17.7.08

The Problem With Most Safe

So the oil change company is accepting full responsibility for the damage done to the GH's car due to their gross negligence. Whooo. We will not be without a functioning car much longer. They are also paying for the rental car while they fix his. Add one more thing to the list of things to be thankful for.

In other news, tomorrow I'm going to be interviewed by someone from CNN. See how I typed in that all casual like, no caps or exclamation points? That's because I want you to think I'm all nonchalant and unperturbed by such an event. Ya know. National news networks call me to ask my opinion all the time, it's no big deal. Hah. I'm such a liar with the typey fingers. I trained them to not betray nervousness during all those years of performing in front people on the piano, they are good at fooling you. My heart on the other end is beating faster just thinking about it and I only hope I don't sound like a TOTAL MORON tomorrow!! There my fingers caught up and started freaking out along with the rest of me.

So, as I have this hope to appear semi-intelligent and lucid in tomorrow's conversation, I thought I would type my thoughts on this subject here first to organize them. You dear people who come often and read already know that you get the things I would say out loud if I could find anyone to listen to me think out loud here in my real life. Lucky for you I'm a little more coherent when I write. And if you are wondering why on earth they called me, my personal theory is that every other blogger in the known universe is at Blogher right now having a fantastic time and partying like mad. I was the only one they could find who is still at home and willing to talk.

So I begin...

How much of what you do as a parent is because you think it's good for your children? And how much of what you do as a parent is because it's what you think other people expect you to do?

There is a little joke that I hear parents make from time to time. Only it's not really a joke is it? Because it could happen, and we're all afraid that it might. I read on some one's blog, "Wouldn't that have been a great moment for someone from CPS to show up?"

We drag our children out of the store as they throw a fit and we keep our reasonable mommy voice firmly in place and inside we are hoping that the people staring at us can see that we aren't bad parents, we are good parents, dealing with a bad moment. At least, that's what we want them to think. That's what we want to believe and hope is true about ourselves.

The truth is, being a parent in this country means always looking over your shoulder. There is always someone watching, and evaluating, and making judgments. And sometimes those lead to phone calls and a social worker shows up at your door.

Yes, I'm back at that story. That's what they want to talk to me about, at CNN. I think. The piece is on Protective Parenting.

But here's the thing. I've always been a devil may care type of girl when it comes to peer pressure, to fitting in, to caring about what other people think. Oh of course, I'm like everyone else. I want the people I like to like me back, I hope they'll speak well of me behind my back. I especially don't want people believing things about me that aren't true. But I've never changed the way I act or who I am for anyone, ever. If anything, I'll do the opposite of what they want me to do.

When it comes to parenting I have been the same way. All of those older ladies that smiled knowingly when I told them I intended to co-sleep with my first baby and said, "Well that's not going to make your hubby very happy is it?"

I could tell they were thinking, "Yah right, like that will work."

I remember at the time responding with, "He's a grownup, he'll be fine while I take care of my infant."

And he was.

There were the people who had a problem with breastfeeding. For which I was completely unapologetic. I don't mean to be rude, but other people's discomfort with me discreetly using my breasts to nourish my child wherever I happened to be when they were hungry is their problem, not mine. It's not my job to respect their discomfort by changing the way I parent, it's their job to change the way they think about the matter and get over it. Even if you are my dad.

The same thing with those uncomfortable with my choices for home births, weaning, diapering, potty training, homeschooling, vaccinating, discipline, etc. You see, I think long and hard about my choices as a parent. I agonize and research and pray and seek wise council. You can rest assured that once I decide on something I'm pretty confident that that choice is the best for my family and my children. There were always people who disagreed with me, and I didn't care. I was fully willing to engage in an intelligent discussion on the matter, and I am always willing to have someone show me a better way if there is one, but I will not and do not feel bad about the way I parent because some old lady on the street tut tutted at me for some reason or some one keeps insisting that I should let my babies cry for a while, it's good for them.

The homeschooling, home birthing, baby wearing, breast feeding, non vaccinating mamas that I had so much in common with were shocked and dismayed to learn that I let my boy play with guns and that I expected my children to come to me when I called, as soon as I called, whether they were distracted by the other kids or not. But it was that expectation and training that freed my children to be more independent outside. I could let them run a little ahead of me on the sidewalk at 2 or 3 because I knew that they would stop at the corner. I would watch people startle and make small jerky motions towards my tiny son as he raced full tilt for the curb, and then relax as they saw him come to a stop just in time and jump up and down in place while waving at me proudly. They often tried to lecture me. "With kids you can never be sure."

Well, I think I know my own child, whom I have been with 24/7 since the moment he was conceived in my body, a whole lot better than you, random stranger who just saw him for the first time 3 seconds ago. I have a pretty good idea of what he will and won't do, and what he's capable of. He's pretty exceptional, if I do say so myself. Don't get me wrong, I fully appreciate their concern for my child, I do. But in the end, I'm the one who has to live with my choices as a parent, not someone else. So I don't take what other people think about me much into consideration when I'm making those choices. Though I'm willing to accept good advice and counsel, and have often. I seek it out actually.

And so it goes. We all make choices. And then a lot of us try to find people who have made similar choices to spend time with, it makes it easier to be around people of like mind. There is less energy spent defending those choices to each other that way. But I've always enjoyed lively debate and controversy. And I by no means think that my choices are the only RIGHT choices, and that everyone should so what I do. They are right for me. Most of the time.

I know that my confidence as a parent isn't something that every one has, and I know lots of moms agonize over these things a good deal more than I do and that random comments can be crushing when they come during vulnerable moments. But blessed/cursed? as I am to have fewer insecurities in this area I have opted to live my life and my choices somewhat more publicly than some people. For starters, this blog. But I also don't pretend to be anything other than what we are. Or at least, I fight the tendency to do that. My kids get dirty. My kids play rough. They climb up to high places. They walk on fences. They ride bikes and scooters. They play outside. They spend hours lost in "unstructured imaginary play time" and I encourage that. I don't always make them change into clean clothes before we go out into public, or wash their face. We don't always have time, and I'd rather they had fun today than that we look perfect when strangers look at us. If people weren't always giving us clothes I often fantasize about how nice it would be if they only had 5 outfits each. Three for play that they can wear again the next day even though they're not pristine, and two for dressing up and going to church or dinner. I fantasize about all the space that would free up, and all the laundry I wouldn't have to do. It will never happen of course. People would assume that we are poor wearing the same thing all the time and give us clothes. or call CPS. And I have girls who love clothes, it's fun for them to dress up all the time.

This way of life however, that we have been quite content with, has it's own set of consequences. What I was unaware of until this year is that what people think about me as a parent matters. But not for reasons I could have imagined. You see, in this country, big brother is watching. An anonymous stranger, they don't even have to know your name, can place a phone call and suddenly you have to justify every choice you have ever made as a parent to a government agent. And it's something similar to the way they control birth in hospitals these days. They don't care about your individual needs as a mother or child, they are interested in the "most safe". One in 1000 babies might have this type of complication, so we will treat every baby that comes through this hospital for this complication.

One in 1000 children playing outside might have something bad happen to them, so it's better to keep them all inside, all the time, and have them grow fat and stupid playing computer games and watching TV. You see, that's the problem with the legal bit of such things and this way of thinking. It's most safe to keep kids from drowning if you don't take them near water at all. It's most safe to keep kids from falling if you never let them climb. It's most safe to keep kids from skinning their knees if they never run, or jump, or ride a bicycle. It's most safe to keep kids from making bad choices if you never allow them any. It's most safe to keep kids from being molested if they never run into any strangers... wait... that's not actually true is it? It's something close to 90% of kids who are molested are molested by someone they already know. Kids who never get to make choices with real consequences turn out to be very poor decision makers as adults.

In the end, the most safe type of life that your children can lead isn't really a life at all. I can't, and won't do that to my child. I will let them have as much freedom as they have shown me they are ready for. I will reward their good decision making with more responsibility. I will let them play outside in front of our house on the grass while I make dinner because they've shown me that they can be trusted to do so without putting themselves in danger. On occasion I let the Baby out too and it's their job to keep the her within the safe boundaries that we have established. Oh don't freak out. The door is wide open, I can see out the window from my desk and the kitchen. Even if she did go onto the road it's a dead end of a parking lot. There's a comfortable, for me, margin of safety beyond the lines I draw for them in case they are ever tempted to cross one. And every minute or so I mentally ask myself, "Where is the baby?" and make sure that everything is still the way it should be on the grass outside my door.

As a result my children are becoming more responsible. They are getting work and play and a level of independence that matches their ability and I am watching them grow up in front of me. And it is good for them. For us.

One thing I experienced in the weeks after CPS paid us a visit before it was resolved was how it feels to worry about what people are thinking about you all the time. It was a new experience for me. A very unpleasant new experience. I began to understand how some of the moms I've met over the years must feel all the time. I can now imagine how difficult it must be to try and make choices as parents when you are so afraid of what other people will think of you. I felt like a hypocrite every time we went outside to play. I felt like there were eyes boring into me form every direction. I felt the fakeness of the way the GH and I were behaving as we wondered which of our neighbors lacked the guts to come up to us and talk to us about our differences of opinion as parents and instead made allegations that our children are neglected because we don't parent the way they think we ought to.

All I can say is that there is something wrong with this whole picture. There is something wrong with a state that believes it often knows what's better for children than parents do, that finds fault with anything less than most safe. There is something wrong with a state where one person, not risking anything of their own life can make a phone call that can devastate another family. There is something wrong when parents need to involve social workers in custody battles, waiting for mistakes and moments of weakness in order to cast doubt on each other. There is something wrong when family members who disagree with the responsible choices of parents can fabricate a story and have those children removed from the home and placed in protective custody and it takes months of legal wrangling to sort the mess out and those children are devastated in the process. (True story, happened to someone we know personally.)

The truth is, someone is watching. The truth is parents have to be careful. And the truth is that those of us who would rather say screw you to everyone who has a problem with our thoughtful and well considered parenting style find ourselves weighing that instinct against the possible harm that those people could do to our family, our children, if we don't appease them. Even if we are able to prove ourselves justified in the end. At what cost? That we have to ask ourselves that kind of question is a problem.

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Once more I'll point you in the direction of ParentalRights.org over in my side bar there. An amendment could keep things from getting worse than they are. So I support them.

7 comments:

  1. Oh, wow! How eloquently and passionately put. I completely agree. I wish I were more confident in my parenting choices. I tend to second guess myself, but my husband and I are comfortable with the choices we've made and they are best for us. Yet, I still find myself justifying my choices to people.

    Ever since I read your story about dealing with CPS, I've been more aware of just how tenuous our rights as parents are in this country. It's quite frightening.

    I for one applaud your parenting choices and your decision to be unapologetic for them. Sounds to me like you and your husband are great parents. I only wish I had been more confident in my choices when my children were babies. I think babies can sense insecurity in a parent.

    I also wish I had known about baby wearing. I so would have worn my baby all the time, but it was unheard of in my circle of acquaintances when my children were babies.

    Excellent, excellent post, Carrien!

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  2. Well said! This subject is near and dear to me. So I hear ya. Praying that all will go well during your interview!

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  3. I love this part:

    "But it was that expectation and training that freed my children to be more independent outside. I could let them run a little ahead of me on the sidewalk at 2 or 3 because I knew that they would stop at the corner."

    So true. I think you are a wonderful parent, and this was written amazingly well.

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  4. Anonymous10:46 AM

    Awesome post. This has been an issue with me ever since we had kids. I am a pastor's daughter of a church of about 150. There have been times that I've been in fear of what some disgruntled member could do to my family. I've been confronted by people about how my husband and I raise our children, I've had people give me the stink eye or flat out lecture me for disciplining our kids for what seems like a very minor offense in their eyes. It's a shame that parents have to live in fear of their children being taken away over false accusations.

    Rachel

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  5. Thank you for writing this. It is really well put. I have had a lot of little comments and it is hard to not feel like everyone is watching you, waiting for you to mess up in their eyes. Please let us know when the CBS thing is airing. I would love to watch it. Thank you for standing up for parents rights.

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  6. I love your whole entire entry. Amen! to the whole flipping thing.
    I got so sick and tired of people always telling me that 'home births' are so dangerous (I personally think hospital births are extremely dangerous, but whatever!), and that vaccinating is the only way to go, etc etc etc.... The interesting thing is that people who make those choices (not that they are wrong, just different) usually don't know any reasons why they do what they do, don't put research or effort into making decisions, but just do it because it's what everyone else does.
    Like you say, the choice to do what everyone else is not doing is usually one backed by a lot of hours spent researching the issue, so we can be well versed to defend ourselves.
    Best wishes on your interview!! And thank you for putting this all out there!

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  7. Amen, Sister! This is a PERFECT post if I've ever read one! I always love the way you write, but this is incredible. I love you. Good luck with the interview (if it hasn't already happened).

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