Lenore Skenazy, who has been called the “World’s Worst Mom” for believing, and acting upon the belief, that children shouldn’t be bubble-wrapped, and instead should be given the freedom to do kid stuff even if there is a one in ten million chance that space aliens might zoom down and snatch ’em, brought attention to the plight of Danielle and Sasha Meitivs’ two children, ages 6 and 10.
Danielle and Sasha Meitiv’s children, ages 6 and 10, were picked up by police on Sunday at around 5 p.m., and taken to Child Protective Services. A neighbor apparently saw the children walking alone and called 911 to report it.
Four hours later, they were returned to the Meitivs, who had since grown frantic when their children failed to return home on time and neither the police nor Child Protective Services found the time or inclination to let them know their kids were in their custody.
As Skenazy explains, everything about the Meitivs’ story violates two related concepts, the first being the right of parents to raise their children in a way that comports with their beliefs on proper child-rearing, and the second being the need for children not to be subject to extreme control out of fear of “worst-first thinking.”
Most of the discussion surrounding the Meitivs’ children, as well as the entire “free range parenting” concept, is bound up in people’s personal choices; people either agree or disagree because of their own sensibilities, which are too often based on fears that are factually baseless but clutched so tightly to the breast that they become real to their believers. Fighting the religion of protecting children from all theoretical harms is impossible. One can’t fight blind emotion with reason, as the two never intersect.
But Elie Mystal threw a bit of cold water on this visceral debate at ATL Redline:
More importantly, sometimes the old ways are illegal. That’s the angle of the Meitiv controversy that free range supporters seem to miss. Here’s the law in Maryland:
In Maryland, a child under the age of 8 years may not be left unattended at home, at school, or in a car.
If a parent or guardian needs to leave a child who is younger than 8 years old, the parent or guardian must ensure that a reliable person, who is at least 13 years old will stay to protect the child. Failure to provide a reliable person to babysit the child is a misdemeanor, and the parent or guardian is subject to a fine up to $500 and up to 30 days in prison.
The law to which Elie refers, Maryland Family Law §5-801, doesn’t have any actual relation to the conduct involved in the Meitivs’ case, and is limited to children “locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle,” not walking home unattended. While not specifically illegal, though, there is a more seditious point to be made here from the application of the concept of the law, that the authority of parents to determine what “risks” are acceptable for their children is subject to government oversight and approval.
After all, even if the specific conduct involved is not expressly illegal, there remains an overarching interest in protecting children. What that means, and how far that goes, is where the rubber hits the road. And there are plenty of otherwise smart and kind folks who adamantly believe that their judgment is better than others, which entitles them to impose it on everyone else:
Count me in the “they are horrifically irresponsible parents” camp. Parenting via nostalgia seems like the wrong way to go. I mean shit, parents used to smoke on planes while sitting next to their kids. Sometimes the old ways are just old.
Elie is a new parent, and as such, is forced to make choices for his own child. I could tell him a thing or two, but he’ll have to learn for himself. And that’s his right and duty as parent, to make the best decisions he can make for his own kids.
When my first child was born, Dr. SJ and I went to extreme lengths to make her world perfect, including as perfectly safe as we could. Five years later, when our second came, we knew better.
“Da-aa-aad. Jack is eating dirt.”
Shrug. “It won’t kill him.” And it didn’t.
But there is a law reflecting the creation of a crime for disagreeable parenting because some kids were left in cars with closed windows in the summer heat, and it was a disastrously bad thing to do. Kids died. So crimes were created, and they permeate societal views of parenting. And then there are the fears of child predators, about as likely as space aliens, but worthy of criminalizing parents for not adopting societally mandated fear.
When the law against leaving a kid in a car was enacted, there were no cries about how it impaired parental choice, or how the problem was moronic parents and not the act per se. I know, because my mother left my sister and me in the car all the time. Often with the key in the ignition. And the car had no seat belts, and the scent of her cigarettes permeated the Chevy.
No, I would not make the same choices that my mother made. And I wouldn’t make the same choice that the Meitivs made, to be honest. But then, I don’t exalt my ideas on child-rearing above all others, so much so that I would create crimes for parents who don’t do it the way I think it ought to be done.
Where were the voices when Maryland was passing this law? Where are the voices when some state criminalizes parents letting their children play outside alone, as every kid did in my youth (“be home for dinner, dear”)? Or are we prepared to hand over our ability to make the choices of how to raise our children to the neighbor who called the police on the Meitivs’ kids, the government and its agents?
We can certainly engage in vigorous debate over what the right choices for child-rearing may be, but when the law regulates those choices by criminalizing those that don’t toe the fearful parents’ line, the debate is over. The only remaining question is whether the state will require a license to be a parent, with a test requiring parents to prove they’re sufficiently fearful to be worthy.