Parents Disagree about Safety & Behavior

Parent Q&A

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  • Father won’t allow treatment program

    (3 replies)

    My ex-husband refuses to follow 2 separate physiatrist recommendations that our son go to either an in-patient treatment center or a therapeutic boarding school and I don’t know what my rights are. Who do I go to to get legal permission for this? CPS? 
    If background is needed, our son just finished 9th grade, was hospitalized after suicide threat, is doing drugs, has admitted to buying drugs ‘for friends’ (which my ex believes that is all he did with them despite my son testing positive for pot in the past), and has had narrow brushes with the law (which my ex thinks are no big deal).  

    This is not a CPS issue at all. This is a family law/child custody issue. You need to request that you be given full legal custody so that you can enroll him in a program without dad's consent. You will have to have the psychiatrists submit declarations or testify if a hearing is necessary, but usually they require you to go to mediation first before you get to that point. Consult with a family law lawyer.

    If you connect with Willows in the Wind you will meet and be able to speak with other parents who have been in a similar situation. Willows in the Wind is a non-profit parent support group for parents who have had teens or young adults in residential treatment, or who are considering it. In my experience, it is a group of very caring, thoughtful, smart, and dedicated parents I who have all dealt with extraordinarily difficult/ risky parenting challenges. It is so helpful to meet other parents who have been in the same boat and to share information and support with them.  Google Willows in the Wind and you will find lots of information and ways to connect. I wish you the best of luck.

    A grateful Willows-in-the-Wind Parent of a child who flunked out of 2 high schools, was in residential treatment for over a year, and who now earns a 4.0 GPA in college.

    Hi - I heartily endorse your efforts to get help for you son. Do you need your ex to help pay for the treatment? If you pay alimony you might be able to deduct half the cost of his treatment from alimony payments. Best of luck

  • Hi All,

    Gonna try to make this short.  My husband and I have an 18 month old daughter.  He has a 6 year old son from a previous marriage who lives on the East Coast.  His ex wife has an exhausting number of issues (her home is being foreclosed upon but she refuses to leave, she's an animal hoarder breeding puppies as well as having chickens cats and other dogs in the mess of a home, has a drinking/substance abuse problem, I could go on and on).  His son, understandably, has severe behavioral issues - no doubt due to the lack of stability and attention he receives from his mom (she has strangers living there to help her pay bills, allows his son to watch the iPad all day on the weekends/no playdates, spends all of her energy on the animals, I could go on).  He's constantly in trouble for acting out at school, has abused the animals and recently pulled scissors on his mom threatening to hurt her.  He is supposed to spend a month with us in the Summer and I have major concerns about him being around our daughter, whom he's already expressed jealousy and resentment towards.  I've brought it up to my husband who says he acts differently around him since there is discipline and his behavior won't be an issue.  Any advice from anyone in a similar situation or recommendations as to how to bring this up more forcefully without making my husband defensive?

    Sounds like a tough situation. Why not tell your husband your concerns in a calm way, and agree on a game plan - such as the two children aren't left alone together, the son goes to day camp during his stay, and you have the option of taking the baby to a hotel or out of town if you feel like there's a threat?

    I hear you. When my stepkids were smaller, I would not allow the older kid (he was 11 when we got married) to be alone with me because of an incident where his brother scratched him and he told his father I had done it. No point getting mad at the kid - he was just acting out his mom's resentment of me - but there was no way I was going to put my own safety at risk again. 

    That being said, this kid is 6. He is never going to be alone with the baby, because she's too little to be left alone with him. You will be there at all times. Maybe you can get some kind of family counseling that doesn't feel like counseling - like a coaching session - to ease the big kid into this situation. My prediction is that after a few days of adjustment he will be grateful for a structured and kind and calm family environment and will respond well. Give him lots of space to be alone with his dad, which is what he's afraid of losing. And above all, remember that he is just such a tiny little guy. I know he seems huge compared to your toddler but he is still tiny and deserves to be given a chance. Forget about the mom and focus your empathy on this lost kid who needs love. You don't have to fix him, you don't have to bring the hammer down, you don't have to do anything but show kindness and love while praising every little kind thing he does for his sister. 

    Yes, his sister. This is his sister. He's her brother. So look for the parts of your husband you can find in him and love him like you rescued him. You can do it. He deserves to be with his dad, he deserves a shot at a normal life, and a sister could be very, very healing for him. 

    Is there any discussion around removing the boy from his mother’s influence altogether?

    Is this not a priority to his father?

    He is young and and his behaviors and character have not been determined.  He needs a lot of support, and compassion. And probably professional help. And you could benefit from that too, in order to learn how to help him.

    Its sounds like you are his best option for a mother figure.  A tremendous responsibility, and not something you signed on for. 

    Your concerns of safety are important, it is difficult to tell how those issues may present. Maybe they won’t. 

    An escape plan sounds good. A place to go if you feel threatened.

    i do think professional advice is a good idea.  I would especially wish to avoid traumatizing this kid so that he feels locked into labeled negative behavior, and negative relationships with the healthiest adults in his world.

    Try to open your heart to your husband's child. He needs his father and other caring adults in his life. In terms of practical matters, why don't you enroll him in a camp where he will have plenty of opportunity to play outdoors during the day, and then you will only have to do care taking with both children in the evenings.

    My heart breaks for this child reading this.  Instead of thinking about "how to bring it up more forcefully" what about how to help this poor child and make him feel welcome and loved and wanted?  The last thing this poor kid needs is to be rejected from his father's home.  I know you don't understand as your child is younger, but 6 is still an incredibly young and fragile age.  My 6 year old acts out and misbehaves at school (and home), she sometimes hurts her younger sister (even though she adores her), and many other things 6 year olds do, especially when they're feeling sad or hurt or angry or frustrated or bored or tired or hungry...  Since I know her and love her and know her intentions are good even when her behavior isn't, I still love her and try to help her and coach her through this, because most of these behaviors represent desperate need for love and confirmation.  I know it's harder to see that when it's not your kid, but trust me, this child is still an innocent child who desperately needs love and connection.  Please welcome him and try to love him and see the good in him.  There is nothing to fear. He's 6.  He will never be alone with your child (because 6 year olds cannot be left alone and toddlers cannot be left alone) so they will always be safe and supervised.  Imagine if something happened to you, and your husband eventually remarried.  How would you want this new woman to treat your child?  I know being a step-parent can be hard but it sounds ike you've already decided this child is a problem and don't want him around, which is heart-breaking for this poor child (and his father who will now be caught between the natural desire and obligation to love and care for his child and the wishes of his wife to forego that obligation).  Also remember this is your daughter's only sibling, and siblings are a gift.  I would try to have them together as much as possible while they are growing up, for as adults they will be each other's family.

    Reading through the responses so far, I disagree with the either-or framing where the choice is between being compassionate towards your stepson and protecting your baby. First of all, animal abuse is a clear warning sign that neither you nor your husband should ignore, and it sounds like your husband (probably out of a sense of guilty) is minimizing the situation.  And there's no way to supervise children 24/7 because adults need to sleep too. At the same time, your husband has a responsibility towards both of his children, and presenting things to him in a way that makes him feel like he's being forced to prioritize one over the other will just make him deaf to your concerns. 

    Is there a way to address this holistically --- to talk about how to welcome your stepson and ease his transition into the household, and to say that you hope what your husband says about the child's behavior is true?  Ask yourself, if this boy was your son too, how would you handle the situation? I imagine you'd want to get him help, and also actively manage the risk of him harming his sister. Empathize with your husband's feelings and your son's, but also assert both your responsibility to keep your daughter is safe, in light of his behavior towards animals and his mom.

    Finally, if I was in a situation where my child was facing a significant likelihood of injury and my partner was digging in and not being responsive to my concerns, I would find a way to remove myself and my daughter from the situation. That would be a last resort, and not an ultimatum you want to start with. But it's important to get clear with oneself about something like this.  I'm sorry you're going through this. Blended families are hard.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Major disagreements about safety issues

Jan 1999

Over the past year my husband has been caring for our 4-year-old daughter a couple of days a week while I'm at work. Since that time we have had several major disagreements about basic safety issues. Some examples of decisions he's made that I think aren't appropriate for a 4-year-old are: * Letting her go into the movie theater bathroom alone.
* Leaving her with her 8-year-old cousin (midday) while he runs out for approx 45 minutes.
* Pursuing confrontations with rude (unstable?) strangers while she's with him.

This letter is prompted by a call I received at work yesterday from the gymnastics school telling me that Lea had not yet been picked up (15 minutes after her class was over). It seems my husband got sidetracked in a conversation while at the coffee shop across the street. My anxiety was raised further when the teacher told me that my daughter, tired of waiting, left the building on her own. She was brought back in by a mother who saw her outside by herself (on the sidewalk of a very busy street). The teacher did say it was the first time it has happened (since her enrollment in June).

What do other parents think about this? I am considering scraping together the extra $200/mo to enroll her in preschool full-time where I know she'll be safe. Am I over-reacting?

I read this and I just have to write. I think you're very right to be concerned about your husband's level of responsibility regarding your daughter. Even though my child is a good deal younger, I have some experience with this age group, and actually remember being this age myself. I had a fair amount of freedom as a small child growing up in New York City (once I took a subway trip on my own to visit my grandmother at Saks - I was eight and my parents were incredulous). Children this small are easy targets, and don't have what it takes to survive without a supervising adult. Many terrible things could have happened in any one of the instances you mentioned. I think preschool sounds like a grand idea. I have a good friend who was dragged into many unsavory situations by her unstable father when she was a child and even though nothing catastrophic happened to her, she was quite messed up from this. So I guess what I'm getting at is that exposure to these types of situations will definitely affect your child to some degree, even if it's not tragic. In my case, I became accustomed to my parents not being all that mindful of me, and it became a major problem when I reached adolescence and felt they had no right to suddenly want to tell me what to do.

To the mom who does not agree with the dad on safety issues: In my personal opinion, you are not overreacting at all. I was mortified by reading this. My son is 3 1/2 and these are the things that are constantly on my mind because my ex-husband and I have very different opinions on safety. He once left my son alone in a Jack in the Box bathroom washing his hands while he went in one of the stalls and closed the door. My son ended up falling and hitting his lip on the sink, which is not even the worst that can happen All I could think of was that some weird person could have walked into the bathroom and grabbed my son. I know I am being paranoid, but I feel that you cannot be careful enough these days. I would definitely put her in pre-school full time where you know she will be safe. It will give you a piece of mind and you will be able to concentrate on your work without constantly worrying about her safety. Good Luck.

I think your husband could use a parenting class on how to keep a child safe. It sounds like he is unaware of the developmental inability of youngsters to know dangers. That is why they have parents to protect them. I think it is frustrating to try to convince a husband (or anyone) to learn something new but if this is your first child, it is new to him. Could he read some books on the topic of child care? I think you could pay for the daycare but it would be more valuable for your husband to learn how to care for his daughter as it is a long-term situation. I hope you do something because this could lead to real trouble. We all have to learn to parent.

I agree with you and wouldn't leave my 4 year old for 15 minutes with anyone, father or not, who did the things you mention. (And by the way, I have a friend who's cousin has struggled with sexual attraction to kids and warned her never to let her child go in a public restroom alone, as public restrooms are a prime place for sexual abuse of children to occur.)

But you raise an interesting area of exploration: What do we do when, as a parenting team, we disagree on safety and other parenting issues, even if as a couple we're relatively stable and happy with each other? My husband and I are trying to view the disagreements arising about caring for our 10 month old as an opportunity to try to understand each other's perspective's better, adn with more respect and love, but we are lucky enough to have some free counseling sessions available through my work and I suspect that we would really be at loggerheads without the outside mediator. At least we can see the source of some of our differences: Image- as the two of us are driving down the freeway of life, fundamentally his perspective/ concern is Will I be caught? and mine is Will I be hit/hurt? While intellectually we recognize that his psyche probably reflects being raised Catholic and in a military family, and mine reflects being raised in an unpredictable and sometimes physically violent one, this intellectual awareness does not always help when I am concerned about our child's safety and he is not. I don't necessarily have any big answers - and would be interested in other's thoughts.

I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter and I wouldn't be comfortable about any of the situations that you described. Chances are that nothing will go wrong, but I would not be willing to take those kinds of chances when not necessary. Starting around this age, I am working with my daughter to develop her trust in her perceptions and intuitions about the safety or danger of situations. This means that I want to be with her, have my impressions of danger or safety, and discuss them with her. My goal is to have her 1) recognize her intuition and 2) encourage her to act on her intuition. This will serve her well when she is too old for me to supervise her so closely. ( I had to learn to trust my intuition and act on it as an adult, after some close calls). My other thought is that your daughter may be quite aware of the discrepancy between you and your husband's perception of safety. That might be worrisome to her since you two are her safety she isn't really old enough to make up her own mind about what is safe or not. Good Luck

There was a newspaper article not long ago about a mother being arrested for child neglect for leaving her child (5 or 6 years old) with an older sibling (9 years old?) while she made a quick trip to the grocery store. So some police are clearly convinced that this is a safety issue.

Sounds like you are having a tough time, and I wish you the best of luck in settling your differences. FYI: It is ILLEGAL to leave children with other children (ie., your 4-year old in the care of your 8 year old). Technically, you can't leave kids alone with any person under 13 years old, I believe. Repeatedly doing this could be grounds for having the children removed from your custody (though it would be unlikely without a lot of other stuff going on, too). This was in fact one of the pieces of evidence we used in winning custody of my stepdaughter: Her mom used to leave her alone with her 10-year-old sister at night, repeatedly. So this is not just a safety issue (which might be a matter of opinion), but a legal issue as well. Good luck!

You are not over reacting. Be very concerned and by all means try to scrape up enough money for pre-school if that's what it'll take to keep your child safe. My husband also cares for our 4 y/o son maybe twice a week but we've set down very stern ground rules that works for all of us. It's better to be extra safe. Too many bad things can happen, just read the newspaper. It's scary for our children. *Never let them go to the bathroom alone! *8 y/o cousin is not responsible for the care of your child, it doesn't matter if its for 15 minutes *Husband should just learn to walk away from rude strangers, that just makes him a stronger person *Gym class should never have allowed your daughter to leave the building Our 4 y/o may seem to be very intelligent persons but there're still babies in their own way and its up to us as parents to protect them as best we can with some common sense.

Forgive me if I am overstepping my bounds, but it sounds like these 'safety' problems are really of symptom of a much more serious issue your husband is dealing with. I'm sure he loves his child, but the behavior you describe sounds erratic, angry, self-absorbed, and irresponsible. It seems like his impulses are overriding his responsibility to protect his child...and why does he need to pursue confrontations with rude (unstable?) strangers whether she's with him or not? Could he be struggling with anger, depression, alcohol, or drugs? It sounds like he needs some help. In the meantime, I would be reluctant to leave her in his care.

Let's face it, Dad used poor judgment regarding all of the things listed, and Mom is correct to be concerned. A 4-year-old should not be left at home, even during the day, with an 8-year-old. Indeed, I'm not sure it's appropriate to leave an 8-year-old home alone for 45 minutes. Letting the child go to the bathroom alone at the movies is not a great thing to do, either, and is only acceptable if he waited outside the door for her to make sure she was out in a reasonable time period. Mom didn't mention why Dad felt these were okay things to do, but it's likely that, deep down, he knows he was stupid and reacted to criticism by getting defensive. I think, however, that it is important enough for your daughter and husband to have this time together, that you all try to think of some alternatives to full-time preschool, especially since it will not help for your husband to be made to feel incompetent, which I am sure he is not and that you don't trust him, which I guess you don't. One thing you might consider is spending that money you want to scrape together on a few counseling sessions, to see if you can reach some resolution of this disagreement and reestablish an appropriate level of trust and respect. It's just the kind of problem that is so emotionally charged that a dispassionate third party can be invaluable. Good luck.

This is a reply to the worried mother whose child's father is acting irresponsibly, to say the least. You did not mention your living status, married and living together, separated, divorced, so I don't know how much work you're facing here. But your instincts are sound as far as getting the child into a safe and responsible situation IMMEDIATELY.

Having been with a man who put his child's and my safety and happiness about 8th on his list, I deeply empathize and urge you to take whatever steps you can to take care of the child, first and foremost. That was my mantra when going through my divorce, was what was best for my daughter. That helps to scale down the mania/number of issues in your head, and you then know that you're doing the right thing. Sometimes the battle of wills with the spouse becomes the primary issue, and that only clouds things. Arguing with him about his actions in the child's presence can be very harmful also. That's why I brought up whether you live in the same house.

If you can actually find the man in the act of endangering the child and get on the phone to Child Protective Services or the police in advance of entrapping him, he can be arrested on the spot. The situations you describe are a little grey, and of course who wants to risk the child's safety just to get him arrested,'s a conundrum for sure.

Your work and personal life will undoubtedly be much better off once you know that your child is safe. The savings in childcare costs are negligible compared to the savings in stress on you and your child. Before I bit the bullet and enrolled my daughter in daycare, I was useless at work, spending 2/3 of the day on the phone checking in. Not to mention what kind of a person it turned me into, crying and freaking out much of the time. I wish you all the luck and strength in the world.

Dear Mom-
This is really an awful problem to have. I had to deal with something similar myself. I don't really have any advice other than to have (yet another) conversation with your partner/husband and encourage him to remember that BOTH parents have to agree on how a child is to be cared for. There is no excuse (in my estimation) for letting a child get into any kind of potentially dangerous situation, no matter how fascinating the coffee-shop conversation may be. Seems that maybe the two of you could use some mediation in this situation, if that's at all a possibility.

I am sorry that you have had to deal with this issue, especially since there is already anxiety about leaving your child at home anyway while you go back to work. Nothing is ever simple in this life!

The main concerns you seem to have are about when he's not with her: she's going into a bathroom alone, she's left with an 8-yr. old cousin for 45 mins.(!), she's not picked up on time and wanders out onto the sidewalk alone. Yes, I'd be very concerned, too--it doesn't mean your husband is a bad guy or bad dad, but he obviously has very different ideas of what's safe for a 4-yr. old (and different from my ideas as well, I have to add). Perhaps he hopes he can have a somewhat normal adult life while taking care of her at the same time (I'm a stay-at-home mom, so I can really relate to this). If taking care of her this much of the time is something relatively new that he's doing, he may really not be used to how one's style gets cramped by having kids (though, of course there are equal benefits). Maybe he'd be secretly relieved not to have to deal with taking care of her; he could go to a coffeeshop and not feel constrained to leave at a certain time. (Maybe he could work more to help with the extra money needed for childcare?) I'm very concerned about her safety with what you describe--and how terrible he will feel if anything ever happens (not to mention, you). So I say, until you can really work through these issues, and feel safe about him taking care of her, come up with the extra money to put her in daycare those days. Maybe they can have their special time together on the weekends, when he can really attend to her needs (and meet his own at other times). Best of luck--

I don't think you're overreacting at all; on the contrary! If my husband did even one of the things you mention, even once, I'd be extremely upset. Any of those things could potentially put your daughter's life in danger. Four years old is much too young to go into a public bathroom alone. A 9-year-old girl was killed in a public bathroom recently. And an 8-year-old is not qualified as a babysitter. An 8-year-old boy and his younger brother died last year in a fire they accidentally set in their own house while left alone.

Plus, being late to pick up your daughter because he got involved in a CONVERSATION? It's unbelievable that he didn't even have the shame to make up a plausible excuse like getting stuck in traffic!

If he had only done one of these things once, and then apologized profusely, you could chalk it up to a momentary lapse and forget about it. But the pattern is scary, especially since you imply that he argues with you that you're overreacting. Please, don't wait until your daughter's luck runs out. Don't EVER let this man stay alone with your daughter.

I can only say that I was shocked when I heard your description of some of the things your husband allows your 4 year old to do. Maybe your daughter is mature for her age, but I would never, ever allow her to go in a bathroom by herself, be cared for by an 8 year old alone (an eight year old kid is not old enough to understand and assume the responsibility for a small child), or be left alone after class. I would definitely enourage you to try to get her in an environment where you know she will be safely and responsibly cared for. For me, quite simply, these would have been counseling or even divorce issues if they occurred with my husband.

My husband and I also have our disagreements about what is appropriate and what is not. For example, he always wanted to pull our babies behind him in a Burley trailer. I refused on the grounds that no matter how safely he rode his bike, they would not be protected from other drivers on busy Berkeley streets. Luckily, he has so far respected my safety standards. Maybe I'm an extremist. But I think we live in a very complex world filled with pitfalls and dangers. We may be old enough to understand them ourselves, but we ask too much when we expect young children to be able to


I am sure that you will get alot of answers to the question of the father's inattention to caring for his daughter, but I wanted to respond as well. I have a mature, outgoing 4 year old daughter so I can speak from current experience as to their ability to take care of themselves...I do not believe that they can. My daughter goes with me into a public restroom, or gets taken into the men's room with her father if I am not around (he carries her so she is at adult height and keeps her attention occupied if other men are using the urinals). I cannot imagine not picking up my daughter promptly after her class to see how it went, converse with her, reassure her that we are there and basically keep her secure. Most parents struggle to be where they need to be promptly, but to cavalierly be in a coffee shop and not remember is quite disturbing. I would also question a class in which they allowed a 4 year old to stray out on a street by herself. Most places have you sign the child in and out, or at least be released into a known parents care. Many places charge $1 a minute, or $10 for 10 minutes or a portion thereof simply to discourage parents from taking an extra 15 minutes to pick up their child as enforced childcare. I also disagree with having an 8 year old and a 4 year old left in a house unsupervised for up to 45 minutes...maybe if your husband was out in the garden or talking to a friend on the street but not if he left the block.

I would get several parenting books and share a chapter at a time in a non-threatening atmosphere to discuss these issues. I would also put my daughter into supervised childcare for her safety and to relieve the stress on my fear and on my relationship with my husband. I would also circle the horror stories in the paper of children getting hurt or killed when they are not properly supervised...there is at least one a week (a day?). Your husband may not want the job of watching your daughter and he is demonstrating it by doing a poor job in the hopes that you will come up with a better solution...I would definitely get to that better solution for your peace of mind. When time comes to go on vacation, you may need to do something much cheaper because of the added financial strain of this decision but it will be a pain absorbed by all instead of you maintaining this justified fear yourself. Another solution (albeit far-fetched) would be to enroll you daughter in a childcare co-op in which your husband could fulfill the necessary volunteer hours watching the children in an enclosed and supervised manner...maybe he loves playing with kids, doing art projects, reading stories but doesn't like the responsibility of them. Or he could fulfill those hours being the handyman, cook, or custodian at such a co-op.

Good luck...I am sure you will get lots of responses on this topic.

Absolutely, you are NOT overreacting... the situations you described in your message would give me absolute fits. If your only alternative is putting your child in pre-school (i.e. if your husband just cannot get it that these situations are unnecessarily risky and are foolishly putting your daughter in harms way), then it sounds to me like preschool is the answer -- at least for now. I hope that your husband CAN get it -- for all sorts of obvious reasons, that'd be the ideal solution (it's such a burden for you to feel like you're the only parent who can safely care for your child)... but repeated episodes like this would really give me pause... the guy needs to get a clue and fast.

I'll make it quick because someone already said this but I want to emphasize that I know for a fact that it is ILLEGAL to leave a child in the care of an 8 year old. Find the money for preschool.

You are not overreacting - a 4 year old should not be left alone, especially outside the home, for any reason. An 8 year old is not old enough to be left alone in a house, and certainly not as a babysitter. If you can find and afford a good preschool, perhaps this is your best option.

At the same time, I am concerned that your husband is showing such poor judgment. Perhaps he is just overly optimistic about his child's maturity and the kindness of strangers, but you also state that he gets into arguments with unstable people. Reading between the lines, I wonder whether you are concerned about his behavior in general. My sister-in-law also exhibited poor judgment in a number of situations while caring for her three children, resulting in many trips to the emergency room. We paid for a childproofer to come to their home, but the accidents continued. We now know that she was drinking, smoking dope, and popping pills, and her mental condition, which we thought was just irresponsible and self-centered has now deteriorated to the point that she has been hospitalized. She no longer even pretends to take an interest in her children's well-being. I hope that things are not so wrong with your husband, but it does sound like at the very least you might need some marriage counseling. Please continue to keep your child's safety as your first priority. Unfortunately my brother did not, choosing instead to protect his wife while his children were hurt, both emotionally and physically. Best wishes to you in your caring for your child.

When I was a kid, I sometimes ended up in situations like those you describe. My older siblings were often left to watch me, and I waited on the street to get picked up from dance class. My circumstances were better because I was older than your daughter. There were a few incidents, but no permanent injuries. However, I was scared to death and very lonely. It never objected, because I thought that's just the way things were; instead I developed a (lifelong!) tough-gal demeanor.

Two years ago on the Clark Kerr campus, I encountered a weeping 10-year-old girl whose mother was late picking her up from gymnastics. I found her teacher, the mom drove up a minute later, then I got in my car and burst into tears.

Please spend the money for preschool!

Just to chime in on the topic of whether a 4 year old can correctly judge a dangerous situation:

When my daughter was about 4, we had gone to Mr. Mopps and I was putting the packages in the backseat of my two-door car, which was right outside the store. My daughter was standing on the sidewalk waiting to get into the car when I was finished with the packages. I turned around to help her into the car, and she was drinking from a paper cup I hadn't given her! I snatched it away from her and saw the contents appeared to be orange juice. Where did you get this? I demanded. She replied, Oh, that man gave it to me, and pointed to a man who was already at the corner waiting to cross the street.

I ran over to the man and started yelling at him. He was totally casual about the situation. It's just some orange juice I didn't want, so I gave it to her, he said. I couldn't believe how naive he was! He actually had the attitude that I was the odd one for getting so upset. And, of course, my child took it without a qualm, even after all the times we had told her not to take things from strangers. Luckily it was *just* orange juice. . .

I am the mom who originally posted the note on this subject. I want to thank everyone for their responses and perhaps give some of you who asked some more information.

First of all, starting today, I've enrolled my daughter in an extra day of preschool a week (4 instead of 3) and arranged to work from home on the fifth day. Your responses encouraged me to have more confidence in what I believed was the right level of care for her and I REALLY appreciate that.

For those who asked - my husband and I are living together and have availed ourselves of couples counseling (although we aren't currently going) because of some of these differences. My husband truly doesn't see the problem with some of these things, although he agrees with others. For instance, he saw the folly in confronting, rather than ignoring, the rudeness of a stranger, but didn't see what was so wrong when he left our daughter with her 8 YO cousin. However, he's an honest guy and keeps his promises. Therefore, when he agrees these things won't happen again, I believe him. The problem is, I never know what NEW instance will come up that I haven't forseen that might put my daughter in danger. So needless to say, I'm much more comfortable with my new childcare arrangements.

Something has been bothering me, though, about the responses. They all seem to be from mothers. All are not identified, so I'm not certain, but all that identified themselves said they were mothers. Were any of the responses from men? What do other fathers think? I'd like to know as would my husband. He's always let me make major decisions for our daughter, so he's not objecting to the new arrangement, but he does feel a little like he failed and would like to know how other men feel.

Thanks again.

I'm the father of two kids -- seven and three. I read and agreed with most of the responses posted on the digest, and saw no reason to fill more space saying, Yeah, me, too.

However, since you ask...

Both my kids are bright, engaging, and self-assured, but neither is capable of handling the situations described in the original posting. My kids don't go to the bathroom alone, are never cared for by other kids, and are never, ever left alone on city streets. I just can't imagine how a parent could let such a thing happen.

I get tired of being accosted on city streets, too, but I don't engage in confrontations, with or without my kids. You can't argue with the sort of person who gets in your face on the sidewalk. There's just no way to win. The only time I've broken that rule was when an overly-affectionate passerby stopped, talked to, and tried to hold my older child. I interposed myself between them and got as physically threatening as I needed to to stop the situation. This was an older woman who likely meant no harm, but was astonishingly naive in trying to touch a strange kid on the street.

I like to hang out in coffee bars, work odd hours, and concentrate on stuff I enjoy. When it's time to take care of the kids, though, all that stuff gets put away. You need to do the same thing. Mostly, this is a reasonable world with decent people who care about one another. Sometimes, though, it's not. You need to ask yourself: What if I come back from the coffee shop, and my four-year-old is gone? You don't even want to imagine what evil things could happen to her, or how terrified she would be.

You're the guy who's in charge. You don't get to screw up.

When your post first came out I talked to my husband about it. He agreed with me that those things were unacceptable. In fact he went farther: he noted that leaving a 4-year-old alone with an 8-year-old was illegal, and that the pattern of behavior described might be called child neglect and cause the child to be taken from the parents --which I hadn't thought of.

In response to the mother who originally posted the note below, I'd like to give a father's perspective. My wife and I have an energetic 3 1/2 year old girl, with another one on the way. I take my daughter to pre-school each morning, and pick her up one afternoon per week where we usually go run errands afterward. Weekend mornings are usually spent running errands, getting breakfast, feeding various birds etc. while mom sleeps in. My wife and I travel separately 5-10 times per year on business trips so we both have to take turns watching our kid for various periods of time. My wife and I definitely have different styles of doing things, but when it comes to common sense safety issues we're always on the same page. I'd like to say that I too agree that letting your child go into a public bathroom alone is nuts, both for stranger abduction/molestation issues but also bathrooms are usually filthy and you can't assume a young child can keep herself/himself clean. I too thought that leaving your child in the care of someone under ~13 years old was not legal, and certainly not safe..., just watch the news! As for forgetting to pick up the kid after gym class while she sat on the street sidewalk, I'm sure the father sees the stupidity in that...., In our house that would come close to grounds for a trade in. BTW, did you show your husband the responses?

This is a response for the mom who wanted fathers' ideas about safety differences between husband and wife. I agree with your judgement regarding the instances of unsafe behavior that you mentioned, and it sounds as if you have found a solution that will work well. I want to say, however, that the differences in understandings of safety needs sound familiar. My wife is much more concerned about our two year old than I am - that he will fall and cut his head, run into traffic, smash into the sharp edge of the table etc. We almost always compromise at or close to her comfort level, because while I don't see the risk as significant I can understand that her worry is real, and I will not suffer from our being overly protective for these kinds of things. Where this will go as our son grows older and we start on subjects where my feelings are stronger - at what age do you send your child to get something from the neighbor/store/etc. in the interest of challenging him is something I see looming - is unclear. I'm sure we will always be more conservative than I would be alone. Perhaps that is for the best; what is certain is that the differences in levels of worry and concern which you describe between yourself and your husband are not surprising to me. It sounds like you've found a solution which works well for you both withour rancour. Congratulations.

I'm a father who noticed the original posting and hesitated to reply, because my first, second, and third impulses were just to take the guy apart, and I thought there would be plenty of others ready to do that without my help. I'm glad to see that your husband is reasonable, honest, and intent on mending his ways.

On a more moderate note, there's room for disagreement on what's safe. We won't let our 15-year-old daughter walk alone at night, or our 9-year-old son walk alone just about any time--but we're bringing them up right next to a major seismic hazard, so our commitment to safety could be reasonably called into question. Similarly, the wisdom or folly of leaving the kid with an 8-year-old (I wouldn't do it) would depend to a degree on the 8-year-old (I've known some who were more dependable than some 18-year-olds), how long s/he was left in charge, what backup was available, and what the alternatives were.

If your husband feels like he's failed, and your kid's already four years old, I simultaneously hope it's not the first time he's felt that way, and hope he's not beating himself up too badly. Kids don't come with instructions. Parents make mistakes. You try to avoid the catastrophic ones, and learn from the rest (which implies that you notice yourself making them!).

As far as safety goes, I favor erring on the side of paranoia. If I had to choose, I'd rather have a kid who had to be walked across the street to register for college than a kid with a lovely tombstone.

I'm a father who didn't respond, in large part because I'm really busy right now, but also because I had mixed feelings about the whole thing and wanted to see how others responded.

As a now very experienced dad, I agree with the general consensus of the posts, but not the level of hysteria in some, which only reflects the absurd level of hysteria in our society that is simply not supported by the truly infrequent occurrence of kidnapping and/or molestation by strangers (the overwhelming majority of child abduction cases are by estranged parents and most molestation cases are by family or friends of the family). Of course if it's your kid that it happens to, statistical infrequency doesn't matter, but I don't see these people who are so panicked about strangers and public bathrooms not driving their kids around in cars . . .

That said, I do still agree that the father was displaying a fairly careless attitude that his childrearing partner should certainly be calling him on, with one exception. It was the school/program that made the grievous error in letting your kid wander out to the sidewalk, not your husband for being late. True, he shouldn't have been late, but he's still not the one who put your daughter at risk and in that one case really shouldn't be the object of your main complaint.

Also, despite your husband's mistakes, I fully empathize with him because I know I screwed up in ways I didn't have a clue were screw-ups when I was a more inexperienced dad (not to say that I don't still screw up now, but at least I tend to recognize it pretty instantly). When this happened, I felt really crappy and was very defensive about it because I knew I was trying very hard to be a good and responsible dad. Men in this society tend not to be as well-versed as women when first starting on how to go about being a parent (and with an only or eldest child, you are always a new parent for that age). We can learn, but typically we are starting with far less understanding and forethought than women have of what it takes to be a parent and what kids need emotionally and physically. Plus, to make it worse, we have our damn male pride about being right, even about things we know nothing about.

Fathers & kids might be better served by men attending broader-focused parenting classes instead of birthing classes, where in large part men's attendance only fosters the false illusion that someone as inexperienced as the new mother can be anything more than emotional support in a first delivery. And boys need to be raised more aware of parenting by bringing them more into the care of siblings, encouraging family role playing games, and continuing to discuss parenting issues with them even after they've grown but not yet had kids. Mothers & grown daughters will fairly typically discuss child rearing issues even if no grandchildren are even yet on the horizon, yet we men tend to not talk to our sons about what it's like to be a parent until they've actually got a crying kid in their hands.

Given your husband's denial of his inattentiveness to your child's safety, I think you had no choice but to opt for other care. I would suggest, however, that you try to be kind about his inexperience rather than critical, and that you continue to allow situations where he is responsible for your daughter on his own. He's never going to learn otherwise and your daughter will be the poorer for never having had times alone with dad. Good luck.