Parenting in the age of big government creates unnecessary fears

Parenting in the age of big government creates unnecessary fears
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There was an unusually great piece in the New York Times last month, in which the author, Kim Brooks, describes how the most mundane events, like juggling errands or work while parenting, have triggered the most unusual of consequences, like harassment, legal action, arrests, or just disdain from other parents. Brooks describes how she and others have gotten into trouble for leaving their kids in the car while running into the post office or Starbucks.

These instances create fear, she posits, and Brooks is not alone. I’ve experienced similar anxiety as a parent. I think these emotions are caused by a larger problem, one stemming from the rise of nosy people and big government joining forces against parents who are simply trying to be relaxed, efficient, or create a sense of independence in their kids.

Brooks describes what happened after she left her young son in the car to run into a store for less than five minutes. She returned quickly and he was fine, but while she was gone a busybody had been spying on her and reported her so-called “negligence” to authorities. “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,” she writes. Example after example like this follow. Parents do this all the time, but Brooks highlights those who have actually faced legal or societal consequences, and frankly, those consequences are nauseating. I have four kids and if I took every single one into the gas station, or into a store to get milk, or with me when one of them had to use the restroom, to appease a nosy neighbor, I’d never get anything done.

Not only are busybodies just annoying, frankly, they’re interfering with more important things at stake — and I don’t mean stopping crime. Busybodies who report these supposed offenses, and the police who follow up on them, are acting as a stopgap between kids and maturity, co-dependence and independence, between the parent with no leash and a parent with the leash too tight on their children (metaphorically speaking).

Brooks notes that “[s]tatistically 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.”

As a person who has had my eye on politics for as long as I’ve been parenting, I’ve seen how the two interplay poorly together. A society where people are obsessed with pointing out others’ wrongdoings while ignoring their own, coupled with a government swelling beyond its original purposes, colludes and creates a spirit of anxiety among parents where there should be support, wisdom and advice. What does a neighbor or police officer care if a sibling duo are strapped in their seats in an air conditioned car as a harried father runs into Target for a gallon of milk? It’s not the government’s business to control every aspect of how a person balancing work and family parents their children. And it does not do the parent or the child any favors.

If the past is any example, nothing good will come of the government’s increasing role in how people parent, especially when we’re talking about running errands, not abuse or neglect. If they, and the nosy neighbors, really want to help, the best thing is to trust that the adult in the situation is doing the best they can, or heck, even offer to babysit.

Nicole Russell (@russell_nm) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota.

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