Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hey Mister, What Do You Want With My Kid?

This morning my parents got into a lively discussion over breakfast about helicopter parenting.  My father had heard a story on the television about a mother who doesn't allow her ten-year old daughter to use a public bathroom stall alone.  She insists on entering to cover the toilet seat for the child.

My mother shook her head.  "That is so invasive," she said.

I wasn't really surprised by my parents' comments.  After all, these are the two people who raised me, who never asked about my grades, rarely attended a ball game, and only showed up at school for the parent teacher conference (hey, education IS important!).  But if one were to define the anti-helicopter parent, there would be a picture of my parents next to the term in the modern dictionary.

The whole conversation brought me back to thinking about an interaction I had with my daughter last night.  As she and I were chatting, it came to my attention that one of her brother's friends has a cousin who has been chatting on Facebook with her.  My daughter is a few weeks shy of thirteen, and this "cousin" is...wait for it...twenty.

(Insert long expletive of fear and anger here.)

(Now insert deep breath here.)

I made it clear to my daughter this relationship was not going to continue, wrote the young man myself, and made a mental note to check up on who she's messaging more often.

"Well I unfriended him," she announced, tears flowing.  "I hope you're happy!"

Well, no, baby, I'm not happy.  In fact, I'm somewhere in between being flabbergasted and sick to my stomach.  I'm an educated woman.  I monitor my children's screen time.  I pay attention when they talk with me every day.  I listen and have conversations with them on a daily basis.  Yet somehow this person had entered into my home and I hadn't even known.

A few weeks before, my oldest child had come home with two friends, one of whom I knew and one whom I did not know.  He introduced the boy I didn't know, who looked the same as any teenaged boy, and I kindly said hi to him as my kid walked out the door with his two friends.  Turns out the boy is of adult age.  My oldest is fourteen.

It frightens me to know how easily young adults can co-mingle with adolescents.  For my children, these young adults are held in esteem, having passed the rite of turning eighteen and finally being on their own.  Not having to follow adult rules, live under adult roofs.  It's intoxicating.

But as we all know and most can remember well, there's a big difference between who we were as a young teen and who we were as a young adult.  Our decisions, our interests, changed.  Which leads me to the above question:  what do you want with my kid?

Of all the parts of my children going through adolescence that I've encountered and felt ill-prepared for, this is one of the top issues. I always pictured myself as the vigilante mom who would hunt down the sexual predator on the screen with my sixth sense and pin him to the wall by his gonads.  Or young adult men who tried to mess with MY kids would take one look at me and bow, saying, "excuse me, ma'am", and turn and run.  Instead, one actually looked me in the eye, in my face, greeting me as though his relationship with my child was absolutely normal.

My conversation with both children ended in a sad and upsetting discussion of things that can happen between adolescents and adults, primarily sexual abuse and inappropriate relationships.  My daughter admitted she hated telling me the truth.  I hated bursting her bubble and hurting her heart.

I've always worked hard not to be a helicopter parent.  I have a tendency to have a mama bear that appears from time to time.  But I've tried to control that and give my kids room to be kids.  To climb trees and fall, to work out problems with their friends without my intervention, to take pride in their own successes.  To use the public facilities without me in the stall.

But in a situation like this, I'm unsure where I should be.  And being outside of the stall with an ear to the door just feels too dangerous.

So for now, as far as the computer goes, I'm in the stall.  I'm spreading down the toilet paper.  And I'm hoping they are both learning how to do it a little bit better themselves.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Make a Commitment: Do You Need A Sitter or Not?

So my last entry on this blog was about the interesting new pattern I was noticing of parents trying to pay less to sitters for times when their children were sleeping. I'm still annoyed thinking about that scenario, but there's another one that I've been seeing a lot lately too.  This one is really common when men write ads.

"Not looking to pay very much—kids can basically take care of themselves.  Just need someone here to make sure they're safe."


As an early childhood educator/mom/sitter/advocate, I initially found my mouth hitting my keyboard before I pulled it up slowly.  After reading the same statement several times in different ads, I found my reaction settling in as one more of disgust than of shock.  The latest ad I read with this statement was for a family that included three children between the ages of four and six.

I would have loved to believe my children, at four and six, were self-sufficient.  And in many ways they were.  They could put on their own clothes, make a peanut butter sandwich, and pour some milk.  They could play independently in their rooms and (to some degree) pick them up.  They could take a reasonable bath and dry themselves off and slip into jammies.  However, I'm not sure I would trust them to do any of those things alone in the house.

And here's why:  one of my children routinely dressed himself as though the Village People were his fashion model.  Both children liked enough peanut butter on their sandwiches to break the bread.  Milk routinely got left on the table instead of put away, or huge glasses were poured and never finished. Strange things showed up in our bathtub regularly, including a variety of character dolls with haircuts and missing feet.  One of my children once emerged from the bathroom missing an eyebrow, and when questioned, admitted to shaving it off.  Both children insisted on doing pirouettes on the bathtub ledge for the babysitter.  And as everyone knows, there's nothing more fun than to run around naked when you're wet.

My children are now 12 and 14.  I trust them mostly to be alone in the house for a couple of hours, but not usually together.  See, my lack of trust stems from my own experiences with my brother, and our attempts to lock one another out of the house or cause other mischief and general misery.  My brother thought there was nothing funnier than doing the Michael Jackson hip shake-crotch grab in my presence, which totally grossed me out.  I'm sure I did plenty of horrible things, none of which I remember (I truly don't...selective memory is lovely!).  The point is, if you can't trust a child who's twice the age to stay by him or herself alone and unsupervised, why in heaven's name would you make such a ridiculous statement that your preschooler is self-sufficient?  Call me overprotective, but I'm hard pressed to think of any five year old I'd leave alone for an extended length of time.

So back to the original idea of "kids entertaining themselves".  Well no shit, Sherlock.  Kids have been doing that since the beginning of time.  When my kids decided to do pirouettes on the bathtub ledge, they were doing it for entertainment, not because they truly thought they were ballerinas.  When one of them threw out my brand new contact lenses down the sink, it was because it was fascinating to watch the water, not because they own stock in Acuvue.  When one of them hid four sticks of butter in her room, it was to make sure she had food later, not because she really had a penchant for butter at six a.m.

That's why I HIRED a babysitter.  I have never hired a sitter with the expectation that he or she "entertain" my kids.  These aren't show people, folks.  I hire them to keep my children safe and to guide them as needed.  To make sure that peanut butter sandwiches aren't smearing on the floor and butter stays in the fridge and that you dry off, put on your jammies, and leave your eyebrows intact when you bathe.  It's insulting to those people who are willing to come into your home and care for your children to pay them LESS because you think it will save you a few bucks by not having them play with your kids.

So if you're one of those parents who think you need to pay your sitter less because you don't expect grand entertainment, I have one thing to say to you—please.  Your sitter is there to take your place, and ensure your children are safe and well-cared for.  Don't punish him or her for doing the job well by paying half of what a good sitter is worth, just because you don't think your kids need a bedtime story.

Trust me.  Your contacts will thank you.