Recently, I was walking down a busy city street with a friend, baby strapped to my chest as my 4-year-old daughter skipped 10 metres ahead down the footpath. My friend and I were following behind, chatting, when a police officer yelled over to me from his cop car.
“Hey, excuse me! Ma’am, is that your daughter up ahead?”
I nodded, instantly terrified but not sure what I’d done wrong. “Yes.”
“Don’t let her run so far ahead,” he said gruffly. “She’s going to get abducted.”
She’s going to get abducted? SHE IS? I nearly choked, angry and humiliated by his scaremongering. After a second I regained my composure, flashing a sarcastic smile. “She’s fine,” I told the officer. “I’m watching her. Thanks.”
Believe me, I know horrible things can happen in the world. I used to work for John Walsh—you know, the “America’s Most Wanted” host and victim’s rights advocate whose son was famously kidnapped and beheaded after getting lost at a Sears in Florida. I mean, if that story doesn’t scare you into handcuffing your child to your wrist until they go to university, I don’t know what will. But it’s just one story. A f*cking horrible one, but not something that happens every day.
As familiar as I am with that tragedy, I don’t want to live in fear. I want my daughter to grow up exploring the world and gaining independence … but am I allowed to let her?
There are so many stories out there about parents being arrested for leaving their kids in the car, or riding the train alone. It seems as though concerned citizens and busybodies lurk around every corner, just waiting to intervene.
So, what are we, as parents, supposed to do? When I first read these stories, I think, “This is ridiculous. I totally side with the parents.” We live in a scary world — pedos and reckless drivers and 2-year-olds wielding guns — but don’t we, as parents, know what our children are capable of? If you think your child would walk into traffic or it’s a dangerous neighbourhood then, yeah, don’t let them. You’re the parent. Do what’s right.
Then, this morning, I watched their interview on “The Today Show,” and I wondered if I should second guess my initial response. The 6-year-old girl barely looked bigger than my 4-year-old. But her brother seems pretty mature, and the parents are totally supportive and encourage this type of activity. They trust their kids, so why should it be any of my business? Maybe the parenting philosophy “Free Range Kids” sounds a little crunchy, but we should have the right to entrust our kids with freedom and responsibility as we see fit.
After my little run-in with the police, I went home mortified, outraged, but also a little scared. Not of my daughter getting kidnapped, because I don’t think that is going to happen. I like to assume people are good and not as crazy as they seem on “Criminal Minds,” or that hot Irish psychopath on “The Fall”. What scares me is that if I’m too lax (or Free Range, or whatever you want to call it), could I be the next mum defending herself on TV and being investigated by child services? I really don’t know, anymore.