A few weeks ago, while spending the day at Disney World with family visiting from out of town, I noticed, among the river of tightly packed guests, a little boy of about 5, jumping up and down. Standing next to him was a woman I assumed to be his mother, and between them, attached at each of their wrists, was a coiled length of springy plastic.
Yep, that’s right — a leash.
The little boy carried on with his bouncing, happy as a… well, happy as a little boy at Disney World, grinning and laughing and just in general being excited AF, as is his childhood right. Then, suddenly, he stopped bouncing. His gaze narrowed, as if focused on something in the distance—in the opposite direction his mom was walking—and then he bolted. The coiled length of plastic connecting the two stretched tight between them, cartoonish in its indisputable effectiveness. The mother “reeled” him back to her side and bent down to his level, obviously admonishing him for his attempted flight.
I thought, WOW, what kind of mother puts her kid on a leash? Doesn’t she know she’s treating him like a dog? Doesn’t she know he’ll never learn his own boundaries that way? If he’s so prone to running off, she should put him in a stroller, and if he doesn’t like that, well, let him cry. Also, there’s this thing called holding hands, we’ve basically evolved to do it. It’s called parenting, try it sometime.
LOL kidding. I definitely did NOT think that because I’m not a sanctimonious jerk.
What I really thought was:
Oh, Mama, I see you. I feel you on a soul-deep level. Your kid is energetic AF and literally just tried to bolt away from you in a park packed with two hundred thousand strangers. Mama, I know you’ve already considered just sticking your kid in a stroller (you probably brought one and it’s parked over in the stroller area), but he gets hella whiney when confined for too long, and dammit, you paid a LOT of money for this vacation, so you want your kid to be as happy as possible for as long as possible. You also don’t want him to get lost.
Mama, I know you ache for the day when you can trust your child to stick by your side like all the other moms whose kids fall in line like compliant little ducklings. You’re jealous of those moms, because damn, that would be nice to not have to be on high alert every freaking second that your child is unrestrained in public. But you know deep down with every fiber of your mama’s intuition that it just wouldn’t be safe to let your child wander free. Not right now, at least.
Sure, you could hold his hand, but your tiny Houdini can yank and roll and slip away before you can even think about tightening your grip. And, unfortunately, the other times your kid has run off and gotten lost, the ensuing panic and tears did absolutely nothing to deter him from running off again the very next chance he got. “Natural consequences,” LOL your kid gives zero shits.
And I know, Mama, that it’s possible your child has an invisible challenge like ADHD or autism or some other developmental delay that renders all the “easy solutions” for keeping your kid from running off completely ineffective. Or maybe your kid has no diagnosis but is just a fearless, wily clone of Usain Bolt. But, I bet, Mama, that you’ve already tried all the solutions to no avail. Then you went out a bought a leash.
I see you, Mama, because, there have been times I have wanted to tether my kid to me. One time when he was about 5, we were about to walk out of Costco, and he ran ahead, straight for the busy parking lot. My husband saw where he was headed and ran after him, grabbed the back of his shirt collar, and yanked him back just as a pickup truck barreled past, its driver oblivious to what had almost just happened. I was frozen behind our cart holding the baby, screaming, and then bursting into tears of relief and embarrassment.
Yeah, I see you, Mama.
Maybe I should have put my kid on a leash when he was younger. It would have prevented many headaches caused by stress and the tension that inevitably built up from constantly craning my neck to check that he hadn’t wandered off. It would have saved the embarrassment of constantly shrieking for him to “Get back here, now!” and “For the love of all things holy, would you just stay with us?”
Even that day at Disney when I spotted the mother with her son leashed to her, my son, now 12 years old, wandered off and we lost him. At 12! (And, side note, for those who say avoiding leashing your kid is what teaches them to stick by you, I present to you my 12-year-old son, who has never been leashed and still wanders off all the damn time.)
Of course, now we have a plan in place for when my kid gets himself lost—he just finds the nearest person in uniform, asks to use their phone, and calls us. He did that when he got lost at Disney, and as a result was only separated from us for 5 minutes. But the point remains that some kids just don’t fall in line like little ducks, not even when they get older. Some kids just aren’t wired that way.
So, if you are someone who sees a kid leashed to their parent and immediately assumes inadequate parenting, you need to check yourself. You’re being a judgmental asshole. You don’t know that kid, you don’t that family. You have no idea what they’re dealing with. You are in no place to judge.
The next time you see a kid on a leash, the only thing you need to do is mind your own damn business and let that parent do what they feel they need to do to keep their child safe.