Free-Range Kids

Good Moms Don't Have to Be Helicopter Parents

Let's celebrate free-range motherhood, not just on Mother's Day, but year-round.


Some time in the future, I hope Mother's Day will be celebrated by having the kids wait in the car while mom runs into Starbucks to get a latte.

This would be a joyous way to reclaim a parental right that has all but disappeared: the right to convenience. Somehow, moms—and dads, too, but let's talk about moms, since they generally do more of the caregiving and this is their weekend—have been subtly and not-so-subtly informed that doing anything a slightly easier way is tantamount to neglect.

This is done by danger-izing the convenience: pretending that the parenting hack or pleasant practice is actually a threat to the child's wellbeing. Moms, for instance, are strongly encouraged, even hectored, to breastfeed, even though formula-fed babies turn out fine. (I'm one of them.) A few years ago, the CDC told women between the ages of about 13 and 50 never to sip a single, relaxing drink, just in case they happen to be pregnant—as if all kids are one beer away from fetal alcohol syndrome. (They aren't.) And then there's the big kahuna of convenience: car waits.

Moms are routinely harassed and sometimes charged with a crime if they let their kids wait in the car even for a few minutes. The ostensible reason is that cars heat up quickly and a child could die from hyperthermia.  But statistically, more kids die in parking lots than in parked cars. (And they die when forgotten in a car for hours, not in the brief moments while mom is picking up the pizza.)

The authorities have criminalized the safer approach. Why? Because making mom take the kids along for the errand signals devotion. She has inconvenienced herself. A five minute in-and-out jaunt is transformed into the mini-ordeal of possibly waking the child, unbuckling the car seat, strapping on a hat, securing them in a baby carrier or making the triplets all hold hands, and taking them (sometimes wailing) into the establishment, maybe in the rain, maybe in the snow, maybe in the dark—and trying to do all that again on the way back while juggling some packages.

Most of us remember waiting in the car while our moms did some shopping, and it wasn't a Guantanamo experience. It was part of being a kid. And part of being a mom was being allowed not to be with the kids every second of every day, demonstrating, Kabuki-like, that they have put everything else on hold to overprotect their youngsters

That's why the neglect laws need to be clearer and saner. As lawyer Diane Redleaf, a longtime champion of families and now special counsel to Let Grow, notes, "There are vague laws in just about every state that give discretion to child protection investigators and police to label a parent's actions that were done for convenience as 'neglectful supervision,' 'risk of harm,' 'child endangerment,' or 'environmental neglect.'  These laws need to be narrowed. Instead of amorphous standards, we need real legal protections for families."

This idea is neither cruel nor selfish nor risky. It is reasonable and smart to prioritize convenience when children are not in danger. Neglect should be limited to "blatant disregard of obvious danger" and not rational decisions that—horrors!—afford a mom some convenience.

When lawmakers, police officers, child protection workers, and passersby with 911 on speed dial recognize that convenience is not a crime, we will lift a latte and toast to a Mother's Day gift even sweeter than chocolate chip pancakes in bed.

NEXT: Don't Be Like the Rainbow Fish

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  1. I call my wife ‘The Apache.’

    The helicopter mom with big guns.

    She really can’t help herself.

  2. Until you find a way to remove the newfound rush of superiority everyone now feels when pointing out the what others have done criminally wrong, That’s the real motivation for now shaming mothers doing what our mothers did without incident. I don’t see that bell being unrung.

  3. There could be no better Mothers Day present- especially for new mothers- than the systematic destruction of every Mommy Blog on the planet. They are filled with virtue-signalling busy-bodies whose sole purpose is to shame you for failing to breast feed your children while listening to Montessori-inspired music while munching on organically grown super foods designed to encourage brain development. It used to be that the higher classes demonstrated their superiority by the nationality of the nanny they employed. Now they do it by discussing just how hard they flagellated themselves in order to create the perfect tea party for little Madison.

    1. I love this idea! As a new mom I once got kicked out of a mommy blog group because I preferred to clean the bathrooms before cleaning the kitchen. I was unfazed by my removal from the group, but discovered how much they are like junior high cafeterias. If you don’t do everything right, they will all sign a note saying they aren’t your friend anymore. Moms-they are YOUR kids. Raise them YOUR way!

      1. discovered how much they are like junior high cafeterias. If you don’t do everything right, they will all sign a note saying they aren’t your friend anymore.

        As the father of sons a year away from Jr. High, this sounds childish by Jr. High standards.

    2. Send me a list. After a few months of me writing supportive comments on the breast feeding posts …

      1. Busybodies used to have to crane their necks over the fence to see what you were doing in your yard. Now we voluntarily offer them gossip by posting our every move on social media. We have only ourselves to blame, really.

  4. Not sure what the breastfeeding vs formula feeding issue has to do with helicopter parenting. Are cows helicopter parents because they don’t even have the choice to formula feed?

    1. I didn’t understand that, either.

      I’m no helicopter, but breastfed all my kids. I think it’s better, but not so much better that I care if someone else gives formula.

      Most of my effort in that is encouragment and education for moms who want too. Not guilting moms for going another way for whatever reason.

    2. I was about to post the same thing, as I think that this is the second article I’ve read here recently which added in breastfeeding as part of helicopter parenting. In the late 80’s, when I breastfed mine, it still wasn’t “cool” and I had to fend off unhelpful nagging from many fronts, so my way of encouraging and paying forward is to purchase a La Leche League book for expectant mothers I know, and let them figure it out for themselves. If they want advise, they know where to ask.

  5. I have a 2.5 year old and a 4 month old and have read Reason long enough to know not to leave them unattended in the car in public. More out of fear from busy bodies than kidnappers.

    1. Good idea. When I was a kid it was OK for a quick stop but no more.

      Even dogs. Was at the bank and walked in. There is a young dude with his cell phone out pacing around yelling and screaming because a teller had made a mistake.

      The cops show up and defuse the situation. They get the guy outside. One of the cops looks in his car, it was a hot summer day, and says “wait, is this your dog?” It did not go so well for him after that.

      1. Then the dog growled at the cops because they were hassling his pack alpha and the cops shot the dog?

    2. In the summer, I do grocery shopping at 5am to avoid dragging 3 kids to the grocery after hubs goes to work.

      That is absolutely ridiculous.

      Now, the oldest 2 are old enough to stay home alone, so I might do away with this ridiculous habit.

      1. Except for the CPS hard liners, if they a re under 18, they aren’t old enough to stay home alone. Another reasonably safe thing for most parents to do which has been effectively criminalized by the current child safety hysteria.

  6. Once upon a time, 7-11 actually advertised leaving the kids in the car:

    It’s great that they encouraged leaving the kids but… why does it matter that mom can see the car from the entire store? Maybe this was actually the beginning of the “it’s not safe to leave them” mentality.

  7. oh brother, Reason intellectual dilettantes throwing the term “helicopter” parents around again…

  8. But ‘everybody’ knows women are too stupid to remember they left kids in a car. Women have to be monitored by all citizens every moment of every day lest they ruin the next generation by even thinking a kid can be left alone. The poor kid might then think on his own, without a proper socialist watching.
    Welcome to the revolution.

  9. These are my favorite columns: the ones trying to tell me how to parent. Fuck off.

    1. bingo, Reason should stick to writing about free markets in gum or something

    2. Except the author in this case isn’t really telling you how to parent. She’s saying other people (government), should stop telling you how to parent.

  10. My 9 year old asked if he and his 6 yr old little brother could wall to the 7-11, a big part of me wanted to say yes-and to pick me up a pack of Newports and a 40 while they were at it,, but I refused because I knew it would have come back to bite me good and hard

  11. idiot Reason writers telling people how to run their lives, precious

  12. why can’t childless, thirty-something Reason writers who live in their parents basements just leave us alone to raise our kids…bunch of nanny staters

  13. It all depends on the kid’s age and independence. I’m not leaving my newborn in the car alone if I’m going further than the atm and even then I leave it running (and locked) so she doesn’t freeze/overheat. On the flip side, I’ll leave my 11 year old in there or let her run into the store to grab something quickly. I know I’m still over-assessing the dangers, but it’s a balancing act of teaching and fostering independence in a society that shuns it.

  14. Women largely demanded these Nanny-State laws for child neglect and now they are reaping the consequences in some states.

    It will run its course as more and more Americans are negatively impacted from these Nanny-State laws and shift the USA from Socialism.

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