do you mean a) people who are interested in exploiting the trusting nature of children for their own sexual benefit, or b) people whose love of children has a sexual aspect?

    Because they’re certainly not the same thing. I know a wonderful man in the second category, who’s very close friends with my 11 year old son, and I would trust him to the end of the world. He’s assured me that, though he is ‘interested’ in my son, he recognizes that children are not sexual beings, and would never make advances on my son.

    I think that’s very reasonable.

    Does anyone here think the same? You seem to be open-minded people, but I understand if it’s a tough issue to grapple with if you haven’t had to engage with it directly.

  69. Plurals, I think most people will be scared by your comment. But I think it’s honest and logical. It’s like, most men can be trusted around a pubescent girl, even though it’s clear she’s developing into a sexual being. Some people eventually marry the little girl they care so much about – without having committed any inappropriate behavior before the legal age. Not sure how common that is, but I know it does happen. I suspect it used to happen a lot more, when girls’ virginity was respected more.

  70. ***** He’s assured me that, though he is ‘interested’ in my son, he recognizes that children are not sexual beings, and would never make advances on my son. ******

    I have to admit, this would make me uncomfortable. I wouldn’t fully trust my (theoretical) child around anyone who has expressed a sexual interest in children. Most adults don’t have a sexual interest in children, and I would always be concerned that he might take it too far (like the people who claim they would NEVER cheat on their spouse, when what they mean is, they would never cheat on their spouse unless the right situation presented itself).

    But you know your friend better than I do. In this situation, I might trust him supervised, but not alone.

  71. Someone on here once brought up a great point about something similar, Plurals. It was acknowledged that there are very good people who for whatver reason have certain desires that are difficult to control and that we as a society don’t give them opportunity to deal with these desires in a helpful manner.

    If you trust this man to control himself, hey, I support you.

  72. Sad headline of the day over at the mighty mom site: “Playing Football could kill your child.”

  73. Here’s the worst case of thinking the worst…

    I’m divorced and remarried with two kids, one by each woman.

    I was away overnight on business (though thankfully very near home) when my wife was taking care of my daughter from my first marriage and our son.

    She got up, fed the kids, got them dressed, and then found one of our cats in acute distress. With little time, she told the daughter (8) to watch her brother (1 1/2), while she took the cat to the vet. She then put a call in to the babysitter, though couldn’t reach her.

    The 8-year-old has watched her brother for hours on end, though never before on her own. She had my wife’s mobile number in case of emergency, the house was locked, and the alarm was on.

    Upset about the dying cat, she called her mother to tell her the news that the cat was dying. Her mother then found out that she was on her own with her brother, CALLED THE POLICE, and got in her car to come over to the house.

    My wife then got home (less than half an hour to and from the vet including the time to sign the form for the disposal of the then dead cat) to find the kids wandering outside the house with police in front of the house. She called me in a panic, and by the time I got home I had three police cars in front of the house with one of the police officers on the phone to child services. I also had to deal with a wife upset over the death of her longtime cat and almost in a panic over the threat of child services; and a daughter crying hysterically and apologizing for calling her mother, that it was all her fault that the police were there.

    That was two weeks ago today. Child services is coming over this afternoon to assess the situation and evaluate our competence as parents.

    My ex lives across the street from our daughter’s school. Until very recently, our daughter was not even allowed to walk herself to and from school “in case something happened”, and even now it’s a rare occurence for her to do so.

    My ex and I have a clause in our separation agreement mandating the use of a parental coordinator. Despite the fact that two weeks have passed, she has refused to respond to my requests to make an appointment with same.

  74. When I was a child, school activities and Girl Scouts often had father/daughter activities. In Girl Scouts, we had a father/daughter weekend at camp. I treasure those memories and am SO sad that MY daughters will never experience that. The Girl Scout organization will not allow fathers and daughters to all bunk together at camp anymore. What can we do about this???

  75. Have you seen this, Lenore? http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/travel/news/fears-over-airlines-move-to-separate-children-from-adults/story-e6frezi0-1225912167654

    Air France has changed their seating policy so that unaccompanied minors must not be seated next to an adult. Cabin crew are concerned that this means children will not be able to be aided in the event of an emergency – but it’s apparently more important to the airline to protect children from adults than from oxygen deprivation in the event of an emergency… sigh.

  76. Plurals, I admire your friend for being brave enough to ‘come out’ to you. That’s no small thing. I don’t know how I would feel if it was my child. I’d hope I would be brave enough to acknowledge that someone can have an attraction without acting on it, just like any reasonable person is capable of. If I have an interest in a married bloke, I can choose to not cross that line.

    I was a bit scared by the comment, I admit, even though I think I’m the one referred to later on as somebody who said “that there are very good people who for whatver reason have certain desires that are difficult to control and that we as a society don’t give them opportunity to deal with these desires in a helpful manner.” If I’m not that person I certainly share that opinion.

    After my initial instinctive fear though, the logical side of my brain had a word with the fearful side, and I’m back in the world of thinking things through and rational weighing-up-of-ideas. I don’t know what I would do really, since I’m not in that situation, but I certainly wouldn’t condemn you for your choice, Plurals. You have knowledge of your friend, I do not.

  77. We were at a gathering about six months ago. This was a potluck and we had just met the hosts when we arrived at their house. They had this really cool trampoline built into the ground (so that it was flush with the ground and had a pit under it so the person on it could jump just like on an above-ground trampoline but without falling off it).

    My son, age 6, was on this thing jumping on it when another guest (who turned out to be friends with the hosts) started showing him all these neat tricks. I was right there, watching them. This guy really knew how to jump on a trampoline. He was alone and childless, and for a few moments I was skeptical but my son was having such a great time. My biggest worry was that my son was imposing on this guy’s time.

    When we left, my son wanted this guy (it turned out he was married but without kids) to come to our house to “play.” Since we didn’t know the hosts we never were able to follow up, but my son often plays with our male, childless friends (while we’re around) when they and their mates come to dinner at our house.

    I’m not 100% free range, but I do like to think that I’m not a paranoid parent, either.

  78. I wanted to add that I’ve read studies that show that boys who have strong male role models in their lives (including but not limited to the father) are more stable than boys who do not. I’m sure the same goes for girls as well.

  79. […] She was having a conversation with some male family members at a family gathering. There were kids in the pool and another male family member who didn’t have kids was in the pool, playing with them. The group of male family members who had children remarked that the other guy had no business out there playing with the kids because he didn’t have any. Since my friend also follows your blog, she began to ask them: Why? Why couldn’t this other male family member play with the kids? And why are men who either aren’t in uniform or don’t have children with them forever banned from interacting with children? via freerangekids.wordpress.com […]

  80. The guy enjoyed playing with the kids precisely because he doesn’t have any — still has the idealization intact. Whereas the papas were probably laying low hoping to cop a few minutes peace for themselves. Bless. But, yes, they should be thankful to the sucker, eh, childless guy, for keeping the kids occupied for a while. Ingrates!

    Re. prohibiting adults entering parks unless accompanying their own children: It’s obvious such a policy has no empathy for people who may want to enjoy the park but aren’t accompanying a child. But do the brains behind it realize this will also mean not empathizing with their future selves? Do they think they’ll have young children forever? I can imagine a time when, though I no longer have a child to accompany, I might want to amble over to the park, watch the little ones play, and get nostalgic. When today’s parents become tomorrow’s empty nesters, will they regret they’ve banned themselves from enjoying a park full of children? Oh, who am I kidding? Those types will figure out some other nonsense by then — Park for senior citizens ONLY. No squeals of laughter please.

    @ebohlman – Your point about altruistic behavior no longer being taken at face value was interesting.

    And, of course, I take the pledge.

  81. My husband’s take on this is “As dads we have an unspoken pact of mutual distrust.” Sounds bad, I know. But what it means to him is that if our kids are in a back room somewhere playing under the supervision of another dad, my husband will go back there too so the kids aren’t alone with the guy. He expects that the other dads will treat him the same way, and he takes no offense. For the precise reason that “you can never tell,” my husband feels that with our young children it’s better to avoid having them in any situation where they are alone or out of site under the exclusive supervision of another man. This applies all men, even our closest friends. As the kids get older, we’ll teach them more skills to be on their own, but the idea that you can never tell does cause my husband to take extra precautions around other men. He doesn’t actively suspect anyone who plays and interacts with our kids, but he always wants to be present so that our young children are protected.

  82. Thank you for all your thoughtful replies. The way I reasoned my decision to allow this man to be my son’s friend was that a) he loves my son. As opposed to a simple desire. b) only unhealthy people hurt people they love. c) there is no evidence to suggest that this man is unhealthy.

    I’ve found that – just like adults of both genders – he was capable of sacrificing the physical intimacy he might have desired for what seems to be an emotional intimacy that they both get a lot out of, and frankly, I’m glad my son has such a wonderful friendship with someone with actual life experience, rather than kids at school who might be just as naive as he is.

    In fact, the only reason I would want to end the relationship is so that our friend doesn’t get left behind when my son grows up and starts seeing more of friends his own age.

    I hope I’m not scaring anyone, and sorry if I did already. I suppose I’m an optimist.

  83. But Andrea, that’s exactly the misplaced paranoia and fear that Lenore is addressing. It’s completely unfounded, and you too are a victim of it. And you are teaching your children to have the same fears, and they will teach their children as well. It’s really quite ridiculous to believe that children can’t be alone with another man. I am shocked that people, in this safe day and age, still fall under this spell.

  84. OMG! You don’t even WANT to know what I think about people like this! I run a home daycare. One day, I get a call in response to a space I advertised as available. The nutty woman on the other end didn’t even ASK for my references, instead, for 15 minutes while one of my clients was here, grilled me about EXACTLY how much time my husband spends in his own home with the children. How much time unattended by me? How much time while I’m in the home. How much time in direct contact with the children. Does he change their diapers? Does he feed them? And this went on and on. As I was making faces and answering her questions, the other Mom said, “Give me the phone.” I shook my head and said (while covering the speaker), “Don’t worry, I won’t let this nutcase near your daughter.” then told her that I’m sorry she wasted her time, but quit your job and stay home!

  85. My partner and I have no kids, so we really enjoy the chance to spend time with nieces, nephews and young cousins at family events. When we take the kids in the pool or play Connect 4 or pretend the floor is lava, we’re giving the parents a little break and getting to spend some time with family…. which seems like the whole point of these gatherings!

  86. […] Free range kids This post is about thinking the worst first and how sad it is. However Mr. Walsh said that it is better to not have a male babysitter, I don’t know about you but I think thats a little offensive. OK its a lot offensive. […]

  87. […] googlie eyes at my kids in public is not looking to whisk them over the border… A perspective: Thinking The Worst First Reply With Quote + […]

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