You never realize how much worry comes with being a parent until you are in the thick of it. Things that never crossed your mind pre-parenthood are now your worst nightmares. Some of the worry is benign. You worry they may fall when running too quickly down the driveway, or that they’ll catch the stomach virus currently ravaging the second grade. But, these aren’t the big worries. These aren’t the worries that keep me awake at night.
I see the news, each report more terrifying than the last. I see the missing child posts on social media, the reports of children who’ve been abducted, assaulted, or accidentally shot by a friend who found their father’s firearm. I see the horrors of our world, and I wonder if it’s always been this way. Did these things always happen? Did our parents worry about thing like this?
It’s true that statistics show kids are safer now than generations past, and that’s promising, but concerns about improper gun storage and sexual predators are still very valid.
I live near an interstate, where warnings about child sex-trafficking are part of the evening news. Anchors offer tips to keep your child safe, before casually transitioning to a feel-good story about a local charity. Crimes against children are a disturbingly common topic. I’m vigilant, because I could never forgive myself if something happened to one of my children, but I refuse to live in fear. Further, I don’t want my kids to live in fear. Finding the balance between caution and fear can be difficult. Sometimes it feels impossible.
I don’t want to be a overly-cautious, or a helicopter parent, but I’m also not willing to risk my children’s safety. When it comes to unsupervised play dates, there are very few people I trust. My daughter is seven, a first grader, excited to attend birthday parties, and have play dates with friends. I don’t begrudge her these events, because they are an important part of childhood, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t give me pause every time. I worry, what if?
It only takes a moment, and predators prey on vulnerable moments. They blend with society easier than you might expect. I have a friend who was married to a man for nearly a decade, and one day she learned he was molesting her daughter, his stepdaughter. But it wasn’t just her daughter, it was another child too—her daughter’s friend. It happened during a sleepover.
I’d met this man, considered his wife a friend. I had no idea the depravity that lived inside him. It still makes me nauseous to think about it. I’d be lying if I said thoughts like this don’t surface the minute my daughter is invited to a play date. I would have never guessed this man would be a predator. How can you know? How can you tell?
I’m not comfortable with sleepovers. My daughter is too young, and it’s not worth the risk. When she is invited to a play date, I go too. Some may think I’m overprotective, paranoid even. I’m fine with that. I can live with that, but I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to one of my children. Especially if it was something I could prevent.
So, I stay at birthday parties. I’m not intrusive, I sit quietly off to the side, but I’m present. I wondered if staying would raise the eyebrows of other parents, but I’m yet to encounter that response. I simply tell them I plan to stay and they have all been more than gracious hosts, understanding even. “I totally get it,” one mom said when I told her I wasn’t comfortable just dropping my daughter off.
It’s hard to say it’s not personal, because it is. There is nothing more personal to me than my family, but my intention is not to offend anyone. It’s not mistrust in a single person, it’s mistrust in the idea of security. A security that should be afforded to every child, but has been compromised time and time again, causing us to question everything we know.
Sorry, but I can’t take the risk. My kids will have the childhood they deserve, and if that means attending every birthday party and play date the first grade has to offer, I will.