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God Help Me, I'm Thinking About Getting My Toddler a Leash

Photograph by Getty Images

Before I became a parent, I would sneer and snicker and cringe whenever I saw a toddler being led around on a leash by a harried and overwhelmed parent. Though I like to consider myself a pretty chill bro, I judged these parents, and I judged them harshly. I knew nothing about parenting, really, but that didn’t keep me from feeling like any parent who felt the need to leash or harness their tot to keep them from danger must have failed horribly not just as a parent, but also as a human being.

The image of a baby on a leash isn’t just sad, it’s injurious to the dignity of the human spirit. Leashes and harnesses are supposed to be for dogs or horses and ponies and other wild animals. It’s not supposed to be for human children. There's something viscerally unsettling about seeing a baby on a leash. It’s terribly undignified and speaks to a certain desperation on the parent’s part, that sense that everything else must have failed for them to have to resort to such a drastic option.

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Yes, that’s how I thought about babies on leashes before I became a parent. And when our little guy was still too small to crawl or walk, I was able to hold onto that sneering sense of superiority over parents who used leashes. And honestly, isn’t the irresistible invitation to harshly judge other parents one of the overlooked guilty pleasures of parenting? There is no self-righteousness like the self-righteousness of mom and dad, particularly when they’re judging other moms and dads.

Was the convenience and safety of a baby leash worth all those disapproving glares from other parents?

Then our son Declan went from crawling to walking and then from walking to running like a crazy man in every direction at supersonic speed seemingly every moment he’s awake. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Declan doesn’t run in every direction. No, he only runs in whatever direction he’s not supposed to go. It’s as if there’s a magnet perpetually pulling him in the direction of the breakable, fragile and dangerous.

I sometimes feel like Roger Rabbit chasing after Baby Huey as he narrowly avoids one disaster after another. I spend much of my time running after Declan to keep him from harm, then picking him up, and carrying him out of harm’s way, at which point, I set him down and he immediately bolts back to his previous position.

I sometimes feel like trying to keep my son from harm is a useless endeavor. In frustration, I found myself contemplating the unthinkable: I thought about getting a leash or a harness for Declan to keep him from constantly darting off in unexpected and inadvisable directions. And, because I am a parent and also a Jew, I immediately judged myself harshly for even having that thought.

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Was I really going to be one of those parents? Was the convenience and safety of a baby leash worth all those disapproving glares from other parents? Am I ready to make that leap? I honestly don’t know. Right now, Declan’s running around is exhausting and wearying, but relatively manageable. But being a parent entails doing a lot of things you never imagined you would, and leashing my boy sure falls into that category.

I’m still not sure we’ll purchase a leash for Declan (I suspect we probably won’t), but I’ve given the matter far more consideration and thought than I ever imagined I would. So if you see me walking him around by a leash a few years from now, don’t judge me or my parenting choices or I’ll sic my son on you—and he’s liable to be so crazy from all those years on the leash, there’s no telling what he’ll do.

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