Kidnappings happen to other families, not mine.
I wish there were even the tiniest inkling of truth to this sentence. My kids have not been kidnapped, I have never been kidnapped, and I don’t personally know anyone who has. But the truth is that it can happen and recently I had my eyes opened to how easy this can be. And I did nothing to stop it.
I consider myself a good parent. Not a perfect one, but a good one. I sometimes joke “Thank God my kids are so hardy because if they were plants, I’d have killed them by now.” The truth is, we’ve had rough times, but it’s all a learning experience, isn’t it?
My kids, 16 and 5, are polar opposites. My 16-year-old son is a more introverted, while my 5-year-old daughter will make friends with anyone. A-N-Y-O-N-E. Here’s where parenting gets a little tricky: how do we teach them to be friendly, but still mind the “stranger-danger” philosophy? How do we teach them not to tattle, but still want tell us when the unspeakable happens to them? Why do we tell them to hug a stranger like Aunt Mary but not a stranger like the guy in the grocery store?
We tell them that policeman are “safe” people, but when we took my son to our local DMV to get his license, and older gentleman employee who was dressed like a cop picked her up and carried her around. He gave her a piece of candy and told her how much she reminded him of her granddaughter.
I did nothing.
I knew this was wrong, but I was in shock. I had no idea what to say to this man who is a government official and was clearly overstepping his boundaries. But, he was dressed similarly to a policeman and had candy, my 5-year-old likely surmised, so it was perfectly fine.
I did nothing.
How, in this ideal moment of lesson teaching and ideal parenting, did I just sit there? My mouth agape, my muscles tense, my hand shaking. I did nothing.
I felt horrible for days. Why didn’t I politely ask him to put down my daughter? Why didn’t I call his superior? Why didn’t my daughter shy away from this boundary-overstepping stranger? It was the worst parenting fail for a situation that I’d practiced in my head a thousand times. It could have been the ideal teaching moment for my daughter but I failed. Miserably.
Luckily, nothing happened. All I can do is hope that I’m overly prepared for the next time this happens (oh my GOD, will there be a next time?!) and step up when a parent is supposed to. Stranger Danger. It’s everywhere, and while our kids grow, we have to carefully navigate through the mine field. Which steps are safe and which lead them straight into danger? I worry sometimes when a woman in the checkout line or a man at the DMV tell her how pretty she is or ask her name that I’m offending them when I tell her not to talk to them. She doesn’t hesitate; she tells them her life story. And it’s cute. And dangerous.
As her parent, I need to protect her, no matter who it offends, no matter why she thinks “Frank” is not a stranger because he told her his name.
You guys, parenting is hard. I wish it weren’t graded on a pass/fail basis.