With great weather comes great responsibility…

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Mornin’ all.

It’s only 5 a.m. On a Sunday. When I had absolutely zero early morning obligations or plans that would require me to watch the sun rise. In fact, I had early morning plans to sleep until it was no longer “early morning”. What happened?

BallistiCat. That’s what.

The little fur ball lost her damn mind. She came bursting into my room an hour ago, then proceeded to do everything she could to get my attention. She meowed, she knocked things off the nightstand, she walked on my face. It was as if she was desperately trying to tell me that Timmy fell down a well.

However, couple flaws with that notion:

– We don’t have a well or a Timmy.

– And even if we did, she’s a cat. She wouldn’t ring the alarm and get help. She’d simply watch the unexpected show unfold until she got bored.

No, folks, the one and only reason she wanted me to be awake was to be a bitch. To prove my point, she is, at this moment, napping in the laundry basket. It’s a victory nap. Her plan worked. I’m awake and up and her job is done.

Get a cat, they said. It’ll be FUN, they said.

At least the coffee’s good. It’s reheated stuff from yesterday, but the eldest teen made it. He’s by far the best coffee maker here. So, that’s something. And I really do have a lot I wanted to work on today, so I suppose lazing about really wasn’t the best way to start the list.

Still, I know one little feline that’s not getting her catnip toy today.

It’s been a busy week here. With great weather comes great responsibility. I spent my 5 month meteorological prison sentence planning all the things I’d do when the skies cleared and the snow melted, and now it’s time to start going down that list.

Thing is, my obsessive nature wants me to DO THE LIST. DO IT ALL. SPROUT TEN EXTRA HANDS AND DO THE WHOLE THING RIGHT NOW BEFORE SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS YOU USELESS SACK OF…

…well, you get the idea.

I’m glad I’ve got my teens. They really do help me focus and realize my internal kibitzing is pointless. The eldest is particularly good at helping me sort out the overwhelming mound and pick a place to start.

Makes good coffee, helps me not be quite so insane…do I really have to let him grow up? I mean, college is SO overrated.

“Bethie.”

*sigh* I know, I know. Cut the cord and all that. I will. I AM. But.

But.

Speaking of parents who are building a strong foundation for their children’s future therapy, have you read the flap about the “free-range” parents?

As we all know, there are many basic styles of parenting. Actually, if everyone was going to be honest, every single parent has their own unique style. But people NEED to belong to some group or another, so for the sake of this musing, we’ll just go along with that herd mentality.

We’ve all heard the terms before. “Tiger” parents tend to be forceful and domineering, micromanaging every aspect of their children’s lives, “helicopter” parents hover, wiping noses and cutting hot dogs into responsible sized pieces even when the kid is 14, blah blah, etc. Every year or so, Oprah introduces a new “doctor” with a groundbreaking parenting style we simply MUST adopt. And even though Oprah knows fuck all about kids, there are many who can’t wait to jump on board.

The latest parenting style to make the news is “free-range” parenting. It’s pretty much exactly as it sounds. The proponents of this theology claim that modern parents are too involved with their kids’ lives, that they baby children and give them not only insecurities and a lack of self confidence, but a juxtapositional sense of entitlement.

I have no problem with that part of the theology. In fact, at face value, I believe the “free-rangers” have hit the nail on the head. People DO micromanage their kids’ lives and shelter them too much. Too many PSAs in the 80’s have made a generation of parents that want to keep their kids bubble-wrapped from life. While it’s a sentiment that truly does come from a good and noble place, the world is shitty. It’s mean. It’s full of scum bags and assholes just waiting to take advantage of those who can’t handle it, and the parents who pretend that isn’t true are grooming a fresh batch of victims.

Not only that, having Mummy and Daddy do everything for a kid will make that kid believe that ALL authority figures will provide the same hand-holding. If someone is always there to do everything for the kid when they’re young, why wouldn’t they feel that they are entitled to that same service when they’re grown? I can agree with that part of the “free-range” philosophy, too. If you’ve never let the kid do anything, then they aren’t going to know they should.

…which leads to the third important tenet of the “free-range” style. Not only are too many kids over-sheltered to the point where they’ve got no understanding of the real world, and then coddled so much that they expect other people will always be there to do things for them, they’ve got no confidence whatsoever and do not believe they can ever do things for themselves. If you’re still cutting your 14-year-old’s steak, then you are sending the message to that kid that you don’t believe they should be doing it for themselves. “Best let me cut that. You know you’re too weak and stupid to know how to eat.”

No, no, hang on a sec. Before you roll those eyes and call it an over-exaggeration, just think about it. If your folks micromanaged every single aspect of your life, what would the long term message be? Especially once you got older and saw that other kids in school were doing things for themselves? I know a woman who still spends five minutes every morning hugging and kissing and saying goodbye to her fifth grader every single morning in the school parking lot. That kid has no chance. None whatsoever. She is proving to him that he can’t handle things on his own and he NEEDS her there every single moment.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a very hands-on mum. I ride their asses about school work something fierce. When they’ve got something new to do, I will dive in and show them how to do it, then stand there and make sure they listened. But, I’ll also let the older ones take the kukri out back to hack down some overgrown bushes, and the youngest has a proclivity towards tinkering with his own set of tools, which I let him do without hesitation. I have sheltered in certain ways, but I think overall they’re growing up to be pretty capable.

Just to be clear: I don’t for one second believe I’ve gotten it right, and if you have a few hours I can certainly list everything I feel I’ve done/am doing wrong. I’m not at ALL saying I’m a good parent. I’m a hot mess who bumbles through life hoping I’m not screwing them up too much.

However, I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that parenting needs to be a mix of care and concern, and knowing when the little birdies need to learn their own life lessons for themselves.

That’s where I break with the “free-rangers”. In “free-range” parenting, it’s not a mix. It’s straight up neglect.

“Bethie, I think that’s a little harsh.”

Hang on. Let me judge the “free-rangers” before you judge me. Everything must be done in a proper order, you know.

The basic philosophy of “free-range” parenting is to allow children to be little adults. “Free-rangers” believe we pamper kids too much and that they are far more capable of handling life than most people think. While that true to some degree, a “free-ranger” sees that statement as an absolute.

Case in point is the new story I mentioned. Two “free-range” parents in Maryland are in hot water once again for letting their 10 and 6 year old children play in a city park by themselves. A concerned citizen called the police after the two young, unsupervised children approached him, a complete stranger, and asked to play with his dog. The man let them, then followed as he called the police to make sure the kids would be safe until the cops could arrive.

Now the parents are in trouble, and it’s not the first time. In fact, they were in trouble for this exact scenario in the autumn of last year. Their children were seen walking a mile by themselves and picked up by concerned police. The parents were investigated and put under watch by the local child protective services. The state law in Maryland is that a child of 8 may be left home alone or in a car, and must be 13 to watch another child. The parents are crying foul, but the law is clearly against them.

Right off the bat, they are teaching their children it is okay to break the law.

Let’s look at the parents for a minute. In case you’re thinking it’s a situation of low circumstance, that they’re like some poor gutter trash who doesn’t know any better and it’s to be expected (you bigot), these parents are both highly educated, intelligent scientists. These aren’t people who don’t know or understand the law. They are simply people who have decided they are above it.

Or, more accurately, that the law is wrong.

They have support, too. Lots. There are many people across the nation who agree with these parents. If you read the comments section in any news story about this case, the defense of these folks generally falls under a few umbrella opinions:

1. The kids had been to that park a lot and knew the way. Chill out!

2. Nanny state! Get your laws off their kids and let them parent how they want to!

3. My mother let me play out on my own ’till the street lamps turned on, and I made it through just fine.

Let’s dissect these opinions.

The parents have said that the route the children took and the park they went to play in was familiar to them, that they’d been there lots of times and knew the way. Well, that’s good, but getting lost is only part of the danger, isn’t it? A very small part, actually, since if you get lost, you can always ask for help. In fact, getting lost is probably low on the list of possible bad scenarios a 10 and 6 years old could face on the way to and from a city park on their own. It’s certainly not the crux of the argument, so I think we can just discount this defense right off the bat.

Next: Nanny state! Yeah. About that…of course there are laws about parenting. There have to be because there are some seriously irresponsible and/or flat out dangerous parents out there. The laws protect kids when the parents cannot/will not do it for themselves.

There are also assholes. Remember the assholes? I said the world was full of them, and it is. And some of these assholes specifically target young children.

Kidnapping. Assault. Rape. Murder.

If you go on to a “free-range” parenting website, they will be quick to point out that the media makes a bigger deal of these instances than they should. They’re very fast to show that the stats prove that “only” about 115 kids get abducted by strangers every year in the US, and that there aren’t any “substantial” statistics on assault on children by strangers, so that MUST not really be a problem.

This stance boggles the mind. The odds are in the kids favor, so it’s not worth worrying about?? You know what? The odds are in a kid’s favor for Russian Roulette, but I wouldn’t let them play it!

Which leads into the last most stated and most ridiculous argument. “I lived like that and I grew up just fine.”

When I was a kid, I clearly remember chewing on wall plaster. It was ugly wall paper, and I hated looking at it. It was criss crossy and made my eyes go wonky, so I started to rip it off. I discovered that the wall itself could be easily crumbled, so I began to pick and chew on it and created a huge hole that I tried to cover up with my teddy bear.

…I never said I was a *smart* child.

Because children have a knack for chewing on things, the government said, “Hm. Maybe we shouldn’t let people put lead and toxins in all the shit kids are going to chew on?” Did I live through my leaden experience? Sure. Without brain damage? Mostly…I think… But did everyone?

No.

Seat belts weren’t mandatory for minors until the 80’s in many places. Car seats were unheard of until I was a tot. Jarts were a thing that really happened (true story! We had them. You young ones, look ’em up) and teenagers used to think nothing at all of hitchhiking to the next town over.

The people who lived through those troubling times of wanton danger were most definitely in the majority. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t make it through by dumb blind luck.

And THAT’S the problem with the ridiculous argument people are kicking around in support of the “free-range” parenting style. To accept that something you used to do is dangerous isn’t caving to a cry baby society, it’s growing the hell up and learning how to be better for the next generation. It’s progressing as a people who have gained a deeper understanding of the dangers of the world around them.

We put seat belts on the kids. 99% of road trips will go off without a hitch. 99% of the time, the seat belt turns out to be completely unnecessary. But all it takes is one bad driver, one moment of distraction, one idiot who had a few too many, and that seat belt proves it was a worthwhile precaution. We did away with lead-based construction materials. 99% of babies know damn well not to chew on walls, no matter how ugly they are. I’m a 1%er, and I just got lucky. Others in my elite group did not, and suffered life-long debilitating side effects of lead poisoning. Jarts only very rarely impaled a kid, but they were banned because kids are kids and it’s just plain stupid to let them hurl giant pointy spears at each other.

Again, I’m not calling for over-protection. I’m saying that parents need to be reasonable and protect in reasonable ways against legitimate threats. It is reasonable to understand that a child is NOT an adult and WILL throw a sharp object at another kid if given the opportunity because it seems fun. It’s reasonable to take that sharp object away and hand over a rounded one. Sure, the kid’s still going to throw it, but at least the other idiot that stupidly grins as he agrees to be the target won’t be impaled. Reasonable steps, folks, because kids are just kids.

There is another far more important aspect to parenting than simply understanding that kids are dumb and need protection from themselves. If parenting was just about the kids, the “free-rangers” might be on to something. But, it’s not. When you are parenting, you are trying to raise a human being to be a member of a society filled with OTHER human beings. THAT’S what the “free-range” philosophy has ignored. There is a world around their children that these kids are ill prepared to handle.

In this case, the children approached a strange man to play with his dog.

These kids have been filled with the notion that they ARE adults and CAN do what they want. There is no “stranger danger” in their minds. They waltzed right up to a strange man in a park. If you are a parent, right now you should be cringing. I don’t know why people keep ignoring this extremely critical fact.

Why are laws against children being left by themselves important? BECAUSE THIS.

What if that guy wasn’t a caring and concerned citizen? What if he was a kidnapper?

“Bethie, that’s silly. What are the odds that he’d be one of the 115?”

Or a pedophile? Or abuser? Or junkie? Hell, what if he’s just a dick who wants to berate and tease a little kid? Would that get reported? No. Would that have a negative impact on the kids? Absolutely.

What about gangs? Can you really look me in the eye and even try to claim that a city with a population near 100K in this country doesn’t have any gang activity? Bitch, please. What about thieves? What about a mentally ill homeless person who sees the kid as a threat for whatever reason?

Let’s take the adults in the park out of the equation. Let’s say these “free-range” kids ran into some older kids. “Cooler” kids. Bullies. What the hell is a 10 year old going to do if the little 6 year old is being harassed? Or the other way around?!

There are so many variables in this scenario. And the fact that the kids did not know they shouldn’t walk up to a complete stranger and potentially invite trouble says that these parents ARE failing.

The world is not a safe place. It’s not being “progressive” to “free-range” parent. It’s being JUST as irresponsible as the “tiger” and “helicopter” parents the “free-rangers” rail against. The plain truth on parenting is that while there is no completely right or completely wrong way, it is NEVER a black and white issue. It’s not clean, it’s not cut-and-dried. And the moment you think you’re doing it totally right is the moment when you really should step back and take a look at how you’re doing things. Instead of crying to the media, these two parents should have said, “Holy shit. Our kids just went up to a complete stranger. Maybe it’s time to reassess.”

You can’t protect your kids from everything. And the “free-rangers” are right…you shouldn’t even try! If you want a functioning member of society, you need to teach them about society.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect them at all. KIDS ARE NOT JUST SHORT ADULTS. It was beyond irresponsible for these folks to allow their young children to play in a city park alone where the real world is just one idiot away.

They’re very quick to tell the media just how intelligent they are. Too bad they don’t understand the difference between “intellect” and “ignorance”.

Thus concludes a very long Musing for Sunday, April 19, 2015. Heh. Guess I was a little more worked up about that than I realized. I’ll just push this soap box back under the table and get cracking on the next item on my list…