Do you want to see government operating as if it can and should raise your kids for you?
Try enrolling your child in state-licensed daycare. When our eldest daughter was 18 months old and started at the local preschool, the intrusion into our family’s decisions started almost immediately with strict rules about which foods I could send from home and how I should prepare and portion fruits and vegetables. My husband and I would joke by singing “peel me a grape”!
I used to inquire about the reasons behind each of these policies. The answer was always the same, whether it was an issue of safety or hygiene, cleanliness or health: The state says so.
As the years passed, the rules piled up. No plastic bags. We had to provide multiple sippy cups because once a cup is proffered it cannot be used again. Requirements for daily sunscreen slathering, and a state mandate that all uneaten food be thrown out lest anything become “hazardous” over the course of the day, are just a few of Pennsylvania’s daycare decrees. We got used to all that. It was annoying but tolerable, until I had my fourth kid.
When my son’s caregiver inquired what she should know about him, I asked for exactly one thing: please swaddle him for every nap. Swaddling means snugly or tightly wrapping baby in a blanket. It keeps them feeling safe and secure, and is the only baby advice we followed. Harvey Karp, author of “Happiest Baby on the Block” is a genius! It had worked for our three daughters, so we were sticking to it with our baby boy. No can do, the daycare lady said apologetically. The state doesn’t allow us to swaddle.
I was shocked. In the three years since my third child began day care, Pennsylvania, along with several other states, had changed the regulations to include a ban on swaddling. The reason is safety, because there have been cases of babies suffocating when covered by thick, loose blankets, and the overarching threat of SIDS. This is less common now that we’re all taught to sleep babies on their backs, but is still a danger, though there are no reported cases of babies suffocating due to loose blankets at daycare, certainly not in Pennsylvania (I checked). But I wasn’t thinking about any of that when I learned about the new rules. As a mother, I want to do what works and what worked for my other three kids — whether sleeping at daycare or at home – was wrapping them tightly in a blanket, like a burrito. Around the same time, Dr. Karp took up the cause as well, telling the Washington Post that banning swaddling in daycare was misguided. “We know it increases sleep and reduces crying,” Karp said. “Those are extremely important goals.”
I demanded to know what I could do and was told that a doctor’s waiver would allow the daycare workers to wrap my son. I tried one pediatrician at my kids’ practice and she refused because the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend swaddling after two months. I eventually found a pediatrician who signed the waiver and became my instant hero. With the waiver, my boy was wrapped for naps. I was happier, my son slept more and the daycare workers had an easier time caring for my baby.
I fought for my rights, but how many other parents would do the same? It was only the latest in a series of recent discoveries about how often the authorities get between parents and kids. After four kids you’d think I would be used to this sort of bureaucratic intrusion in my personal decision-making. And up to a point I was. But more and more government-mandated parenting started getting under my skin. I even began to wonder if there was more to it.
I’m a journalist, along with being a parent; as part of my job blogging and writing, I started paying attention to similar stories. What I found was that I didn’t know the half of it. Too many parents, I found out, have experienced run-ins with government nannies just for exercising their own judgment.
There have been banner headlines about a rash of “criminal” moms and dads. Danielle and Alexander Meitiv got in trouble with police and child protective services for allowing their two kids to walk home alone. Nicole Gainey, a 34-year-old mother of two, was arrested on a charge of felony child neglect for allowing her seven-year-old son Dominic to walk alone to the playground less than a half-mile from her home in Port Lucie, Florida. South Carolina single-mom Debra Harrell was arrested for letting her nine-year-old Regina play unattended in a nearby park while she worked. And a mom from Scottsdale Arizona was arrested and her kids taken into state custody after leaving two of them alone in a car while she interviewed for a job. Nothing happened to any of these children, and yet the state decided to punish the parents.
There are kids who have been threatened with suspension for contravening the school zero-tolerance policy for bringing parent-packed herbal drinks to school because the beverage may contain trace amounts of alcohol. And since I make my kids’ lunch every day I was especially upset to read about a four-year-old in North Carolina, who had her home-packed lunch confiscated. It seems her turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice didn’t meet the standards set by the US Department of Agriculture, as understood by the school’s government-empowered food inspector. “What got me so mad is, number one, don’t tell my kid I’m not packing her lunch box properly,” mom Heather Parker railed to the newspapers.
Parents have begun to feel disrespected by their kids’ schools. In Cumberland County, Tennessee, Jim Howe was arrested at his kids’ school when he complained about the policy banning walking into the building to pick up his children, instead of driving up. One principal threatened a visit from child protective services if a mom continued to allow her daughter to ride the city bus to school. Other parents have gotten intrusive letters telling them their kid is getting fat.
One dad was given a citation from police for disorderly conduct because he argued with officers who reprimanded him for taking his kids to frolic on the banks of a local frozen river.
ALARMED by this evidence of a growing society-wide campaign to preempt individual parenting choices, and criminalize choices that do not conform to state standards, I started following up with phone calls. I spoke to a mom in Atlanta who described how at her kids’ private school, the board had just been forced to accept a new rule that all parent volunteers henceforth be “mandated reporters.” Parents were now supposed to be on the lookout for any “inappropriate” behavior among staff and students and report it to the authorities. The mom and I both wondered why any parent would want to become an unpaid agent of child protective services? Shouldn’t mandated reporters be trained and if so, why would parents do that simply to chaperone a trip to the zoo? Why should they be forced to? Then the hysteria over mandated reporters hit even closer to home when Pennsylvania passed new rules requiring more people to serve as mandated reporters in response to the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal, and my college-professor-husband was himself forced to become one, an unpaid–but legally liable–agent of the government (with no special training for what he should be looking for, mind you. .
I spoke to a mom who was insulted and yelled at by a New York City police officer after her daughter and a friend’s son almost stepped into an intersection when the light was red. Now, if the kids had been blocks ahead of their mothers, and they’d God forbid gotten hurt, I would have expected the verbal lashing they received. But the children didn’t even get a full step off the curb before an idling driver blasted his horn and the moms themselves lunged for their kids, yelling at them to step back and wait for the light to turn. The kids were so scared by the ruckus they were clutching at their moms even as the officer made a beeline for the parents and began berating them. The officer accused them of neglecting their kids and threatened them as if a terrible accident had taken place. But again nothing had actually happened.
I wrote a column for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review about a monkey-shaped teething toy that was just recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission because a few babies gagged on the tail. But here again no one was injured. Come over to my house any night of the week and you can see my baby gag on teething toys, spoons and his fingers. Will the CPSC be issuing a recall for those as well?
In each of these cases, the state is intervening in choices and decisions that used to be up to parents. Whether to allow children to go un-chaperoned to the local pizza shop or what drinks or food to send to school were choices that used to be left to mom and dad. Not anymore. Now the state’s safety, hygiene, and health standards dictate, and their judgment might or might not coincide with yours. Indeed, when it comes to childhood, there is hardly any area of life that is left entirely up to individual parents.
But wait, as the TV infomercial says, there’s more! As this book will chronicle, the nanny state is:
*taking kids from their parents (in some cases parents have been charged) for the crime of the children being obese.
*criminalizing parents for allowing their kids some unsupervised time outside.
*pressuring all women to breastfeed and mandating that every employer encourage breastfeeding at work.
*putting every public school kid on a diet.
*collecting health data on students, and in certain states, harassing parents about their children’s weight.
*banning running at playgrounds
*banning certain games and some-types of play at public school.
*driving up the cost of daycare with burdensome regulations and certification rules, which puts safe, clean daycare out of the reach of low and middle-income families.