STFU Parents: When A Mother’s Instinct Can Lead To Park Paranoia

A few months ago, I was disheartened to read about the dad who was charged with child endangerment after he let his two children play at a park while he ran a few errands. And recently, I was even more troubled to read about the mom who was arrested after her neighbor called the police to report that the woman’s children were playing outside their house unsupervised. (The woman was actually outside watching her children, but that’s beside the point.) These stories are terrifying from a parent’s perspective, particularly if a parent has made a conscious decision to let his kids play alone in the park or ride scooters in the cul-de-sac. It’s frightening to think that just because a busybody neighbor decided to call the police, a mother could get arrested out of the blue in front of her confused kids. Especially since in my day (and I’m only 30 years old), busybody neighbors were typically shrugged off and ignored. Now, they are the rulers of this country.

Anyone can call the police on a stranger or a neighbor if he thinks that person isn’t “fit” to be a parent, and police are required to take certain measures and act upon those complaints. This can lead to traumatizing circumstances for the kids, not to mention the parents themselves, who will undoubtedly question every decision they make henceforth about basic things like, “Can my 8-year-old get the mail while I watch her from the window, or is that an arrest-able offense?”

That said, as disturbing as it is that parents face these kinds of questions and scrutiny, I’m equally disturbed by the opposite vantage point, when parents are the paranoid ones. Does anyone remember the “Mountain Lake Park Lurker“? A couple of years ago, the supposed “lurker” was under intense observation – first by parents, and then by the police – when he spent time at a San Francisco park “taking pictures of children” and doing pull-ups using park equipment. After being questioned and then investigated by police, it turned out he was just using his phone’s stop-watch to time his workouts. It took several parent-chain emails, hush-hush meetings, and police tracking to “uncover the story,” and around that time a little alarm started going off in my head regarding just how crazy some people really are.

As a woman, I’m not as privy to the same looks of fear and disgust that men receive when they spend any amount of time alone at a public park (or a beach, or a public pool, etc.), but I’ll admit the thought has crossed my mind that people might think I’m “creepy” if I read alone and occasionally glance up to ponder what I’ve read. I worry that a mom (or maybe a dad) might think I’m a freak, or that I “don’t belong” in an area so close to the swings — or god forbid if I get ON one of those swings! I’m hyper-aware of these things because the media wants everyone to know that basically, it’s every person for him or herself. There’s no real “community” when you’re a stranger at a park alone. Forget about bird watching, considering a pair of binoculars could probably get a person (certainly a man) sent to jail. Forget about taking a walk without a dog. These are all “signs” that people – mostly moms – look out for when determining which person is going to be the next Mountain Lake Park Lurker. And I find that just as upsetting as a mother getting arrested for letting her kids ride their scooters in the cul-de-sac.

With that in mind, I found the following exchange about a “creepy guy” to be a curious mix of cautious, crazy, and sensible: STFU Parents The thing that struck me the most was the way Sabrina, who seems to take things in stride, admitted that while she doesn’t actually believe the man was worthy of calling 911, she does believe that a mother’s instincts are rarely wrong. And that’s what I think some parents need to let go of. Following your instincts can be life-saving, but it can also be life-altering for another person if those instincts are to call the cops just because the person seems creepy. Before we put officers on the case and deliver strangers’ license plate numbers, perhaps we should examine whether we’re being cautious…or paranoid? Concerned…or controlling? “Following our instincts”….or indulging our innermost fears?

That goes for people on both sides of the fence.

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