What happened at your thanksgiving table this year?
Dear Engaged Bystander: What happened at your thanksgiving table this year? This year, our family gathering was the usual warm chaos, MUCH smaller (14 instead of 24), and lots of attention on the first great grandchild of this next generation.
And this year, my niece brought home a project from her graduate program – we were to take our favorite family photographs and re-enact them. I will spare you the details, but it did bring back some wonderful memories of past years and the people we have lost in our family over the years. After everyone had left, I had the chance to talk with my mother about what life was like for her with two kids in the 1950’s. She shared this most amazing story of another time…
My older brother was born in Chicago and when my mother went food shopping she would put him in the baby buggy and take him with her. He usually fell asleep along the way and she would park the buggy outside the store, in a single line alongside all of the other baby buggies as she went into shop. If a mother came out and heard a baby crying, she would quiet that baby and wait for the mother to come out. It was the entire village raising each child. But can you imagine this in 2010? As a parent, I would never do that, even in this wonderful small town where I have raised two children. Today, it would be considered child neglect, but in 1953, this is how every mother raised her child.
I heard this story just after reading a recent study commissioned by an English nonprofit called, Play England. The study found that 44 percent of men and 38 percent of women said they would be wary of even helping a child in their neighborhood in case they were suspected of attempting to abduct the child. Thirty-eight percent of parents (with children 0-5) thought it was “common” for children to be abducted by strangers while playing outside. These are the fears that are weakening our community spirit and leave our children increasingly isolated and more likely to play alone, indoors, without the benefit of multiple healthy relationships.
Play England sees playtime as essential for a healthy childhood. Yet the organization has found that while 90 percent of adults played regularly on the street as children, only 30 percent of today’s children (age 7-14) get that same chance.
The impact of our growing awareness linked to fear is clear. Given my mother’s story and the image of those baby buggies outside of the supermarket, we clearly need to begin to offer hope and practical advice for connecting safely with other parents, children and families. While I am thankful for the awareness we have built over the years, I also hope that we can begin to advocate for practical ways to connect with other families and not be so afraid to help any child in need.