The Danger of the "Too Helpful" Neighbor

The Danger of the "Too Helpful" Neighbor


As a child of the 90's, I grew up swinging from trees, chasing ice-cream trucks down the street, and doing things that makes the mom in me now cringe. The television in our house was rarely turned on, and not even the Nintendo could keep my sister and I occupied for more than an hour. In those days, there was universal understanding that children were suppose to be outdoors playing in the mud, building forts and doing kid things. It was expected. 

There was also a level of expectation within our community that if a parent saw a child playing at the park unsupervised, they would keep an eye out for them. It was no big deal, it was more of an unspoken rule. In 2015, however, the rules of protocol no longer apply. Now parents no longer keep and eye out for each other's children. That sense of community has been replaced with stories like Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, who temporarily lost custody of their two children after they were found at a park--unsupervised.

If you're unaware of the story, let me break it down for you: last November, the Meitiv's were contacted by their local child welfare services after they received a tip from a “helpful neighbor” that their children were playing at the park unsupervised. The Meitiv's, who are proponents of free-range parenting, are raising their children to explore their independence, this includes sometimes allowing them to play at the park alone. Their children are 10 and six years old.

As a self-proclaimed Mommy-copter, free-range parenting is not exactly my cup of tea. I hover unabashedly over Little J. In my mind, she is a miniature genius, just waiting for me to turn my back so she can jam a fork into an electrical socket, or attempt to test the theory of gravity on the jungle gym. So, I watch her like a hawk. I'm well aware that my behavior will most likely end with Little J requiring years of expensive therapy sessions. Some of my friends and family have told me as much. But that's okay. Because I've discovered an interesting fact about parenting-- we each parent in different ways, and just because someone decides to raise their child differently than I choose to raise mine, does not make them a bad parent-- it makes them human. Three years of parenting has taught me that this is not a shared sentiment.

And that's why I can't help wondering if perhaps the "helpful" neighbor who reported the Meitiv's to the authorities, did so with the best of intentions. Were they truly concerned for the well-being of the children? Or were they gleefully recording the incident on their cell phone and sending it to their friends as evidence of their superior parenting skills. When did we transition from a society that celebrated individuality and choice to one that feels that any beliefs contrary to our own are not worthy of being considered? When did we become so judgmental in our parenting styles?

Last year, a friend of mine posted a story on Facebook about a friend who had gone out to eat and was confronted with a child who was behaving badly.  According to this friend, she and her mother were eating out in a restaurant when said child began crying and acting out. Then he began loudly playing with his toys, being disruptive, and basically being a kid, all while the mom allegedly ignored her child and engaged in conversation with her dinning companion. At which point, this friend claims she took it upon herself to approach the table and loudly inform the mother that she must be ashamed of how her child was behaving. This friend claims that the mother gathered up her belongings and left the restaurant--ducking her head in shame as she fled.

Clearly I have doubts that the events of this story unfolded in this way, but had it, I have to wonder, did the person intervene because they were truly upset that someone interrupted their meal, or did they intervene because they needed to publicly shame a mother for what they perceived to be incompetent parenting?

It it my deepest belief that parenting is like walking a tightrope while carrying a 50 lb rucksack. On one side you have people who are singing your praises because you're raising  your child the "right way.  And on the other side you have people who believe you are clearly the worlds worst parent, because you are "doing it wrong." Both sides are staunchly divided and never shall the twain meet. Meanwhile, you're dangling alone, hundreds of feet in the air, being crushed with your own doubts and insecurities.

At the end of the day, I can't say that what the Meitiv's did was wrong. The law persists that it is, and maybe it's not what I would have done, but as parents, we have to choose what we believe is best for our children. And as a society, we have to be willing let each other. Maybe instead of immediately jumping to call the authorities we can try to understand and watch out for each other. Maybe then we can put the community back into parenting.



8 comments :

  1. I would have never let my kids go to the park alone at the ages of those children, but then again, I've always been the mommy-copter, too. I've seen kids being disruptive at restaurants, too, but I would never say anything or shame a parent. You're right, we should watch out for each other.

    It was so nice meeting you yesterday. :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Ali! It was so amazing meeting you yesterday! My apologies for not saying goodbye. I had a fantastic time getting to know you, and I hope we see each other at another event soon!

      And yes, I wear the mommy-copter badge with honor ;) The shame game has got to stop.
      If only more people felt this way!

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  2. The story about the Meitivs is so interesting. I've been following different posts, and social media discussions and my husband and I have been talking about it this week as well. There isn't a "one [way] fits all" when it comes to parenting so reading some of the viewpoints has me astonished. And parent shaming is the absolute worst, no matter the situation.

    We have a community park in our neighborhood, about half a mile from our house that we walk to as a family quite often. I see other young children there by themselves all the time and I've honestly never thought much about it until this story came out. I'd just keep my eye on them, as you mentioned. It truly does take a village.

    Yet at the same time, I couldn't see myself letting my daughter go to the park alone until she was at least 12 or 13 (and my husband said: "by then hopefully she won't care about going to the park at all). But that's just us. We even discussed what age would be appropriate to leave our children at home without a sitter, letting them stay over someone's house, etc, and we're probably quite conservative. There is so much to consider nowadays since times are so much different than it was when we grew up. But, at the end of the day those choices are ours!

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    1. I feel the same way Nichole! We have a park in our neighborhood, and there's no way I'm letting my daughter walk herself there, but that's also because she's only 4! But even when she's 10, I'm just not going to feel comfortable letting her go on her own.

      But still, it doesn't make what the Meitivs did wrong. Like I said, if I see a kid playing by themselves with no supervision, I'll just stick around and keep an eye on them. I would never even think to call the cops or child welfare.

      Like you said, it takes a village. Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts!

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  3. Great post. The story about the Meitiv's bothers me because it seems less than genuine that the helpful neighbor calls the police, rather than talk to the kids to see if they know where they belong and perhaps take them home. I'm not a parent but I live in a neighborhood full of kids (of all ages). The park for our neighborhood actually is at the end of my street, so I see children walking to and from the park all the time. It never occurred to me that it was a problem that someone wasn't hovering over them. It is a boring little park with swings and monkey bars and tables. If they like it, I love it. As a non-mom, I just keep my eyes and ears open... but if I thought that something was wrong, I wouldn't pick up my phone to call authorities before I made sure that the kids were okay. I don't know but it doesn't seem neighborly at all.

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    1. I agree that it didn't seem genuine. At. All. I feel as thought maybe some parents in the neighborhood know that they're Free-Range parents, and because they don't agree with their parenting choices, they've taken it upon themselves to intervene.

      If I see a child who is in distress, or constantly covered in bruises or showing signs of abuse, I'm calling the cops ASAP and I definitely won't feel guilty about it, but to call the cops on a family because they let their children play at the park alone is a major overreaction. Like you said, that is definitely not neighborly at all.

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  4. I'm also a hovering mom. =) It's so hard in this day and age to let your child be more independent. But like you said, we all parent differently, and if it works for them, that's awesome.

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    1. Yes ma'am. I did see earlier today that a free-range parenting group is planning a special "allow your kids to walk home alone day on May 9th." Now that might be pushing it, but again, to each his or her own ;)

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