Was This Mom Being Smart or Overprotective?

Photograph by Twenty20

I remember being in fourth grade asking my parents to let me attend a friend's slumber party. "¡No es no!" my mom finally yelled when my asking had turned to pleading. Letting your kids sleep at someone else's house just wasn't something my parents allowed. For me, it would have been a night of watching "The Simpsons" on VHS, candy, makeup, and girl talk. Not being allowed to go felt like the biggest injustice.

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Now that I'm a mom myself, I realize that there was something of a cultural barrier there and not the kind that my parents had any interest in crossing. It was a combination of not wishing to impose on other parents mixed with the belief that you couldn't ever really trust anyone but yourselves with your kids.

"What if something happens to you?"

At the root of this worry is a deeply held instinct to protect our children, refined over countless generations of moms. It's withstood time for a reason. Young children are poor judges of danger. That's why it's important that we embrace our instincts as guardians.

Our instincts sometimes grate against the social pressure to be polite, though. Recently, I witnessed a mom get chided for her decision not to allow her 3-year-old to attend a kids-only birthday party by himself. Some called her overprotective. One suggested she should think of it as free babysitting. Another thought this mom was suffering from anxiety (the kind that needs treatment, she said). I have a 3-year-old, to, and I would never leave her with people I didn't know very well, even a family that seemed nice. In this respect, I'm like my own Latina mother. I'm simply not a trusting person when it comes to my daughter.

The thing your mom always said is still in the back of your mind: "What if something happens to you?"

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Family and close friends, yes. But just anyone? No.

Would it be rude to reject the birthday party invitation? Would it be rude to ask if you could stay with your child? Social etiquette matters, but it should never trump your instincts about your child's well-being. If I don't know a parent well enough to feel comfortable asking to stay with my child, I definitely don't know that parent well enough to send them my child without me there. Declining an invitation can be done politely, and as someone who's planned a birthday party for little ones before, it's much better than radio silence.

I admit it's possible to take this instinct too far, to the point of being overprotective. Last year, parents in Silver Spring, Md. got in trouble for allowing their kids to walk home from the park on their own. I felt this went too far and I'm not the only one. A new federal law says that in the absence of a contrary local or state law, it's legal for kids to walk to school alone.

Sometimes being a parent feels like a study in contradiction. I know most of my community is good. Yet I hear my mother's voice in my mind: "Uno no puede ser confiado." My heart tells me to keep my daughter close. But I know that being a parent is ultimately about letting go. I'm searching for the middle ground. One thing is for sure: my middle ground doesn't include leaving my three-year-old with people I don't know. My intuition says no and no es no.

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