The Death of Free-Range Parenting

Fascinating article I read this morning thanks to NPR’s feed:

Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids at Perceived – But Unreal – Risk?

I’ve seen this materialize with my own eyes of the last 30-40 years.  I became a mother in the mid-80s.  Yet I spent most of the 70s riding my bicycle miles away from home during the summer.  As a parent, I tried not to freak out too much when my kids turned Houdini on me, but this study is right about this being classist (punishing poor single parents – mostly mothers), sexist (less moral outrage when a father leaves kids alone to work instead of inferring the woman abandons her kids to work outside the home) and the ever increasing worry about legal liability (by parents, by teachers, by coaches, by schools, by stores, etc.).

Some noteable quotes from the article:

The people with presumably the most child care experience (mothers) actually expressed the most exaggerated overestimates of risk. I was genuinely surprised by that. But I guess that’s because I was expecting people to be rational, and people are just not rational about this subject.


For parents who are working, who have more than one child, who need to get something else done during the day — to say nothing of single parents — that model of parenting is absurd.


It seems to be socially acceptable to harass parents (particularly mothers) who are “caught” leaving their child unattended for any time at all. . . . These guys are so proud of their behavior that they post the whole thing on Facebook, bragging about how they put these women in their place. It’s like “catching” parents breaking this new rule gives strangers license to harass them. I would be happy if this study prompted people to think about that, and if people moved away from this mentality of “punishing the bad mommy.”


So … don’t be so judgy when you know your judgments are being influenced by things besides actual evidence, don’t allow those same judgments to determine criminal standards of negligence or endangerment, and parents who judge that they can safely leave their children alone in a given situation shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so just because they know that decision would be (irrationally) condemned by others.


I think people still (unfortunately) believe, explicitly or implicitly, that when a father leaves home to do paid work, he is taking care of his child by doing that. Whereas when a mother does the same thing, she is seen as abandoning her child to pursue her own interests. The mother’s paid work is seen as morally objectionable and thus as endangering the child, whereas the father’s paid work is not.