The Safe List -- And Why You're Not On It
Okay, let me go ahead and tell you the honest truth: I suspect you and your husband of pedophilia. Alcoholism. Violent personality disorders.
Sure, you make great coffee and your playroom is neater than my bed room. I think you’re funny and smart and your kids are adorable and well-mannered.
But I think at night after the door is shut, you and your husband do coke lines off the coffee table.
Your dog makes me nervous. I saw her snap at the baby, and I don’t think you took it seriously enough.
I don’t like your husband’s attitude about guns, and I think if he’s got one it’s probably not secured properly.
I’ll never say this to you. I’ll be polite and pleasant and I’ll even really enjoy your company. I’ll come to your house, invite you to mine, and I’ll consider you a friend.
But I won’t leave my kid with you for any real amount of time.
I’ll make excuses for why I’ll be staying for the birthday party/ play date/ sleep “under” –that-will-never-be-an-“over.”
“Ren’s been shy lately, I want to be here if she needs me,” I’ll say. Or maybe: “She didn’t sleep much last night, not sure how long she’s going to last.”
Perhaps I’ll just go ahead and give you the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech.
“I’m a total neurotic, sorry.”
But the truth?
You’re not on my safe list. I like you, I like your kid, I like your family, but getting on my safe list is an arduous process that involves proving to me that I’m all wrong about you. You’re not an axe murderer/coffee-table-coke-sniffer: you’re an honest-to-God grownup who understands what it means to be responsible for a child.
This is a very hard thing to prove to me.
You want to tell me how much sugar you gave her, how much TV she watched. I don’t actually care about that. I want to know whether you’ve got a creepy Uncle Murphy -– one you’ve never quite been able to say no to –- and whether he’ll be over for dinner while my kid’s there.
I want to know if that’s coffee in your cup or vodka. Are you on any medication?
Two months ago a woman in Trader Joe’s accused me of endangering my children because I allowed them to wander the market away from me.
She’s got it all wrong. Letting them walk an aisle away from me in the grocery store carries about the same risk as strapping them into 4 tons of steel plummeting down a highway at 65 miles an hour. The chances of a predator in the cereal aisle are low –- the probability of his succeeding at making off with a well-taught eight year-old in full view of a store-full of people even lower. It does happen, but it’s a random act of chance like so many of the other bad things that can happen.
The greatest risk we parents take isn’t exposing our children to strangers in public places. It is leaving them in the care of adults we have told them to trust.
Sure, you’re my close friend/colleague/family-member/respected-community-whatever. I’m sure you’re a church leader and you rescue homeless bunnies on the weekend. That’s all great stuff.
But it’s not enough.
Leaving my kid with you is trusting you with her physical safety. It is also giving you the power to strip her of her childhood. It is offering you the chance to harm her relationship with herself and anyone she ever wants to love -– for the rest of her life.
It is taking the risk that you could rob my little girl of the certitude that her mother would never place her in harm’s way.
So you see –- I’m sure you’re a nice person, and I’d love to hang out. But that just isn’t the same as trusting you with my child. It will always be a risk, leaving them with someone — and some of the criteria for who I trust may be arbitrary. But I’m the one who has to live with making the choice.
There are five people on my safe list and you aren’t one of them.
And if you get offended, take it personally? Hint to me how massively inconvenient it is that I won’t just let you take your daughter and Mare to the American Girl Doll store without dragging me and the other kids along? Well, then I’ll know for sure you aren’t someone I should leave my daughter with. But don’t worry, it’s not you.
It is most definitely me.