Lay down your arms. The so-called Mommy Wars are over, and the helicopter parents have won.
Last Sunday afternoon, three Montgomery County police squad cars picked up Rafi and Dvora Meitiv, who are 10 and 6 years old, respectively. Why? Because “a neighbor apparently saw the children walking alone [Sunday] evening and called 911. A local television station reported the children were walking about a third of a mile from home at the time.”
According to the Meitivs, what followed was Kafkaesque:
The police never called [the parents] even though the police had all their contact information. Nor did they allow Rafi and Dvora to call their parents.
The Meitiv children were confined to the back of a police car for almost three hours without any explanation of why they were being detained. The Meitiv children were then transported to the Montgomery County Crisis Center for further detention. During this entire time, the children had no access to food and only limited access to the restroom. After a series of delays . . . CPS did not release the children to [their parents] until 10:30 P.M. . . . on a school night.
The Meitiv parents, who knew where their children were, are free-range parents trying to teach independence. However, the Montgomery County Police and Maryland’s Child Protective Services seemingly consider free-range parenting a crime, or at least tantamount to child endangerment.
Hover Near Your Kids Or Else
While I don’t identify as a free-range parent, I find the Meitivs’ story chilling, having lived our own milder version of it. Last summer, after our second daughter was born, I was frequently home alone with both girls. There were times we intended to head to the playground, but the baby suddenly needed to nurse. The preschooler would grow antsy with the delay, so we settled into an arrangement where she’d stand at our front door greeting neighbors as they passed our apartment, while I sat about 20 feet away feeding the baby. Mind you, our hallway is sparsely populated during the day; it’s mostly a few retired residents, and our neighborhood is remarkably safe.
Still, some neighbors disapproved. The building management informed me they had received complaints, and insisted that an adult stand beside our older daughter at all times. We’ve complied, but the whole situation has hurt relationships with our neighbors.
It is incredibly troubling that anonymous strangers can so freely interfere with the choices parents make about how to best raise their own children. There used to be room for debate about the best way to parent and an allowance that no two parents or children are identical, necessitating plenty of parenting approaches. However, as the Meitivs’ situation demonstrates, Maryland Child Protective Services has cut off that public conversation.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Nothing extinguishes an open debate like the government’s heavy hand. And nothing is more terrifying for an individual parent than CPS suddenly showing interest in your actions, because unlike American courts, CPS appears to operate on a guilty-until-proven-innocent model.
CPS decides whether a parent is abusing his or her child, and their staff decides what constitutes abuse. In this case, it’s not verbal or physical trauma, but rather allowing children to walk three blocks to a playground without adult supervision. That is an expansive definition.
According to USA Today, “Maryland law prohibits children younger than age 8 from being unattended in a dwelling or car but makes no reference to outdoors. A person must be at least 13 years old to supervise a child younger than 8.”
But how many Maryland parents know about this non-intuitive law, and does enforcing it like this really keep kids safe? I’m a parenting writer married to a lawyer, and this is the first I’ve heard about it. Neighboring Washington DC, by contrast, claims to consider each case individually.
Some will ask whether the Meitivs were trying to prove a point. They were certainly on CPS’ radar screen after an earlier run-in, but I don’t believe they were looking to provoke faceless bureaucrats. They seem like parents who just wanted to be left alone to raise confident, self-reliant kids.
For the sake of families everywhere—and our nation’s future—that’s something we should all want. The right to raise our children as we think best should appeal to all parents, regardless of parenting philosophy. If want to maintain that right, now is the time for parents to start encouraging CPS to use its limited resources to protect children who really need it.