Adonis Diaries

Archive for August 22nd, 2018

Motherhood in the Age of Fear Opinion on NYT

Women are being harassed and even arrested for making perfectly rational parenting decisions.

It’s not about safety anymore. It’s about enforcing a social norm (leaving you child unattended in the car).”

CHICAGO — I was on my way home from dropping my kids off at preschool when a police officer called to ask if I was aware there was an outstanding warrant for my arrest.

“No, no,” I told him. “I didn’t know that.”

I needed to call my husband, but my fingers were shaking. I don’t remember if I was crying when he answered, only that he was saying he couldn’t understand me, that I needed to calm down, to tell him what had happened.

What happened began over a year before on a cool March day in 2011, at the end of a visit with my parents in Virginia. I needed to run an errand before our flight home to Chicago, and my son, then 4, didn’t want to get out of the car.

“Come on,” I said.

“No, no, no! I wait here.”

I took a deep breath. I knew what I was supposed to do. But I was tired. I was late. I didn’t want, at that moment, to deal with a meltdown. And there was something else: a small, quiet voice I’d been hearing more and more lately. “Why?” the voice asked.

Why did I have to fight this battle? He wasn’t asking to Rollerblade in traffic. He just wanted to sit in the car. Why couldn’t I leave him, just this once?

If it had been warm out, I would have said no.

I knew about how quickly a closed car can overheat, even on a 60-degree day. But it was cool and cloudy. I’d grown up in that same town in the 1980s and had spent hours waiting in the back seat of my parents’ station wagon, windows open, reading or daydreaming, while they ran errands. Had so much really changed since then?

So I told him I’d be right back. I cracked the windows and child-locked the doors and set the alarm.

When I got back five minutes later, he was still playing his game, smiling. We picked up his sister and our suitcases back at my parents’ house and caught our flight home.

It took me a while to figure out what had taken place in the parking lot — that a stranger had watched me go into the store, recorded my son, recorded the license plate on my mother’s car and called 911.

When our flight landed in Chicago, there was a message on my phone: “I’m trying to get ahold of Mrs. Kimberly A. Brooks. I need to speak with Mrs. Brooks about an incident this afternoon in a parking lot.”

Once I realized what had happened, I felt like a terrible mother.

I felt as though I’d been caught doing something very bad, even if I didn’t understand what the bad thing was, exactly, or what the rationale was for its badness.

I felt, I think, what just about every woman feels when someone attacks her mothering: ashamed.

Image
CreditEleni Kalorkoti

But had I committed a crime? There’s no law in Virginia against letting your kid wait in a car — though, amazingly, 19 states do have statutes addressing this situation. The police seemed to think it was child abuse or neglect — that someone could have hurt or kidnapped my son while I was gone.

When I tried to explain this to my outraged father, he said: “Last I checked, kidnapping is a crime. Someone could break into my house and shoot me in the head, but the police aren’t showing up to arrest me if I forget to lock my door.”

“I don’t think they see it the same way when kids are involved,” I told him.

“The same way,” he said. “You mean rationally?”

I contacted a lawyer who said I would just have to wait to see if the police would press charges or contact the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

And so I waited, terrified, until the morning I received that second call and learned that I was being charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor (my son).

I spent the next months determining the best legal course of action, and also the best course of action for living with the humiliation of being accused of criminally negligent parenting.

My story might have ended here. This is what shame does to women: It isolates us and makes us feel our stories aren’t really stories at all but idiosyncratic flaws.

The only reason my story continued was that I started seeking out other mothers who had been through similar struggles. I found six willing to speak about their experiences, and I expect there are many more out there. I was not the only one who had paid the cost of parenting in the age of fear.

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.

We read, in the news or on social media, about children who have been kidnapped, raped and killed, about children forgotten for hours in broiling cars.

We do not think about the statistical probabilities or compare the likelihood of such events with far more present dangers, like increasing rates of childhood diabetes or depression.

Statistically speaking, according to the writer Warwick Cairns, you would have to leave a child alone in a public place for 750,000 years before he would be snatched by a stranger.

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. But we have decided such reasoning is beside the point.

We have decided to do whatever we have to do to feel safe from such horrors, no matter how rare they might be.

And so now children do not walk to school or play in a park on their own. They do not wait in cars. They do not take long walks through the woods or ride bikes along paths or build secret forts while we are inside working or cooking or leading our lives.


‘I don’t know if I’m afraid for my kids, or if I’m afraid other people will be afraid and will judge me for my lack of fear.’


I was beginning to understand that it didn’t matter if what I’d done was dangerous; it only mattered if other parents felt it was dangerous. When it comes to kids’ safety, feelings are facts.

As one mother put it to me, “I don’t know if I’m afraid for my kids, or if I’m afraid other people will be afraid and will judge me for my lack of fear.” In other words, risk assessment and moral judgment are intertwined.

This has actually been confirmed by researchers.

Barbara W. Sarnecka, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and her colleagues presented subjects with vignettes in which a parent left a child unattended, and participants estimated how much danger the child was in.

Sometimes the subjects were told the child was left unintentionally (for example, the parent was hit by a car). In other instances, they were told the child was left unsupervised so the parent could work, volunteer, relax or meet a lover.

The researchers found that the participants’ assessment of the child’s risk of harm varied depending on how morally offensive they found the parent’s reason for leaving.

Dr. Sarnecka and her colleagues summarized the findings this way: “People don’t only think that leaving children alone is dangerous and therefore immoral. They also think it is immoral and therefore dangerous.”

It’s not about safety,” Dr. Sarnecka told me. “It’s about enforcing a social norm.”

No one knows this better than Debra Harrell, one of several women I spoke to about their experiences.

In 2014, Ms. Harrell let her 9-year-old daughter play in a park while she went to work at a nearby McDonald’s. It was a safe neighborhood on a summer day with lots of kids. None of this mattered when another parent contacted the police. Ms. Harrell was charged with unlawful neglect of a child and her daughter was put in foster care for about two weeks.

That same year, an Arizona woman named Shanesha Taylor was charged with two counts of felony child abuse and sentenced to 18 years of supervised probation, all because she had no child care and had to leave her two younger children in the car while she went on a job interview.

In a country that provides no subsidized child care and no mandatory family leave, no assurance of flexibility in the workplace for parents, no universal preschool and minimal safety nets for vulnerable families, making it a crime to offer children independence in effect makes it a crime to be poor.

And yet middle-class and affluent mothers are not immune from this kind of surveillance and punishment, either.

One such mother I spoke with was charged with felony child endangerment when she left her napping 4-year-old daughter in the car for a few minutes with the windows open while she ran into a store.

During her arrest, she remembers the officer saying, “Stay-at-home mom’s too busy shopping to take care of her kid? Does your husband know how you take care of your child while he’s out earning the big bucks?”

This article presents an important perspective on parenting. I grew up with my brothers and sisters (2 boys and 4 sisters) while we explored, made bonfires, and built dens in the wild meadows behind our home in Lebanon – with no adult supervision.

My parents’ only condition to us being let loose in the meadows was confident walking and hiking. (Not a clear statement)

(Reminder: your father was an officer in the army and barely at home in your early childhood? There were No social norm in Lebanon. Not then, Not now)

So some of us were as young as 2 on these child-lead adventures. In Maryland I was 10 years old and I would take my younger siblings (including 8 month old Adrea) to the playground, jumping in puddles, and catching fireflies at dusk while my mum and dad were away for work.

(You were decked with the task of caring for Adrea, and most of the chores when your mother was away, against your will, You looked miserable and abandoned while the others enjoyed some attention)

We never felt neglected. We felt free, independent, and responsible for our younger siblings. I was lucky to have had such an enriching childhood. No child I know would have this opportunity in this day and age.

(Reminder: Your parents felt confident because you had a chaperon while your parents were frequently away. He took you to parks, zoos and walking and biking in nature. He even tried to enroll you in the nearby community swimming pool, and the application was denied, due implicitly because you were Not Jewish in this predominantly Jewish quarter)


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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