One of my New Zealand friends, photographer Desmond Downs, recently posted this video on YouTube. Anyone who’s hiked the Tongariro trail would be as appalled as I am at the actions of the young mother who took that walk with a baby strapped to her chest. It just isn’t safe.
This mom could fall at any moment. About half the people who complete the walk slip and fall at least once on the trek because the trails are so steep and slippery, with “schist rock” (crumbling shale) underfoot so that the footing is treacherous no matter how fit you are. If mom falls, so does baby.
Even if mom simply sits down (hard) and slides down the trail, or dad and the other nearby adults catch her as she falls, the baby could still be shaken badly enough to cause internal injuries. And if Mom falls forward — which I know from personal experience is easy to do on the steep portions of this trail — she could crush the child before anyone has a chance to reach her.
And what about the jostling and bouncing that comes along with going up and down a series of mountainsides? Didn’t this mom ever hear of “shaken baby syndrome”? What part of, “It’s dangerous to shake your baby around — you could cause brain damage” did she miss?
Then there’s the simple fact that the weather along the Tongariro Crossing is notoriously unpredictable. It’s midsummer in New Zealand, but that won’t stop the weather from dropping suddenly from the 60’s into the 20’s.
The average daily wind speed on the mountain during December is about 9 km/h, that’s the equivalent to about 6 mph, or 5 knots. I was on the mountain in 2009 when the wind suddenly rose to 37 km/h (about 23 miles per hour or 20 knots), and stayed that way for hours. When winds reach 20 miles per hour on the Tongariro trail, the air is filled with flying debris. Sharp little pieces of shale. Dirt. Branches. Trash left behind by careless hikers. It gets harder to stay on your feet, and there is no place to shelter on the mountainside.
People die when the winds get high — on Tongariro and elsewhere. For example, in New Jersey, three people were killed by falling limbs and debris when winds gusted to 20-30 miles per hour. If you haven’t experienced the wild beauty of the Tongariro Crossing for yourself, you’ll have to take my word for it that when wind speeds pick up, the mountainside is no place to be for an adult, and certainly not for a baby protected only by its mother’s arms and whatever cover she can fashion. In short, this woman is irresponsible.
Unfortunately, she’s not alone.
Trying to be “Supermom” Endangers Kids
Once upon a time, there was no stigma attached to hiring a babysitter to watch the kids while adults enjoyed adult pastimes. My parents didn’t go out often, but when they did, I was left with an aunt, cousin, or teenage babysitter.
When my children were small and my husband was in the Air Force, there was a 24-hour daycare on base, and there was one near us in Dallas after I left the world of the military wife behind. My grandkids were raised in Dallas, Austin, and Las Vegas, all places with excellent 24-hour “drop-in” day care services, registered babysitting services, and reliable, responsible babysitters.
Somehow, though, a pernicious idea has grown up that it’s selfish to hire child care when you need it. Take it from grandma, it isn’t. I’m not talking about a Victorian idea where servants raise the children while mom and dad visit them occasionally.
I’m talking about putting the kid’s safety first. Please, no attitude about how your children are only safe when they’re with you, or how you can’t afford quality child care. That simply isn’t true if you bother to screen your caregivers — or rely on your own friends, a church “mom’s day out” program, or any of the other affordable options available in nearly every city or mid-sized town. And no matter how good you are at being a parent, if you are trying to do too many things at once, you’re not nearly as good at being a parent as you could be if you were actually devoting all of your attention to your child.
Common, Dangerous Parenting Failures
People take their kids jogging with them. They attach wheeled carts or baby seats to their racing bikes. They strap tiny infants and older kids alike to their chest or back while they do nearly everything.
They call it “togetherness” and “quality time” or even “exposing the kids to fitness early”. I call it dangerous and silly. Just because you want to be outdoors running, hiking or riding a bike when it’s 30 degrees (or 105 degrees) doesn’t mean that’s the best option for small children.
I’ve seen mothers and fathers do amazingly stupid things in the name of being “fit”. Here are a few of the things I’ve seen personally that strike me as seriously dangerous for kids:
- Moms at the gym, with a baby strapped to their chest or back, running on a treadmill or elliptical machine. There are even blogs like this one that post “challenges” for moms, with photos of other moms exercising with their babies strapped on like extra weights. It’s gotten so bad that many gyms now post explicit signs banning babies and children from the work-out room. But the self-serve exercise rooms in apartment complexes and hotels usually lack any kind of monitoring, so people ignore the signs and put children at risk.
- Moms rollerblading down the street (not on the sidewalk, but in the street) with a baby strapped to their chest or back. On Christmas Eve, a pair of them went by my house pushing those huge strollers with older kids in them, and each one had a baby strapped to her back, too.
- A mom riding her horse along a trail near our farm, with one baby strapped to her chest and a toddler on a “buddy seat” behind the saddle. I’m sure she’s an expert horsewoman — I’ve seen her collection of trophies, and I know her family. I’m also sure her horse is well-trained. But horses shy away from snakes, cars, gunshots (it was hunting season in East Texas) and all sorts of other unexpected movements or sounds. And people get thrown or fall.
- A dad blithely running along a busy running path adjacent to a busy street, with a toddler on his back and an infant on his chest. The temperature was over 100, the humidity was in the 80s and the ozone alert was “orange” meaning that it was dangerous for anyone susceptible to smog. (Like small kids!) And that doesn’t even consider the bouncing and shaking that’s inherent in being strapped to a runners back. I’m sure the man thinks his kids enjoy it because they’re quiet. But accepting something you can’t change isn’t the same as enjoying it.
Stop it! Don’t endanger your child in the name of losing your baby weight or staying fit. Most gyms have free day care centers — use them. Most churches have “mom’s day out” programs (available to parents of both genders) where you can trade a few hours of watching kids for dropping your own kids off while you’re at the gym. Create a network of other moms who trade child care with each other. It’s easy, free, fun, and has the added benefit of socializing your kids at an early age.
Texting While Parenting is Dangerous, Too
It may sound like I’m picking on parents who exercise. But sedentary activities can be dangerous, too. How many times have you seen parents so busy multi-tasking that they are barely aware of what their children are doing until one of them starts to scream or cry?
Usually, the sedentary activities that are the most dangerous involve parents who are paying more attention to their cell phones than their kids. The problem of parents on cell phones ignoring their kids is so widespread that it has its own Tumblr, where you can post photos of the parents you see you are endangering their children while interacting with their phones.
The Wall Street Journal article, the Perils of Texting While Parenting reported that non-fatal injuries to young children are rising at about 12% per year despite improved product safety — and the experts quoted in the article blame parents distracted by smartphones.
Lately I’ve seen an increasing number of kids standing on folding high chairs, leaning dangerously out of shopping carts to reach stacks of items on store shelves that appear poised to bury them, pulling at tablecloths, hiding under tables directly underneath hot food or liquids, and stuffing all sorts of things into their mouths while their mothers were oblivious to their offspring’s actions while focused on cell phones or iPads. I was in the ER not long ago with a 12-year-old who sprained his ankle and saw the horrific aftermath of this kind of distracted parenting.
A family was enjoying brunch at a restaurant. Mom was on her cell phone sending photos to an absent family member when her son put a balloon animal in his mouth. It popped, and he swallowed a piece of it and passed out before anyone realized what had happened. Based on the anguished wailing I overheard, it seems the mom thought the look on his face was funny, and was taking a photo when she realized he wasn’t just startled by the popping balloon, but was actually in trouble and turning blue.
A few minutes of inattention means a lifetime of anguish for this family who have just become part of the community no one wants to join: the parents of children with serious disabilities requiring 24-hour, lifetime care.
You can’t do it all. You can’t supervise your kids and work out, too. You can’t even supervise your kids while you’re on the phone — especially not if you’re also carrying on a conversation, driving, or working out. Small children require constant attention. They also require adult supervision.
And that’s the point. Adults who are trying to do to many things usually aren’t doing anything very well. Supermom and superdad are myths, and so is the idea of multi-tasking if one of the tasks involves supervising small children or infants.
So do yourself a favor — hire a babysitter for a few hours, and enjoy your “adult time”. Listen to grandma: your kids will be safer, and you’ll enjoy them more after a short break.