A Divorced Dad Sick of Being Taken for a Perv

Hi Folks! Here’s a note from a free-lance writer in Australia who had to vent. I see why! – L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I would like to share with you my experience of danger lurking in many suburban supermarkets. I’m the type of modern father  you certainly wouldn’t see on television 40 years ago. I go shopping with the kids, I can use a washing machine and fix a loose button without accidentally sewing my pants to the tablecloth. A few days ago, I take my three children (13,9,3) on a regular trip to our local supermarket when my little one starts a tantrum in the candy aisle. I direct my older kids to another aisle while I take Lucy aside to get over her craving for Snickers bars and disappointment that I won’t purchase a hundred. I don’t expect anyone to know this, so to anyone else I’m just a guy in a supermarket holding a crying toddler.
For the next few minutes I’m observed by some other creepy looking guy. That disapproving glare all parents feel when their child is acting up in public.  It feels like a menacing thundercloud and you can almost hear the slow rumble beneath, “MY kid wouldn’t behave like that, for shame…” We eventually make eye contact and creepy guy demands to know “Where’s her mother ?” Awkward, since we’re divorced. I reply “Somewhere else. I’m her father.” Indicating my child.

I appreciate people looking out for my kids’ safety but there’s a difference between a protective community spirit and a belligerent, accusatory busybody. Creepy guy’s attitude gets deadpan. “I just want to be sure, ya know?” Sure of what exactly ? And what evidence should I supply to a complete stranger that I’m innocent of whatever concern he has ? Of course, I’m a potential predator simply because I’m a guy. It must inconceivable for a man to comfort his own child, so the obvious conclusion is I’m attempting to abduct a kid in broad daylight and pick up some half-price noodles and toothpaste at the same time. Slightly less offensive is the notion a woman can be automatically granted a free pass.

IN THE UNDERWEAR AISLE, I BECOME A PERVERT

The life of a potential predator is difficult sometimes. It’s adorable when I take my daughter shopping for a new dress, but as soon as we turn into the underwear aisle I become a pervert. I’m a cool dad to cheer my kids at soccer, but the local swimming pool is another story. I enjoy the condemnation, the stares and  mistaken assumptions. I enjoy the inconvenience and discrimination. I enjoy it because every little petty indignation I overcome gives me that little more dignity so my kids can look up to me a role model for principle.

So if anyone you know ever needs to confront a suspected predator, I recommend some diplomacy. I know its unlikely, but there’s just a small chance that guy isn’t a child molester or the orphan catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” or a serial killer looking for the next ingredient of delicious kid soup. Some of us are good dads just trying to make our way in the world.– Byron

What is that man doing to that poor child?!

Bad News! Courts Are Rewarding “Intensive Parenting”

Hi Readers — This is so disturbing. Two professors studying family law have written a paper saying that “intensive parenting” is becoming the norm that judges expect good parents to practice. As Walter Olson explains on his blog, Overlawyered, “Gaia Bernstein (Seton Hall) and Zvi Triger (College of Management School of Law, Israel) say custody law rewards parents for greater involvement in their kids’ lives even if it amounts to over-involvement.”

And as the authors themselves say a bit more verbosely in the abstract of their paper (to be published in the U.C. Davis Law Review):

Today the child is king. Child rearing practices have changed significantly over the last two decades. Contemporary parents engage in Intensive Parenting. Parents devote their time to actively enriching the child, ensuring the child’s individual needs are addressed and he is able to reach his full potential. They also keep abreast of the newest child rearing knowledge and consistently monitor the child’s progress and whereabouts. Parents are expected to be cultivating, informed and monitoring. To satisfy these high standards, parents utilize a broad array of technological devices, such as the cellular phone and the Internet, making Intensive Parenting a socio-technological trend.

The professors go on to say that this is a trend that judges assume is healthy for the kids and hence indicative of good parenting. As if those of us who try to give our children a bit more freedom and responsibility are lagabouts who don’t love or care for our children as much. Ack. I’ve certainly heard THAT before.

I have nothing against parental involvement in their kids’ lives. I’d say I’m an involved parent myself. But when “MORE” involvement always equals “better,” that means the very BEST parents don’t let their kids do anything on their own! Having that type of  parenting lauded and legitimized in court is bad news for all of us, but especially for any Free-Rangers facing divorce. I’m very grateful to these law professors for noticing this trend and bringing it to light before it becomes set in stone. — Lenore

How Does A Free-Range Parent Deal with an Ex Who Isn’t?

Hi Free-Rangers: Do we have some advice for this fellow? If so, let’s share it! — L

Dear FRK: I have embraced Free Range parenting.  Unfortunately my ex-wife and mother of our four children is afraid to let our 8-year-old out of her sight, and plays the “What if?” game: “What if he is attacked by space aliens who want to steal his bike and bully him on the way home from school in our upper-middleclass neighborhood where there is hardly any crime, let alone violent crime, but it COULD happen?”

It’d be great if there was a “tools to use when your ex-spouse is a helicopter parent” resource.

Unlike a two-parent household, where neither would seriously consider involving the courts, my ex-spouse thinks nothing of getting a judge to decree that an act of Free-Range parenting puts our children in imminent danger.  My ex-wife believes an impersonal judicial system knows how to parent our children better than we do!  She actually argued in court that we shouldn’t let our 13-year-old daughter walk to junior high school because it was “too dangerous.”  The walk is less than one mile and the only busy road has a traffic light with crosswalk and crossing guard.  How is that dangerous for a teenager?!?

My current issue is that our son, the 8-year-old,  wants to ride his bike to school from my house, which is about .8 miles (per Google Maps) away.   He already knows how to get there and back — we’ve been practicing, and he leads the way.  She is convinced bad things will happen.  I think his desire to do this is a sign of maturity and independence, and the ride would be a source of daily exercise.

How do others deal with an ex-spouse who is anti-Free Range? — Anon.

Readers — I do get this question a lot. I haven’t dealt with divorce court and have zero expertise. Any insights, either on the legal side or on the coming-to-a-compromise side, would be welcome! — L.

Defending Free-Range Parenting — in Divorce Court

Hi Readers — Allow me to introduce Rob, a dad headed for divorce court tomorrow. He sent this note asking whether I think what he did “proves” he is a bad dad, as claims his ex.

I have no idea who he is, why he got a divorce, or anything, really, other than the fact the incident he describes below strikes me as a decent parenting decision. Here goes:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am going to court on Monday morning to request an increase in my child custody from 6 days to 7 days per 2 weeks. Pivotal to my ex wife’s argument to deny me this increase is that,  “The plaintiff [my ex-wife] is concerned that the defendant has in the past made poor choices travelling with children. One one occasion, leaving their son alone at Disney World…” Here are the details from my ex-wife’s Affidavit to the court:

“In August 2009 the Defendant [me] traveled with the children to Disney World. He left [our son] alone when he and [our daughter] went on a ride. [Our son] had a cell phone which I had given to him… It is not appropriate to leave children alone in Disney World.”
She is using this as one of the fundamental reasons to deny an increase in my children’s custody. Personally, I don’t think this was an unsafe act. My son was never lost — he was attending a Jedi training camp inside one of the most safe,  secure and child-friendly places on the planet.
He made four attempts in over four hours to be chosen as part of a mock Jedi training camp. The first three we waited with him. The fourth time, my daughter and I returned about 10 minutes after the event was done and met my son at the agreed place, as arranged.
The children and I had also drilled and practiced extensively prior to leaving for Orlando regarding, “What to do if lost.” Which he never was! Our son is very responsible, intelligent, social 9-year-old. I don’t think that leaving him in Disney World for 30 minutes while attending a Disney-organized event should impact my ability to gain increased custody of my children.
Hi Rob — Neither do I. Disney is a place known not for abductions but for looooooong lines — lines you lingered in for several hours until, like many of us,  you found yourself torn: One child bored to tears. One desperate to become a  Jedi. You dealt with the situation in a safe, sane way — or so it seems to me. And frankly: What a minor “situation” this was! When I think about what 9-year-0lds were expected to do just a few generations ago –run errands, harvest crops, shoot dinner and drag it home — it makes me weep to think even 30 minutes unsupervised is now considered way beyond what they can handle, much less something that deserves the court’s attention!  I wish you luck. — Lenore