Hi Readers! The other day I had a piece in the Wall Street Journal that said moms don’t have be “sherpas,” or hover 24/7. Today the paper published its letters to the editor about it (and me). Here they are. One was from a woman who was kidnapped at age 4 by a stranger, and found 24 hours later. She is an adult today and says her mother spent the rest of her life feeling guilty.
I feel terrible for everyone involved. I also feel a little bad that the letter writer thinks she has to explain that “child abduction takes a huge toll on the entire family.” Contrary to popular belief, Free-Range Kids never thought otherwise. We here are no fans of child kidnapping.
Nor are we fans of actual negligence. Even Free-Rangers know that 4-year-olds are not ready to take on the world by themselves. We’d never recommend that.
From the letter, however, we don’t know anything about the circumstances of this story: whether the mom was heedless to the point of negligence or simply blaming herself for an unforseeable bolt from the fates.
I can understand why the writer would feel that people can never EVER take their eyes off their kids. But as Laura Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours, writes in this gem of an essay about that letter (and another letter from a woman who said that because one 3-year-old was killed the year her own daughter was three, she never let her own child out of her sight again):
…this is the “rare exception” line of reasoning, in which any anecdote which counters a broad based trend or statistic must be evidence that the data are wrong or should be ignored. But while Kathleen Newton of Lindon, Utah writes that “there are too many vicious people out there who seek to do children harm” and this is “why unsupervised play does not exist anymore,” this ignores the reality that the world has changed, but not in the way she’s pointing. Crime rates are lower now than they were a few decades ago. And regardless, in a world of 7 billion people, you can find anecdotes of anything. The fact that an animal could escape from a zoo exhibit doesn’t mean that bringing your kids to the zoo indicates lax parenting.
If you were mauled by an escaped mountain lion, of course, you’d think otherwise. I wouldn’t blame you. But Laura’s point is both true and hard to absorb in light of the fact that sometimes real tragedy does strike kids, out of the blue.
It is terrible. It is shocking. It is very hard to argue with someone who came face to face with something so unspeakable.
And yet, if we do NOT speak up, these terrible stories are the only ones we will hear. They will scare us to the core, and have us believe that our children are never safe. As the letter writer says, in closing, “Certainly those parents whose children were taken from their homes while they slept can attest, parenting is a full-time job with no coffee breaks.”
By this line of reasoning, parents should feel guilty for even sleeping. Why weren’t they awake, standing guard in their children’s room all night? No parenting is good enough or safe enough when we think this way. And, of course, that is the way we are encouraged to think. — Lenore