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Leslie Loftis: An unaccompanied child is reason to call the police in the US. British mothers watch out


Readers might have heard about American helicopter mothering trends in which parents, usually mothers, constantly supervise all aspects of their child’s life, to the extent that children are rarely out of the sight of their parents. In the past year or so, we have reached the hover-or-face-the-police stage.

Supposedly, we hover to protect our children from the consequences of their actions and mundane realities of life while we engineer their future success with our own sweat. This appears to work until those children grow up and need to stand on their own but don’t have the ability to do so. Therefore, many parents have decided that hovering is a disservice to their children.

But in the US, hovering has become so prevalent and so successful in pushing other adults out of our children’s sphere of authorities—at root it is parent centered, ensuring that children remain under their parents’ control—that people have defaulted to calling the police when children of even advanced age are spotted while not under the supervision of a parent. We have not only lost sight of how to raise independent citizens but also of a sense of community.

I would like to tell readers that British motherhood isn’t as far gone as US motherhood, but I have cause for worry.

A Village in London

I enjoyed a great parenting community while I lived in London, part current and former expats and part a school that self-selected for old style parents. First, the school had many expats,a group that forms villages—in the proverbial sense—out of necessity because they do not have extended family or established friends and neighbours in their host country. Second, the school drew in many parents because of its long range character focus. (Helicopter style parenting focuses on immediate issues while traditional styles focus long range, on what the child will be like at 35.)

I lived across the street from the school. I hosted after school playdates often and was the parent-running-late insurance for many of my kids’ classmates. We return each summer, and last summer, three years since we moved away, I arrived at the school house steps to pick up some of the children I used to pick up on a regular basis. I felt like Norm walking into Cheers. The old show was about a local “where everyone knows your name.” In each episode, patrons would greet the arrival of Norm with a loud, “Norm!” That is exactly what happened when I arrived, and when a mother friend of mine arrived to pick up a later release child and asked where I was, the teachers pointed across the street and told her I had gone to chat with my former porter. They knew me. They knew where I had lived. They knew my porter.

The school that anchored my village is called Hill House in Doncaster. Readers might have heard of it because Ofsted slammed it earlier this year, listing as faults many of the things the parents and the children loved, one of which was its release procedures. They didn’t have Ofsted-approved sign outs—which they don’t need because they know their community.

Contrast my proper-procedure experiences in Houston where one day the bus driver drove off with my children because we only had one blue release card for my twins and, another day, the bus driver released them to my fifty-something long haired, Harley-riding contractor, who was doing plumbing repairs at my house that afternoon. He’s actually a family friend, cool-uncle type and I told him where to find the cards to get the girls off the bus as I was delayed in traffic, but the bus driver didn’t hesitate to turn my 5-year-old girls over to some random, scruffy looking man at my house when my car was not in the driveway. He had the requisite piece of light blue cardstock.

Which school is safer? The one with the procedures or the one that knows the people?

In both the US and the UK, the well-intended bureaucratic rules fight community by telling us to rely on the rule, not each other. In the US the rules have spread from the bureaucracies to the public and now to the police. To restore sanity to American parenting, some of us will have to stand against it all until children walking to the local park is normal again. The UK still seems to be at the bureaucracy stage. I recommend evasive action now, before someone calls the police.

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Leslie Loftis
Leslie Loftis
Leslie is a once and future American expat, most recently in London. She is also a lawyer and former local political campaign operative turned freelance writer. She currently lives in her hometown of Houston with her husband and their four children. Find her on twitter @AHLondonTX.

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