The backseat of my family’s woodie wagon was one of my favourite places to play - and not just when it was parked. I can still remember spreading my toys out on the floor of the folded-down seats and playing as my parents drove us to our next destination - waving at passersby through the rear window at each red light.
In the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, sturdy station wagons adorned in vinyl and wood-paneling were the quintessential road-tripping machines of their time - they seemed almost mandatory. Seatbelts, on the other hand, were not.
If we needed to stop on the way, I’d happily continue to play in the locked car until my parents returned. The only caveat was that I was to honk the horn if something were to occur.
If the same happened nowadays, most of the parents of us Gen Xers (or Xennials as my cusp-clinging, micro-generation has been recently dubbed), would be thrown in jail for neglect.
In an article published recently in the New York Times titled, Motherhood in the Age of Fear, the author shares her personal experience of being deemed a criminally negligent parent for leaving her little one in the car while she ran into the store.
According to her recount, she didn’t carelessly leave the windows up on a blistering hot summer’s day (it was on a cool, cloudy day and she had cracked the windows open), and she didn’t leave her child unattended for hours on end (only minutes had passed before her return). And yet, an ogling onlooker decided to take it upon themselves to immediately call 911 to report the “incident” that had been witnessed.
As a result, the mother was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
In her story, the author shares the thought that, “We now live in a country where it is seen as abnormal, or even criminal, to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second.”
She goes on to share a quote from a cognitive scientist who says that in today’s society, “It’s not about safety, it’s about enforcing a social norm.”
I agree that we’ve become an overly smothering society when it comes to how we supervise our kids, but I think the problem is bigger than that. It’s not just about the hype around helicopter parenting (and penalizing those who choose the free-range method instead), the issue is also those strangers whose first instinct is to call the cops based on a presumed circumstance.
Statistically speaking, a child is far more likely to be killed in a car on the way to a store than waiting in one that is parked, yet parents are constantly being put in a position where they have to decide between parental instincts and public perception.
I’ve been in situations where I know that my children would be safe if I left them unsupervised for a short period of time, but I’ve second-guessed my gut instincts, in fear of being the brunt of the backlash of a wandering eye.
As I keep reading stories of strangers stepping in, especially in situations where safety issues are not even at play, I’m left to wonder: why are we quick to quiet those who aren’t over-parenting, but not the wolf-criers who are overreacting? It’s time to start asking questions, assessing the situation and using common sense before going straight to the authorities.
Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor, and marketing consultant. Find her online at @bitsofbee.