How to Fight the Fear that Everything is Going to Hurt Your Kids

By the time a kiddie sock with a pompon is classified as a choking hazard, you are living in an obsessive-compulsive parenting culture.

When a sock with a pompon is classified as a choking hazard, you are living in an obsessive-compulsive parenting culture.

If you’re wondering where our culture is headed, take a look at this Modern Love column in The New York Times, “A Marriage Stressed by Obsessions and compulsions.” Nicole Comforto, a novelist in Seattle, writes about the first time her husband seemed to freak out about a non-danger. He’d spotted a red spot on their 4-month-old’s lip and immediately went to Google it.

The results had him so distressed, “he even had to put his head between his knees to keep from passing out.” Naturally, with enough searching, he’d found evidence that the red spot could mean his son had a fatal disease. (He didn’t.)

An obsessive-compulsive parent is born

Gradually, Mike’s worries started to metastasize. He grew afraid of their backyard blueberries (had chemicals leached into the soil?), and leftovers (botulism!) and running a kid over (okay, I have that fear too).

One time, after he tossed a bit of scrap lumber into the wood stove, he succumbed to absolute grief, convinced that the wood “was probably treated with arsenic,” so he’d poisoned his family. (He hadn’t.)

Diagnostically, this is obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD. But it is also Modern Parenting. The poor guy has it worse than most, but he is standing – shaking, hyperventilating — on a platform built for all parents, thanks to the entire Child Safety Industrial Complex.

Pick up any copy of Parents Magazine and you will be inducted into this scared new world. One of their archetypal cover stories was the Ten Hidden Health Hazards in Your Home. Hazard #1?

The laundry hamper.

Exhibiting exactly the same compulsion to leap from incredibly remote danger to immediate threat, the magazine said that hampers made from fabric stretched around a wire may SEEM safe, but what if the wire suddenly springs free and your kid is right there and it SLICES THEIR EYE?

Our culture takes normal parenting worries and jacks them up

A huge swath of the parenting world thrives on implanting and augmenting OCD. That’s why there are little mesh bags on the end of what look like pacifiers — mini feed bags. You put, say, a strawberry in them and have the child eat it THROUGH THE MESH so they can’t choke. And then there are baby knee pads and baby toddling helmets and even classes teaching kids to crawl, in gyms advertised as a “safe” place for kids to learn this skill.

As if your home is Area 51.

In her column, Comforto says she and her husband finally found a specialist who explained that Mike’s obsessive-compulsive parenting behavior was particularly focused on contamination, and he used research to seek reassurance. “Like an addictive drug, the reassurances had less effect each time, so he required more and more to get over his fear.”

But when you live in a society that doesn’t even require any research to discover danger it’s almost impossible to stay sane. In August, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled children’s socks with a pompon on the ankle because the pompon can fall off and pose, you guessed it, a choking hazard.

If a pompon is classified as a deadly threat, you are living in an OCD culture.

The therapy for actual obsessive-compulsive parents works for the rest of us, too

The therapy given Mike was to expose himself to the things he found most scary – like wearing dirty shoes into the house – and seeing that this didn’t result in death.

We need exposure therapy for America. Maybe force everyone to visit a country where they don’t recall the pompon socks and the kids are still alive, or have every American circle the craziest advice in a parenting primer. (“What to Expect…” tells readers to consider avoiding acrylic tips as they “can become a nail bed for infection.” Beware Deadly Manicures!)

Another suggestion is to download The Let Grow Independence Kit (it’s free) or ask your child’s school to assign The Let Grow Project. Both of these are based on the same idea as exposure therapy: They get kids to do some new things on their own, without a parent. That way parents can see for themselves just how smart and safe their kids really are. It’s even fine if the kids DO get a little hurt, because then parents and child both see that this isn’t the end of the world either.

The real addiction ravaging America today is the brain-eating, joy-draining belief that we can make our kids completely safe if only we control for every variable, supervise every interaction…and throw out the laundry hamper.