Nonetheless, a passing van saw the two, and, reports the dad:
"I hear a man's voice behind me calling, 'Sir, sir, stop right there, I've called the police.'"
The story from then on is long and convoluted — cops arrive; no charges are made. (Yay!) But the folks in the van, a man and a woman clearly on a child-saving high, keep tailing the guy, refusing to consider the drenched daddy-daughter duo as anything less than nefarious.
It's an awful encounter, but that would be just that — except for two things that strike me as significant.
First is how much the dad is shaken by the encounter. He muses:
"How many other people think I'm mistreating her? Was van man just a male Karen, or was I really mistreating her? Am I still mistreating her? What other 'unusual' things am I doing with her? When will someone call me out for something next? Will they call the police again, or will it play out differently next time, with someone taking matters into their own hands?"
When you're living in an era that considers everyday parenting decisions to be something that the average passerby deserves a say in, it is really easy to start second-guessing yourself.
This is even more true when we are convinced that any unhappy childhood memory or event can affect a child for life. It's true: A miserable childhood is not over and done with once a child grows up. But we've forgotten the flip side: Mother Nature never expected kids to get through 18 years without some tears and fears and jeers. That's why kids are innately resilient.
Not pain-proof. Resilient.
The dad seems unable to keep this in perspective:
"I am feeling like a complete mess. I've lost all sense of confidence in how I raise my daughter and don't know how to get it back."
That's why a "Reasonable Childhood Independence" law is so key. It gives everyday decision-making power definitively back to the parents.
This legislation narrows the definition of abuse and neglect, so simply letting kids do some things on their own does not qualify as against the law. Nor does — presumably — walking in the rain while your 2-year-old hangs from your hand for fun. The fact that the cops didn't arrest the dad shows that usually common sense does prevail. But a Reasonable Childhood Independence bill can reassure this dad — and lots more parents — that the law is on their side. Not the side of the busybodies.
And, in fact, one of the comments on the article mentions the very first such law passed: the "Free-Range Parenting" bill.
"Here in Utah they actually had to pass a law that it was ok for parents to let their kids walk to school or the park/playground by themselves. Not the littlest kids like your daughter of course — but people were getting too judgmental," the commenter wrote.
Now my nonprofit, Let Grow, is working with groups in four other states — Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas — on similar laws.
America is wise to worry about child abuse, but wrong to suspect it may be lurking in any nonstandard parent-child interaction.
There is no virtue in vigilantism. And there's lots of virtue in a walk in the rain with Dad.