Mother’s Day is usually marked by burnt toast, dandelion bouquets, and crayon drawings of mommies and children with hearts all around them.
It is a great day.
This Mother’s Day, I’ll be giving a talk at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on how come mommies feel so worried all the time. Not that moms haven’t always been worried for their kids. Of course we have. Jewish moms (like me) are famous for it. In fact, the old joke is, “Did you hear about the Jewish telegram? ‘START WORRYING. DETAILS TO FOLLOW.’ ”
But for the past 20 or 30 years, worries have come to almost define the job of parenting. We worry about what our kids are eating, watching, reading, wearing, learning, not learning, saying, thinking, texting, sexting (well, maybe that one’s valid), doing, and not doing. Not to mention what is in their goodie bag. We worry even under circumstances when most of our own mothers would have breathed a sigh of relief: “Ah, they’re outside for a few hours. Now I can get some work done.” Or, “Now he’s down for a nap. Phew.”
What has made us so nervous?
I boil it down to four big cultural shifts:
1) The Media. Of course it is easy to blame the media, because the media are to blame. My mom could not have named 10 kidnapped children off the top of her head. Today’s moms usually can, and not because there are more “sickos” around, or even more crime. Crime is at a 50-year low. It is that we hear about everything from everywhere all the time now.
When I was on “Nancy Grace” recently, she showed heart-stopping clips of Adam Walsh (murdered in Florida, 1981), Etan Patz (disappeared in New York, 1979) and Elizabeth Smart (kidnapped in Salt Lake City in 2002), as if to say, “See! These things are happening all. The. Time.” Even though we’re talking three cases separated by decades and thousands of miles. Not flashed on screen: The tens of millions of children not kidnapped when they walked to the bus stop.
Pretty much whatever we see on television is there because it is the scariest of the scary and the rarest of the rare. If we publicized every time a child died in a car crash in this same hammering way, no one would ever put their kids in the car again.
2) We live in litigious times, and this outlook is catching. We, too, have started looking at life the way trial lawyers do: Is that playground absolutely safe? Well, no. Nothing is. But thanks to the litigious belief that if something isn’t 100 percent safe, it is dangerous, we get situations like the one in Richland, Wash., where the school district decided to remove the swings from all its playgrounds.
3) Thanks to the expert culture we live in, parents are constantly being told what they’re doing wrong. There are experts on everything now, including (I kid you not) how to write a non-upsetting letter to your kid at camp. As if there is one right way to keep kids safe and sound. Please! But hear enough warnings and you start to feel you are endangering your kid if you let him do anything on which you haven’t done PhD-level research.
4) The marketplace knows there is no easier dollar to extract than the one from the wallet of a worried parent. And so we have a whole aisle of the baby store filled with pivoting, infrared monitors that sweep the nursery at night, as if checking for terrorists in the caves of Yemen (if there actually are caves in Yemen. You get the idea). Suddenly just putting your child to sleep in her room seems like it is too dangerous to do without backup.
So this Mother’s Day, the gift I would give all moms is the gift of chill. Our kids are not in constant danger, no matter what the media, the marketplace, and the experts (aside from me) are saying.
If you can make it to the Museum for my lecture, great. If not — no hard feelings! And if you want to try something else that might help you relax, consider participating in “Take Our Children to the Park … and Let Them Walk Home By Themselves” day on Saturday, May 9.
The idea is to bring your kids, ages 7 or 8 and up, to your local park and let them play and walk home unsupervised. This may sound nerve-wracking, but once you do it and see your happy kids bounding home, the fear gets replaced by pride and joy.
At 10 that Saturday morning, I’ll be at the Ancient Playground at 85th and Fifth in Central Park, offering encouragement.
Lenore Skenazy at the Museum of Jewish Heritage [36 Battery Pl. by First Place in Manhattan, (646) 437–4202, info@
Lenore Skenazy is founder of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids.”