It was a beautiful sunny day, on an afternoon like any other. I was watching my almost 9-year-old daughter walk the two blocks home from our bus stop in our small private residential neighborhood, walking towards her as I normally do, to meet in the middle ... when it happened.
A woman pushing a baby stroller stopped her and began asking questions. We didn’t know this woman, and I could tell by the look on my daughter’s face that she was clearly startled. I could see her pointing at me, showing that I was just 8 or 10 houses away, and thankfully the woman let her continue on her way.
It was an odd moment, one that shook me right down to my core and I immediately picked up the phone to call my husband.
Why? Because I felt threatened.
We are supposed to watch over our kids and protect them from child abductors, busy roads, physically abusive people, and the like. But at that particular moment in time, the person most threatening to my family was this vigilante mother.
This woman asked my daughter her name, her age, and whether she was walking home from the bus stop alone. Questions that rang alarmingly similar to a “What to Watch Out For” in my “Stranger Danger” class growing up.
My daughter didn’t look distressed in any way while she was walking, so what compelled this woman to stop a 9-year-old in her tracks and ask her these personal questions?
As I watched the brief conversation unfold, I wanted to run. To grab my daughter’s arm and pull her away from this strange woman. It all just felt so “off” to me and my alarm bells were ringing on every level.
You see, I have read one too many stories recently about people who have had their lives turned upside down, all based on an anonymous phone call to the police (or Child Protective Services).
This mother did not stop and assess the situation, she didn’t look around and see me walking towards my daughter. She simply saw a child on the sidewalk, and decided to intervene based on her own personal beliefs that it wasn’t OK for her to walk home “alone.”
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I believe in helping others. Especially those who are actually in DANGER. But the key word here is danger. A child who is being abused, a child who perhaps needs financial assistance, a child who looks distressed and needs help, and yes -- a child left alone in a car.
But none of that was happening here. And in that moment, I wanted to run up to this mother and tell her to mind her own business. I wanted to tell her that she wasn’t doing anybody any good and that if she really wanted to “protect children,” she should look where problems actually exist.
Was I overreacting? Maybe a little, but truthfully, she had me petrified.
Let’s just say for a minute that my child was walking home from the bus stop alone, is that really so wrong? One tenth of a mile on sidewalks, in a residential area, a mature child walking home on her own to meet her family. There’s no actual law against it, believe me -- I spent that evening on the phone with the police department just to double check.
So when did we as mothers become so convinced in our own parenting -- that if somebody else varies from our personal style they are instantly labeled as “wrong”?
Our society of motherhood has developed its own form of parenting prejudice. It seems as though we have stopped trying to understand and co-exist with one another. We have stopped lifting one another up in our times of triumph and struggles, and rather are judging each other for our different parenting styles and imperfect lives. We are constantly looking over our shoulders as parents. Our hands have become tied; you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
I’d like to take a moment to restate for the record, my daughter was not walking home alone. I watch her every step of the way from the time she gets off the bus, and walk to her to meet in the middle and carry her backpack the rest of the way home.
But here’s the kicker -- if I wanted to let her walk home alone, there is NO LAW against it. So who is to say what is “right” vs. “wrong”? I grew up walking home on much busier roads, a much further distance, in a more populated neighborhood. Have we become that stifling in our parenting approach that we need to watch our kids every second of every minute of every day?
I tried to put myself in the Vigilante Mother’s shoes. She honestly thought she was doing the right thing intervening, that my child was too young to be walking home alone. But when did that become HER decision to make?
And here is the bigger question I ask myself: Is it ever better to make an anonymous call, rather than trying to talk to a parent directly first (unless you feel someone is in life threatening danger of course)? I wonder if that is the cowardly approach. Someone who doesn’t want to truly face a situation, or become involved, but just wants to appease their conscience.
I watched this woman stop my child, and in an instant she became a predator in my eyes. She was the woman I needed to watch out for, who posed the most threat and danger to my family.
I don’t know the answers. I don’t know if any of us do.
In the world we live in today, intervening in another’s parenting decisions can sometimes do more harm than good. A helping hand is only truly helpful when the person offering it does so with love and compassion, not judgment.
Instead we are busy looking over our shoulders, scared that we will get in trouble for decisions we make that might not jive with somebody else’s. When somebody holds different personal beliefs, that doesn’t make them wrong or mean they are harming their child. Instead, let’s just all step back and think a little bit before we act. Let’s invite common sense back into modern day parenting.