In 1958, Good Housekeeping magazine published the Ten P.M. Cookbook filled with now-questionable food and drink recipes. It featured “Dipsy Doodle,” a dip made with pea-soup mix, sour cream and cottage cheese. Clearly, the booklet’s attraction was not the cooking. Rather, as the title suggests, the appeal was to put the kids to bed, head over to your neighbour’s house and party with the grown-ups.
Here’s the reality. Any 21st century parent would happily hoover up a bowl of Dipsy Doodle in exchange for this kind of freedom. Leave the kids at night? No childcare to be arranged and paid for? Try to remember why I married this person in the first place? Sign me up.
So when Utah passed the “free-range” kids law in March, of course it made international news. The Republican-introduced bill explicitly lays out what activities cannot be considered child neglect: letting kids of sufficient age (which is not defined) stay home alone, travel to and from recreation facilities, walk or bike to school on their own and play outside without supervision.
Letting kids do kid stuff seems like common sense. But due to frequent blundering by Canada’s child-protection agencies and law-makers, parents second-guess what were once obvious choices. Is teaching your kids how to ride the bus independently in Vancouver worth the risk of losing them to foster care? How about letting them play in your Winnipeg back yard? Or allowing them to walk home from the school bus on their own in Windsor?
These are just a few cases we’ve heard about from middle class, self-advocating parents. Marginalized, impoverished and racialized families are under the microscope even more. If you’re a teen mom in Quebec, simply stepping into the yard while your infant is asleep inside can end in an arrest for manslaughter.
The message is clear: never, ever let your kids out of your sight.
Obviously, children lose out when they’re supervised by an adult every waking moment. Tethering kids to the indoors and scheduled activities leads to weak bodies, social immaturity, depression, disconnection from nature and loss of the kind of risk-taking, independence and initiative they need to become self-determining adults.
But enough about the kids. Expecting prison-like supervision of offspring is a tremendous burden and stress on parents. We’re suffering, too.
In 2016, author Victoria Fadden published a humour piece called, “If 70s moms had blogs.” The post describes a day in the life of a regular mom forty years ago: her kids eat sugary cereal for breakfast, play outside, go fishing independently and ride in cars without seatbelts. In the evening, she indulges in some after-bedtime card games with other parents – like in the Ten P.M. Cookbook.
The blog went viral and continues to circulate around social media. Satire, yes, but it holds so much truth in the difference between the expectations on yesterday’s parents and today’s.
I have an eight- and an 11-year-old, and I can tell you, as parents, we’re desperate to throw off the chains of helicoptering. Given the current climate in child-rearing, the Ten P.M. Cookbook is like a radical manifesto for taking back our lives. And so is Utah’s visionary new law.
Parents of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but… our children. And that’s why we need this legislation in Canada, too.