"When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice safe playpen. When they're finished, I climb out." ~ Erma Bombeck
I loved being a mom most days and still do. But it is one of the most difficult and wacky jobs anyone can have.
But what has prompted this post stems from my recent observations of parents with their young children. On Canada Day we were in a local park watching bands while we waited for the fireworks. There was a young family sitting on a blanket in front of us. They were having fun with the infant and little boy who danced with his parents and both were played with by their big sister who looked to be about eight. I thought at one point the little boy was going to smother the infant before anyone took notice. He ran around the crowd on his own a few times while the adults gathered the baby and the blankets. I was anxious watching him, concerned that he would slip away when his parents were distracted.
This non vigilance I believe is connected to a hypervigilance that started with my generation of parents.
Our parents let us run free until meal times although very young children were kept in playpens or buggies when outdoors.
When we became parents we discarded the playpens and buggies as too restrictive and kept watch constantly instead. We did allow our children to play outdoors in the neighbourhood but they couldn't walk far on their own. The increasing scope of the news broadcasts brought child kidnapping and murder into our homes. We became more vigilant. I went to the mall one time to get my children photographed and finger printed by child services in case they ever went missing. I was a wreck while standing in line with all of the other panicky parents. An older man came up at one point and asked why we were all standing in line with our children. When someone told him why he said his sons were in their early twenties and still living at home. He needed the line where he could sign up to give them away. We all laughed and I felt the tension and anxious feeling leave me. I remained sad that we had reached a place in our society where so many of us felt this was necessary but his quip made me realize that most kids grow up safe and sound. At least long enough for parents to want them out in the world on their own.
Today parents are constantly hovering over day care teachers, school teachers and baby sitters. We hear alarming statistics that show the kids are not getting outdoors enough, obesity rates are rising and digital gadgets are entertaining our children all the time. Parks and ball diamonds sit empty unless a team is playing with coaches and parents watching. We have created this from our fear of what might happen.
After our big storm last week I saw two little boys ( about 8-9 yrs. old) going around a group of trees looking up at the branches. My first thought was how dangerous that was and who was supposed to be looking after these young boys when I noticed they had bike helmets on but there were no bikes around. They were pretending to be the people who check the trees and fix the problems, many of who were working around the neighbourhood. I relaxed and realized that this was real play with little likelihood of danger. The trees were fine and they were probably in their own yard. One of my daughters has threatened to get me a Parent Police badge to wear. Might like that actually.
Now I have a theory about all of this. I have no research or statistics to support this hypothesis but here goes anyway.
I am thinking that because parents are made to feel that they need to be constantly on alert about something happening to their child(ren) when they are out of their sight that they don't let them go too far without them. Schools, daycares and babysitters are necessary but not to be completely trusted either. With all of this hypervigilance comes the price. It is exhausting and therefore parents allow themselves to relax when their children are with them. They don't feel the need to be constantly checking on them or worrying about accidents or bad people taking them.
What person has the energy to stay in a heightened state of awareness about their kids 24/7? Not many. Maybe it isn't negligence, maybe it's vigilance fatigue.