I just learned that when I was a child, my parents were criminals. That’s a lot to take in when you thought your mom and dad were law-abiding citizens—more or less. I had no idea my parents hid a dark side until I heard that parents in Maryland were charged with neglect for letting their kids walk to the park. Alone.
At first, I thought the story was a joke and kept reading for the punchline. Nope. Totally real. A neighbor called the police to report that the children were playing without the required amount of helicopter-parent supervision. Additionally, the nosy neighbor stated, “It wasn’t the first time these children played by themselves.” Gasp.
The siblings were taken by Child Protective Services while the parents were investigated, and (because we have to label everything) the term “free-range parenting” was created. Free-range parenting is defined as, “A new, hands-off approach to raising children.” But other people label it as neglect.
So, if I was so inclined, I could retroactively (and in my mom’s case, posthumously) have my parents thrown in the slammer.
Every Saturday morning, after we finished eating Fruity Pebbles straight from the box while watching “Land of the Lost,” my mom would kick us out of the house and tell us not to come home until sunset. Then she’d slam the door. And lock it.
We were cool with that. We shrugged, hopped on our bikes and went to find something to do. We’d wander through neighborhoods like adolescent Pied Pipers, picking up other unattended children. Then we’d end up in someone’s yard playing Red Rover (aka Clothesline Your Buddies) until those parents told us to get lost.
We’d amble to 7-Eleven where we’d buy candy cigarettes and Fresca (because the can looked like beer). We’d sit on the swings sipping our pretend beer and discuss whatever it is kids discuss in those situations. I’m sure we fooled everyone because doesn’t every 10-year-old sit in the park swigging a cold beer while smoking with her friends?
I guess our parents didn’t think we needed 24-hour supervision. We walked to school every day with a group of friends, rain or shine. And we frequently rode our bikes nearly two miles to the Murray Library with ne’er an adult in sight.
In a time before cell phones, GPS and tracking devices, parents relied on their kids to use common sense. They taught us to avoid strangers, stay off the train tracks, don’t go into homes when the parents weren’t around and, basically, not to be stupid.
My daughters could also have charged me with neglect, and they’ve probably already contacted an attorney. I often allowed them to bike to the local swimming pool and stay there for hours. They also walked to 7-Eleven—and probably bought candy cigarettes with their friends.
People say, “Don’t you know how dangerous the world is?” Guess what? The world has always been dangerous. Helicopter parenting, obsessive worrying and overprotective hovering doesn’t stop bad things from happening.
Here’s my definition of neglect: not allowing your children to create a feeling of independence; not allowing your children to be bored and have to create something; not allowing your kids to make mistakes, get lost, mess up and face consequences.
Kids are resilient, and more often than not, they make the right decision. So I guess I’ll have to forgive my parents for teaching me to be independent and creative. Gee, thanks mom and dad.