Thursday, July 09, 2009

Independence? Or selfishness? Hmmmm..

I just don't know quite what to think about this.

In summary, this first person essay describes the experience of Bridget Kevane, and what some people perceive as her poor choices as a mother. Very briefly, Ms. Kevane gave her daughter, and a friend of her daughter's (both age 12), permission to visit the local mall near their home in Bozeman, Montana, with one caveat: they had to take their younger siblings with them, ages 8, 7 and 3.

Yes, the older girls were seemingly responsible, trained babysitters. The kids all grew up around each other and were very familiar with each other. Everyone knew the mall and it was a "safe" place for them to hang out. Dad's office was only a few minutes away and they had Mom's cell phone number.

So what went wrong? The 12-year-olds decided to try on some clothing in Macy's and basically "parked" the younger kids in the purse / cosmetics area. (This kind of activity was strictly forbidden by Ms. Kevane when she laid down the rules but the allure of the mall and the clothing in it can be too much for a 12-year-old to ignore.) Macy's employees, no doubt trained to look for problem situations, particularly involving children, alerted mall security that three young children appeared to be unattended and they needed assistance.

Ms. Kevane and her husband reached the mall after receiving a call, whereupon Ms. Kevane was told she would be charged with endangering the welfare of her children.

The rest of the article gives the details on how she handled that charge and the outcome of her case.

Here's my take: two young girls, no matter how responsible or how much babysitting they've done, don't have nearly the skills required to keep track of three younger children at a mall, no matter how well the children know each other and even if one of the children in their care is strapped into a stroller. Watching three children as they wander around a mall is quite different than watching them in their own home or in their own backyard. Distractions - for all the kids - are just too numerous. Even adults sometimes lose track of their children while shopping. Expecting these girls to deal with any situation that came up - including the unlikely but no less frightening scenario of encountering an adult intent on doing one of them harm - is ridiculous.

I know we don't plan for emergencies; that's why they're called emergencies.

And I feel for Ms. Kevane. I do. I once wrote an essay about how my children were home alone (for about two hours one day after school until I got home from work.) They were 11, 10 and 10 at the time. I heard from all kinds of people who informed me that I should be ashamed or worried or arrested for neglect. And they were in their own home!!

But this situation is different in several ways. The idea of 12-year-olds "watching" three younger children in a mall environment is flawed. And, it turns out, there's good reason for that. Despite knowing the rules, these responsible young girls left the children alone and went off by themselves to do what young girls do: shop for clothes. It's doesn't really matter that they returned to the younger children in "less than five minutes." They left the kids alone. Who couldn't have predicted that was possible? Even probable?

The debate is this: what about personal responsibility? What about Independence? What about self-reliance? What about all the chores and responsibilities children used to take on by age 12? What about trusting your own instincts as a mother about what your children can handle?

One of Ms. Kevane's admitted reasons for approving this outing to the mall was her own need for some down time and some quiet at home. I get that. I do. I clearly remember spending a winter Sunday with the boys when my husband was working out of town. At 8 am, I looked at the clock and thought: "Twelve hours. Twelve hours and everyone will be asleep again." That was very long day. I felt tired from the moment I opened my eyes that day and simply had to hold it together and tend to their needs until the children had settled into their beds that night.

That doesn't mean I never tried to get a break when I felt the need. I usually turned to my husband (or my parents) for help. And speaking of husbands, Ms. Kevane's husband returned home "about an hour" after the kids departed for the mall. If she was so exhausted, why not just wait for him to get home and let him do the child care? Maybe his arrival was a surprise; I don't know.

For me, this isn't the story of an abusive, neglectful mother. It's the story of a tired woman who made a bad choice. In fact, Ms. Kevane admits to many of the not so admirable behaviors good mothers everywhere exhibit when trying to juggle hectic lives. But the fact that she refuses to own up to this particularly poor decision doesn't reflect well on her. She did put her children in harm's way. She should own that, thank God that everyone returned home safely, and give her daughter another couple of years before expecting her to handle this kind of responsibility.


LVCI said...

CASA- Anyone involved with CASA knows this woman is far less evil then anything they have to deal with on a regular basis.

Kids suffer far worse neglect then a trip to the mall. If one speaks with CASA volunteers they will speak of unending horrific stories that could make your hair stand on end.

We need to focus on the "REAL" needs of children. Frankly I don't think I could emotionally handle the kind of thing they deal with weekly. The things they have seen!

It is my wish, at some point all these people who made a fuss in this story would be forced by the court to spend a little bit of time sitting down with a CASA volunteer to get some prospective.

If this kind of silliness occurred in my youth my mother/father would have spent their entire time in courts instead at home raising me and my brother.

We were stinkers... all kids are!

renee said...


Thank you for your comment. But we can make that kind of response to almost anything, right?
"well, sure, that's bad, but it isn't nearly as bad as ____." There's always a situation that makes the current one pale in comparison. Perspective is good but it shouldn't mask the situation at hand or rationalize it to the point where it disappears.

For me, this isn't about how "criminal" this activity is or whether or not we're infantalizing Amerinca children. It's really not about what you or I may have done as children that children don't seem to do today.

What bothers me about it is that the mother in question refuses to even consider that she may have made a bad decision here.

To her, it's all about the supposed "nanny state" we live in and other people resenting her for her education and position. It's all about her feelings and her intentions.

Yes. I know there are children in much more debilitating and threatening circumstances than these children were and like you, I admire people who work with them, trying to make a difference.

But think about this: if the woman who arrived at the mall to pick up her children had been covered in tattoos, with streaked bleached hair, wearing biker clothes and smoking a cigarette, what would the reaction to her have been? Everyone would have shrugged and said, "Of course! What do you expect from someone like that?"

But the truth is, she would have been just as neglectful as Ms. Kevane. In this case, our educated, professional woman feels somehow aggrieved and put upon by the reaction of the security force and the courts. She's somehow above it all, for reasons I can't comprehend.

Does that resonate at all?