The other day, I read the story on a homeschool board of a kid who got a minor, if slightly unusual, injury. Not a huge deal. Except, she had her yearly check up the following day. The mom wondered should she take her to the doctor. The answer? No. Sure, there were dissenters, but the majority of posters said the mom should reschedule in case the doctor suspected abuse and reported her to child protective services.
Reading this, a question came to me. Which one is scarier – actual child abusers or the government trying to mistakenly protect your kids from abusers? I’m not sure if it’s rational or not, but I’m much more afraid of the government. CPS is my version of the boogeyman. When I make parenting decisions, I almost never think, that’s dangerous because there might be bad guys out there trying to hurt us. On the other hand, I think all the time, maybe I shouldn’t let my kids do this or that because someone might report us to CPS.
If you’re a regular reader here, you probably know I’m a big proponent of free range parenting. For me, part of that is not letting myself get upset about those potential abusers and bad guys. They’re out there. Bad things can happen and we try to equip ourselves with basic safety skills and common sense. But I also don’t let myself worry about it. I refuse to let the potential for random criminal acts, which by very definition happen randomly, determine how I live my life or how my kids live their lives. After all, crimes of that sort are exceedingly rare.
But instances of CPS taking children away from perfectly competent parents are also rare. Just like the horrible crimes, they happen, but they are hardly common. So why do I let myself live in fear of the government?
Part of it is obviously because we homeschool. Homeschoolers are outside the mainstream and the evidence abounds that many people think we shouldn’t be allowed to do what we do.
More than that, I think my fear probably comes from reading the news. I never dwell on the news of kidnappings or child abuse. I always think, that’s horrible. But then I move on. On the other hand, I can’t seem to stop myself reading the Free Range Kids blog, and worse, I really think about it. So I’m constantly dwelling on stories like this one, about the single mom whose kids were taken away because she didn’t walk them to the bus or do their homework for them. This Brain, Child article, about a mom given criminal charges for letting her older kids watch her younger ones, is more than two years old, but it still sticks in my memory. There’s another article of probably a decade ago which I can’t even find, but which I always remember, about a father who took completely innocent pictures of his young sons while they were skinny dipping on vacation and ended up nearly losing custody of his children. Stuff like that scares me and plays out in my head more often than I would like to admit.
But it’s more than an overdose of news. The bad guys are just that. Bad. I believe the majority of people who really hurt children are terrible, twisted people or have issues of their own that are just as bad as what they dole out. There’s no excuses. But things like that are dark things that happen in secret. Things the government does, on the other hand, happen in the light of day. When the government takes your kids, or violates your rights or leads you into a bureaucratic nightmare… well, that’s done by people who are trying to do good, who should be the upholders of the law. Somehow I find that more scary. Bad guys aren’t necessarily in control of themselves. But the government should be. Checks and balances should help common sense prevail, both in creating laws and enforcing them. Often it does, but sometimes it doesn’t.
In the end, I have to take a deep breath. I can’t not let my kids go to the park by themselves or answer the door because I’m worried the government will come after me any more than I can not do those things because I’m worried some other boogeyman will get them. I have to make the decisions I think are right for them, giving them the freedom or boundaries they really need, not based on the fear of something that’s extremely unlikely – no matter what it is. I have to think about the real benefits and risks and decide from there. So for us, even though I occasionally have a moment of paranoia now and then, that means letting the kids explore out of my sight at the park or go look at the Legos in Target while I buy toilet paper. Trusting, not just that they’ll be okay and it’s the right thing to do, but that no one will report me to the government for doing it.