A mother in Woodinville, Washington, posted an advertisement on behalf of her 9-year-old daughter, Sarah, who was willing to do housework—laundry, dishes, etc.—for neighborhood moms who needed help. Six hours later, the cops showed up to make sure Sarah wasn't being abused or worked to death.
That's according to Christina Behar, Sarah's mom, who wrote me a letter about the incident.
"Apparently the ad generated multiple phone calls from paranoid neighbors thinking I was using my child as a slave," wrote Behar.
This should spark some discussion of what we lose when we treat kids as incompetent or endangered, even though they're quite ready to take on some responsibility in "the real world." As that New York Times piece on the relentless demands of modern parenting made clear, many of us, wealthy or not, spend a whole lot of time and cash on our kids' extracurricular "enrichment." Let's remember that making some money, dealing with some challenges, and assuming some responsibility are enriching childhood activities, too.
Here is Behar's letter in full:
My husband and I have three kids ages 9, 7 and 5. We have always tried to raise them to be independent and let them play outside for hours in our family-friendly suburban neighborhood outside of Seattle, walk alone to the neighbors, and have taught them how to cook, clean, do laundry and other household chores that we deem age appropriate. Inspired by your book [Free-Range Kids] I posted an ad on our neighborhood website advertising my daughter as a mother's helper. Moms often ask me for her help and I figured I would take your advice and reach out to others in my neighborhood I may not know. This was the ad:
Hello! My almost 10-year old is available as a mother's helper. She is the oldest of three and is quite capable. She can fold and put away laundry, sweep, set tables, clean dishes, take out the trash, make beds, vacuum, make light meals, and keep your kiddo busy. We are a homeschool family so she has a flexible schedule. Please message me if you are interested in meeting with us.
Six hours later the Sheriff was knocking on our door. He was embarrassed and apologetic but said he had to do a welfare to check to make sure I wasn't running a sweat shop! Apparently the ad generated multiple phone calls from paranoid neighbors thinking I was using my child as a slave.