The Luxury of American Parents’ Worries!

Hi Readers! This came in as a comment this morning, and if  it doesn’t lend a little perspective, nothing will.  — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am currently deployed to Afghanistan on my third tour, and I am part of the new female engagement teams. These teams consist of medical, security and intelligence specialist. We go directly into villages, unaccompanied by male troops, and meet face to face with the women and children of the villages. We provide medical care, work with the women to build skills so that they can help support their families, and listen to the concerns of the women and children and try to help. I can promise you, that in the grand scheme of things, bugs, babysitting, and the cold are such silly things to focus on as a society. [Topics of fear recently discussed here on Free-Range Kids.]

In my three deployments, here are a few of the children that I have had the honor of meeting and the privilege of helping:

*8-year-old Avizeh, who lost her leg last year because of a Soviet-era mine. She walks to school 2 miles on crutches every day, because she fears that when we are no longer in the country, she will be denied an education, as her mother was.

*12-year-old Dehqan, who is the sole caretaker of his 5-year-old brother and 3-year-old sister. He lost both parents to cholera, and he works 12 hours a day caring for the goats and crops with only the 5-year-old for help.

*And finally, 16-year-old Belahrah, who lost her sight at age 4 because of a infection that would have been cured with a simple penicillian shot, which she didn’t receive because the male doctor refused to treat her because the Taliban demanded that all women must be treated by female doctors. But 12 years ago, women weren’t allowed to attend school, let alone become doctors.   So female doctors are extremely rare.

These are the things that should worry parents, not the petty things we have focused on in the States. We don’t have to worry about our child losing a limb to a mine left behind 25 years ago, or going blind simply because the most basic of medical care is denied on the basis of gender. When you have a mother kissing your hand over and over and crying with gratitude because you showed up in her village with a simple supply of DTP vaccines, you realize the other worries are just silly. Afghanis would laugh at our Free-Range ideas, because here, all the children are Free-Range — and then some! — Kristi

She then added in a follow-up comment:

I didn’t mean to imply that our [American] problems are silly. I was referring to the … attempts to protect our children from all possible risks, and the overreaction to every perceived danger…. I will always be an outspoken proponent of common sense parenting and fight against the helicoptering mentality because I have witnessed what children are capable of in the most horrific of environments and am confident that the average American child can survive and thrive without all of the silly rules and safety regulations authorities seem determined to force upon them.

Kristi has served 18 years’ active duty in the United States Army. She is currently on her third deployment to Afghanistan. She is soldier, wife, and mother to five Free-Range children.

The Boom in Baby Snatching (Hysteria)

Hi Readers! You’ll recall that a few posts back I was ranting about the CNN video clip on how to keep your baby safe from being kidnapped.

Well, I ended up writing a whole column about the issue for my syndicate, Creators. So here’s the CNN article — “How to Guard Against Baby Snatchers.” And here’s mine on how to guard against CNN and its harsh admonitions to new moms.

I guess what really irks me more and more is the idea that “convenience” is a dirty word when it comes to parenting — especially mothering. And that even if it is ALMOST unheard of for a baby to be snatched from a hospital room while the mom is in the bathroom, CNN says that is still NO REASON for a mom to be so LAZY as to not bring the baby into the bathroom with her, just in case.

Why are we supposed to completely ignore our own needs or even preferences to thwart a nearly non-existent danger? What makes a mom “good” just because she is martyring herself for no reason? Where did this impossible and cruel standard come from? (Stay tuned: I’m reading a book that just may answer that question and will write about it soon.) Till then, remember: the only good parent is a parent who is really worried and stressed!  — L.

Is It Safe to Leave Sleeping Kids at Home for a Bit?

Hi Readers — I got this question yesterday and it is one that comes up from time to time. I’ll give you my answer, but the author would like to have yours, too. Here goes:
Dear Free-Range Kids: I have a question for you. Or a scenario. Every morning — ok most mornings — I get up at 5:30 and go to a boot camp in a park one city block from my house for one hour. My husband and the kids (almost 7 and 9) sleep through this 99.9% of the time. But right now my husband is out of town for two weeks.
In the past I would pay a sitter to come and hang out while I was gone. That sitter has since had a baby and I don’t know anyone crazy/nice enough to babysit at that hour on a regular basis.
I’m back and forth between letting the kids stay home by themselves and thinking I’m crazy selfish for even considering it. I’ve talked to them about me being gone and they are actually excited by the idea. I told them if they woke up they had to stay in bed until I got home. I would leave my phone for them to call me or 911 if necessary. We have a house alarm and two dogs. We know all of our neighbors.
It is not technically illegal to leave them home alone, but the rules are a little ambiguous.  Here’s what it says on the Tennessee Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges page:
There is no legal age for children to stay at home alone. Parents are advised to use their best judgment, keeping the child’s maturity level and safety issues in mind. Younger children have a greater need for supervision and care than older children. Obviously [!], young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time….
That’s what keeps me from doing it. At least so far.
It seems silly to be scared/nervous to leave them home, safe in their beds for 1 hour!! What do you think? — Stacey Greenberg

Lenore here again: Stacey, your kids are sentient beings, they know how to reach you if they need you, and in a lot of the world they would be herding sheep already (alone, on a mountain), or going off to fetch water for porridge.

As for yours: Most of the time they’ll be asleep, but when they’re not they get the excitement and pride of you TRUSTING them. That’s good for them! I’m not sure I would insist they stay in bed. Maybe they can get up and play in their rooms, or something equally benign.

I am so sick of our culture that equates ANY indepedence — even the simplest act of waking up — as taboo and dangerous. Good luck. And can you call and get ME up to go to exercise, too?

Mom's at boot camp, all's right with the world.

Advice for Worriers

Hi Readers! Jeffrey Goldberg penned this pretty darn perfect bit of advice in a column called, “What’s Your Problem?” in the current issue of The Atlantic. Here’s the question:

Ever since our first child was born, I have slept very poorly. When I close my eyes, my mind becomes crowded with worries. I worry about my kids’ safety, their future, college education, happiness, just about anything you could think of. Is there anything I can do to put my mind at ease?

N.E., Atlanta, Ga.

Dear N.E.,

Alas, no. You are suffering from an incurable disease called parenthood. The birth of a child is the most transcendent moment in a person’s life. It also marks the beginning of what I call “The Great Terror”…

Goldberg’s timeless advice?

To put your mind at ease, I suggest removing from your home all knives, turpentine, No. 2 pencils, bathtubs, medicine, electrical outlets, chairs, peanut butter, and stairs. You should also try to remember that many of the hazards facing our children are overblown: the Crimes Against Children Research Center, for instance, notes that rates of sexual assault, bullying, and other violence against children have declined substantially in recent years, despite media suggestions to the contrary. But statistics be damned; fear is fear. Only death frees you of worry entirely, and the onset of death brings its own anxieties. However, one advantage of death is that your children will no longer torment you with incessant demands for iPads and Ke$ha downloads.

Jeff, if you come hereto Free-Range kids: WE LOVE YOU! — L.

Guest Post: How Did I Become Such a Worried Mom?

Hi Readers — Here’s a great post from Amy Wilson, whose book, “When Did I Get Like This? The Screamer, The Worrier, The Dinosaur-Chicken-Nugget-Buyer, And Other Moms I Swore I’d Never Be” just came out this week. Congrats, Amy! You can follow her on Twitter (amywlsn), visit her blog, check her out on Facebook, or order her book. And in meantime: You can enjoy her article right now!

How Did This Happen? By Amy Wilson

I did not think that I would be a worrying mother.

I thought motherhood would be when I finally relaxed.

As the oldest of six kids– and one of 25 grandchildren — I started changing diapers and loading dishwashers before I could write my name in script. So I was pretty sure that motherhood would be second nature for me. And it was—or should I say, it could have been.

It was only when I listened too carefully to the “experts” that I lost my way.

I listened to the experts who told me that the doctors and nurses at the hospital were the enemy, out to sabotage my “better” childbirth unless I educated them on how to provide superior care.

I listened to the experts who told me that if I let anyone give my newborn a bottle, EVEN ONCE, I was doomed to fail as a nursing mother.

I listened to the experts who told me that gaining more than 35 pounds while pregnant was both risky and lazy, that my child should be walking by 12 months or else a specialist should be summoned, and that any television before two was dooming my toddler to a lifetime of pudding-brains.

I found every such absolute thrust upon today’s mothers impossible to achieve, and therefore spent a unreasonable portion of my early years as a mother feeling bad about myself, and worrying about how my children might suffer thanks to my sub-par parenting choices. I was a sucker for all the messages of self-doubt that mothers receive from every corner: advertising, the Internet, scary news stories, other mothers with a chip on their shoulders and something to prove.

Seven years and three children later, I know better. (Most of the time.)   Now I get mad when I see something out there designed to make mothers hysterical, only so our society can then make fun of those same mothers because they are hysterical. The New York Times printed a story two weeks ago saying that fat babies are on a “obesity trajectory that is hard to alter by the time they’re in kindergarten.” Nowhere in the article was there a voice of reason, saying that by “fat babies” they of course did not mean the typically delicious thigh rolls of an eight-month old.  Next month, however, there will probably be another article, snorting with derision at the crazy and destructive mothers who are rationing their perfectly healthy babies’ rice cereal so they won’t be fat.

I think mothers have to stand up to this fearmongering when we see it. We need to be honest with one another about the realities of our lives, and about how far they are from these silly standards.  Sometimes I think that laid-back mothering can only be earned by experience, and not learned. But if the more Free-Range among us can call out the scare tactics for the nonsense that they are, we might save some other mothers out there a whole lot of worrying—and help them have more fun along the way. — A.W.

Driven Crazy by Pregnancy Perfectionists (Especially On The Web!)

Hi Readers! Let us help this mama-to-be, who is being driven crazy by all the obsessive, micromanaging pregnancy advice she’s getting from all sides, especially her cyber-friends. What I try to remind folks — pregnant and not — is that if humanity required perfect on the part of its parents, there would not BE humanity.

It is only in the last generation or so that mothers-to-be have even known exactly which fingernail was being formed during which second of which trimester. Now that we do know, it’s very hard not to worry about it all, but we really don’t have to. I get so annoyed with the books that dictate what to eat, do, and buy every second from conception to delivery, as if one sub-optimal bite means we’ve ruined the kid, while nine months’ worth of  gold stars means our children will never have a bad hair day or low-paying job or obstructed view.

‘Taint so. Eat pretty well, get some sleep, and hope for the best, pregnant ladies.  It’s really not all up to you, and it’ll make you miserable if you think it is. — Lenore

Dear Lenore: How about a companion website: Free-Range Fetus? Because I had to go through medical intervention to  get pregnant (and had a doctor who provided very little help beyond the obvious), I have spent a great deal of time looking up pregnancy-related information on the internet. There, I have found that many people are obsessed with the ways in which they are endangering their children before they have even developed feet!

I am struggling to separate myself from the culture of fear that permeates every book I read and every website I visit. Why, today alone I have endangered my 15-week-old fetus by taking a warm bath, painting my nails green, eating Parmesan cheese that I’m not SURE was pasteurized, and struggling to install a new cable box (with the box balancing on my abdomen for a moment). And I will probably endanger it further in a few hours by  going to a Step class and allowing my heart rate to climb above 130!

I am terrified… if it starts now, where does it end? Is there any reassurance out there that leaving my bedroom and eating a variety of foods ISN’T going to cause catastrophic birth defects?

Yes! I’m reassuring you and I hope soon the folks who comment below will be doing the same thing! Part of Free-Ranging is accepting the fact that there is only so much control we have over our children’s lives — starting Day One. Sure, we do our best, but we realize that fate plays a hand, too.

Another key Free-Range concept is realizing that the current mania for making everything perfect is just that: a mania. There is no such thing as perfect — except some pregnancy books and “experts” who are perfectly annoying! — L

Oh, Please!

I hate hand sanitizers, but are kids really DRINKING them? Or setting them ON FIRE?? Or are we just coming up with more bizarre worries? (Yes, I know. Another rhetorical question. Did I mention we just MOVED? Hard to blog and unpack! ) — Lenore