A Question About Dad Driving the Babysitter

Dear Readers — This letter got me wondering, too. Eagerly awaiting your answers. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I found your blog recently and have been going through all of your past posts (driving my hubby crazy with “listen to this…..!”).  I have been a Free-Range mom for years now (10 years, 5 kids), and I am glad to now realize that I am not as alone as I had previously thought.  My son is 10 going on 30 and organizes his own lemonade stand, bikes to the library by himself, runs into the grocery store for me so I can sit in the van with the kids…. now my 7-year-old daughter is starting to follow in his footsteps.  It’s amazing the confidence that comes with these freedoms.

Now the reason I write is to ask you this:  In my community it is understood that the father NEVER drives the babysitter (typically a girl) home.  I am convinced that this is a conspiracy concocted by men who do not want to be the designated driver.  But, the mothers all say that this is just for the babysitters’ safety, and for the man’s safety because “misunderstandings” and false accusations do happen.  Plus, it’s awkward for a man to be alone in a car with a teenage girl, they say.  My driver’s license is recently suspended due to a seizure and I cannot drive the babysitter home anymore.  My son can’t take the babysitter course for another year, and I know he isn’t ready for these responsibilities just yet.  Is it really unreasonable to have my husband drive the babysitter home? And is this policy a universal one? Just curious! — Courtenay

Only mom can drive the babysitter home?

Men as Babysitters: What’s So Scary?

Hi Readers! Over at Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode at the NY Times, there’s a really frank and nicely written piece by a woman who came to the exact opposite conclusion I did. She was mulling whether or not to hire a male babysitter for her child. On the one hand, the young man she interviewed seemed like a dream: He grew up in the nabe, his mom ran a day care center, he sounded warm on the phone and had great references. On the other hand…

He was male.

In the end, surprised by her own misgivings about men,  the writer decided to hire a woman instead. And she wonders if she did the right thing, or ended up missing out on a great babysitter and possibly a family friend.

When our kids were a little younger, my husband and I hired some male babysitters for about a year each and didn’t really worry about their gender. In fact, we hoped they’d take the kids outside and have them playing a lot, so we sort of pigeonholed them that way: more sporty than women babysitters. (We were wrong.) And it’s true that I have sons and the writer of the Motherlode piece has a daughter, so I can see where if she’d had sons instead, she might have been a little less leery.

But what I love about the essay and regret about her decision is how much she realized her decision was based on a creeping prejudice against men around kids. While, yes, statistically I’m sure men ARE more likely to molest kids than women are, the fact is MOST men AND most women are not out to molest kids at all.

The fear of perversion is so front and center in our culture that it sometimes seems to color our perceptions of almost all male/child interactions. In some day care centers, male employees aren’t allowed to change diapers by themselves. The number of guys for whom diaper changing is a turn-on must be tiny indeed and yet, it is top of mind.

Then there’s the suspicion of any man snapping a kid’s picture: Is it for porn? And any man near a school: Is he a predator? There are parents who don’t want a male pre-k teacher, and others who wonder why an 80-year-old codger is willing to teach woodworking to the local kids. A generation ago, we’d see him as Gepetto-like. Now “Worst-First” thinking kicks in: He likes kids, he wants to be around them…oh my god!

This prejudice is just as corrosive as any other, and it comes from the same source: Fear. Fear reinforced daily by TV shows highlighting the saddest stories, the worst individuals, the least likely/most sexually titillating events. And movies that revel in sadism. And books that take us inside so many “twisted” minds that twisted seems the new normal. And these lessons ping back and forth, echoing endlessly, “Our children are at risk!”

I would never say that absolutely all men (or women) are good, or that no child has ever been harmed by a babysitter, or even that this woman made the wrong choice. In fact, I’m thrilled that she wrote the piece so that we can talk about the problem: Seeing all men as predators.

And so, here we are, talking. And, hopefully, peeling away at the prejudice, inching our way toward some sanity. — Lenore

Help This Mom Figure Out a Free-Range Summer for Her Kids

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter I got today. Let’s give her some good advice. Since I get to go first, I ‘ll say the obvious: If you can afford it, send your kids to some kind of not-too-programmed camp. Other suggestions?

Hey Free-Range Kids:  I truly, profoundly want my older daughter to be more Free-Range.  She wants more freedom.  Advice on how I get there is welcome.

My 13 and 11 year old girls are on summer vacation, my spouse and I both work.  The oldest is in open rebellion because, despite my claims that I want her to be more independent, I  won’t fire the babysitter.

Besides not being comfortable with them being home alone for that long a time with no adult less than an hour’s drive away, my oldest has admitted that the real problem with having this particular sitter is that she limits TV and computer time, buys only healthy foods when they are out, takes them to parks to play and lakes to boat  — in other words, she is destroying their summer by depriving her of the God-given right to be a couch potato everyday for 10 weeks.

I do believe summer should be, in part, a time to relax and be lazy.  I do believe a normal 13-year-old should not need a sitter.  But I can’t bear the thought of my kid sitting home alone and getting fat in front of her computer screen.  She’s already too heavy, according to her pediatrician, and I don’t like the trend.

The younger daughter thinks this 20-year-old sitter, btw, is Mary Poppins, and delights in her to no end.  Blatant and unfair favoritism, claims my moody eldest, further proof of the injustice inherent in my system.

Advice on how to get this kid to the point where she is sitting, instead of being sat, would be terrific. — Fed Up Mom

Okay, Readers. Go for it! – L.

Yay! Lawsuit vs. 12-year-old Babysitter Dropped!

Simple as that. Read it here. And it was the insurance companies fighting each other anyhow, as it turns out, not the grandparents suing the pants off the quick-thinking girl who saved their grandchildren. And that b.s. about the girl being “too young” and “inexperienced” to babysit? That was all the insurance companies’ balderdash, too.

All’s well that ends well! L

12 y.o. Babysitter Saves Kids & Pet in Fire. Gets Sued.

Oh Dear, Readers. Here’s the latest story: A 12 year old girl babysitting two boys in a trailer noticed a fire and quickly got the kids out, got the pet out, and even dialed 911. BUT the fire damaged the house next door (owned by the boys’ grandparents). They’re suing her, and they’re suing the boys’ dad for hiring her.

It sounds like maybe it is all about insurance having to sue SOMEONE, but it hinges on whether it is safe to hire a 12-year-old. To me it sounds like they hired the very person I would want around MY home and kids if we ever had a fire. — Lenore

Lessons from The Baby-sitters Club

Hi Folks! Here’s a lovely essay by The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Vanderkam about, well, the cultural significance of The Baby-sitters Club.

Yes, I know how ridiculous (or at least American Studies for Dummies) that sounds. And yet — you don’t sell 176 million copies of any series without making some kind of impression on society. And the impression young readers got from the girls in the Club was that kids their age could actually be responsible and make money. Like adults! As Ms. Vanderkam puts it:

Hidden in the plots that show that friendship is good and that teasing, racism and bossy boyfriends are bad, [author Ann M.] Martin imparts two more important messages that modern readers need to hear: Teen girls are capable of handling far more responsibility than we give them credit for, and they, like the rest of us, can choose to make their own way in the world.

Right on! One of the Free-Range notions is that kids long to be adults, and that’s a good thing. The human desire to grow up motivates kids to learn and strive and get a paper route. (Remember paper routes? Remember papers?) It is our job to help them along that path, rather than putting up a big, “CAUTION!” sign and marching them back to the ExerSaucer.

About a year ago I posted a query asking, “What age did you babysit? And what age babysitter would you hire now?” The discrepancies amazed me. Grown women who had cared for kids, even infants, at age 10 or 11 now wouldn’t let their 13-year-old stay home for an hour alone at night. And they sure wouldn’t trust their toddlers to a 12-year-old.

Scholastic’s Baby-sitters Club, about to be re-issued (with a new prequel, too!), reminds us that not very long ago at all, we trusted “tweens” to do more than just text. God, maybe we didn’t even call them tweens. — Lenore