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Addicted to Safety

Lenore Skenazy on

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 four-month-old's lip and immediately went to Google it.

The results had him so distressed he was not only hyperventilating, "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.)

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. 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 No. 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?

The entire 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 to this skill.

As if your home is Area 51.


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