this post on Babble written by admittedly one of my favorite mommy bloggers, Bethanne from the Heir to Blair. And it all came flooding back.
We live in Florida. Like many homes in the sunshine state, ours has a screened-in back porch. We have sliding glass doors that lead to the porch, one window in the kitchen that looks out onto the porch, and one window in the kitchen that looks out over the privacy-fenced backyard. Brennan has a sand-and-water table on the back porch that he LOVES. And he adores playing outside, whether it's on the porch or in the backyard. When the weather is nice, sometimes I leave the sliding door open, throw open the windows, and let him play on the porch by himself. He's almost always in my sight and always in my earshot. If more than a minute or so goes by and I don't see him, I call him and he happily moves back to his water table. I'd love to be able to be out there with him all the time, but the fact is that I have 2 infants as well and it's simply not possible. He doesn't deserve to be locked inside all day long, so this is the compromise I've reached.
When we're able, we venture outside into the backyard. Sometimes I lay out a blanket and play with the babies in the shade while Brennan runs around, other times I sit on the porch, and when the babies are sleeping I run around the backyard with him. But occasionally I need to run inside for a minute. Sometimes it's because a baby has awakened, other times it's to grab him a drink, or maybe even to just run inside and pee. Or sometimes he's content to play by himself and I head in to make a bottle for a baby or empty the dishwasher or make him lunch - all activities that allow me to see and hear him while he's outside.
Brian knows that I trust Brennan to be outside alone for a minute or two. One Saturday morning he was outside with Brennan and I was inside with the babies. I walked into the kitchen to see Brennan running around the backyard, when all of the sudden Brian walked in from the workout room. I looked at him, looked at my child in the backyard, and looked at the closed doors and windows and went ballistic. He couldn't see him from the workout room. He couldn't hear him because the windows and doors were closed. All 3 dogs were outside with him. This situation was NOT OK in my book. Brian insisted that he was fine. That he was only inside for 2 minutes and that the dogs wouldn't do anything to him and that he was completely safe in our locked, fenced yard. But in my mind, there were too many what-ifs. What if the dogs started playing too roughly with eachother (which they are known to do) and he got too close to them? What if he found a snake or got stung by a bee and had some sort of reaction? What if he fell and hit his head? Brian wouldn't know because he couldn't hear him.
We completely disagreed on the subject. He felt like I was being overprotective. I felt like I was acting responsibly for a 2 year old. He's not 5, he's 2. I posed the question to my facebook friends and got a variety of answers. Some agreed with me, some agreed with Brian. But most agreed that the dogs were the deciding factor -- it just wasn't safe to leave him out there with 3 fairly big and rowdy dogs. We went around and around about it and as parents, we decided what was best for our child in our unique situation: Brennan can only be unsupervised in the backyard if the doors and windows are open so we can hear him and only for a few minutes. And he is never to be left alone in the backyard with the dogs. Ever, ever, ever.
This agreement has been working well for both of us. I think it's good for us and good for Brennan. He gets to learn a bit of independence and isn't stuck inside all day. And we get to learn to let go a little bit. So when I stumbled upon Bethanne's Babble post about letting her son Harrison, who's almost exactly the same age as Brennan, play outside by himself for a minute or two while she loads the dishwasher, I thought, "Right on BA! Glad I'm not alone in this!"
Then I read the comments. Most people agreed with her. A few disagreed. Then it got ugly. People called her an absentee parent. They ridiculed her for spending too much time tweeting, spending time on social media, taking too many photos, and washing dishes and not playing with her son. They attacked some of her parenting choices. Worst yet, they accused her of neglect and abuse. Neglect and abuse. Those are some ugly words.
Bloggers make a choice to put details about their lives out into the world. And by doing so they leave themselves open to criticism. It's something that should be expected. But dissenting opinions can be given in a diplomatic matter. These people could have said, "Hey, I disagree with your decision. He's young, he could get hurt. In fact, I disagree with a lot of your parenting choices." Does that sting? Probably. But it's something that I personally could handle, and I bet Bethanne could too. Instead, these people chose to attack. And use vicious, accusatory words and insinuate that she is harming her child through her parenting decisions.
This post and these comments really hit home with me. If these people felt this way about Bethanne letting her child play 10 feet away from her, within earshot, while taking breaks from emptying the dishwasher to check on him, what would they have said about my husband's decision? Did I agree with his actions? No. But was it neglect? Absolutely not.
Bethanne was clearly upset by these words, and rightfully so. In response to these hateful statements, she wrote this post on her personal blog speaking out for responsible discourse. She wrote -- "Child abuse is serious & it is a serious allegation. I beg you to be mindful of the words used to describe another parent's actions." This couldn't be more true. We all have to find the balance between keeping our children safe and allowing them to gain independence. That balance is different for every parent in their own unique situation. As mothers, why must we attack each other's choices? Motherhood is hard and we should be banding together, not attacking the decisions made by others. Are there things that Bethanne writes about on her blog that I don't necessarily agree with or parent my children in a similar way? Sure. But we also have similarities too. The biggest similarity? We are mothers. Mothers who love our children unconditionally.