On Good Morning America this week, they did a segment on parents who "leash" their small children to keep them safe while they are out and about. Seeing this issue being debated brought back old memories.
I never thought I'd be a parent who used a child safety restraint...ok a leash. I tried desperately not to be that parent. I was warned by other parents who have children with Down syndrome. "You'll want them to walk more than anything and then you'll wish they'd just stay put," they told me.
"I won't be like that," I thought. "I will be so grateful when Jaycee walks; I won't wish that."
A few months after Jaycee started walking, I asked myself why I wanted her to walk in the first place. She started wandering off and not responding to pleas to "stop." How did this happen?
If given the slightest opportunity, Jaycee would take off. She was not a kid who would run five steps and then look for mom. She would take off and go. She didn't care where we were. Jaycee had no concept of danger. She didn't understand strangers, getting lost, or the possibility of a car hitting her. She just didn't understand.
After much internal wrestling, I found myself accpting the fact that Jaycee had to be secured if we were in public. She had to be in her stroller or on the leash.
I almost choked while swallowing my pride when I purchased the first leash for Jaycee. I looked for a "Parents who Leash their kids" support group. But, I didn't find it. I felt that if I leashed my kid, people who saw it would think I couldn't control my child, my parenting skills were poor, and I was just a bad mom. Sometimes, I can be my hardest critic. Maybe people thought that, but no one ever said anything to me.
The leashes were a necessary evil for a time. Eventually, Jaycee started to get too big for leashes and we often ended up just getting into tug of wars while trying to go opposite directions. Although our home has been leash free for some time, the safety issue still remains. Jaycee still runs off and tries to leave places without me. I don't know how many times I will have to remind her to wait for me, always hold my hand, etc. before she will understand. I'm still waiting for that day....
In the mean time, when I am out with both of my kids, every move I make is calculated. I try to get Elijah out of the car first so Jaycee can't run off during the short time it takes for me to use both hands to undo his car seat. I hold Jaycee's wrist instead of her hand the majority of the time; it makes it harder for her to suddenly pull away from me. Jaycee is always the first person in the shopping cart or the first one in the car. If I need a free hand to open a door, I never let go of Jaycee's. Elijah will stay with me. Jaycee would use a split second like that to run free. You know it's bad when your two year old yells, "Sissy, where are you going? Come back."
I tell people that I have to give myself a pep talk before I leave the house with both kids by myself. I say it as a joke but it's kinda true. She has gotten better since she was that curious toddler trying to explore her surroundings. However, it's still an issue that my husband and I deal with everytime we leave the house with her.
So, the moral of this story is: When you see a child on a leash or running away, don't be so quick to judge the parents. If you see me chasing after Jaycee in a parking lot and you are closer to her, feel free to join in the race.