Musings of a Marfan Mom

On Child Harnesses

| 20 Comments

To whom it may concern:

Last night, my family and I just wanted to take my sons for a walk through the UW campus: get some dinner, watch the boats while eating ice cream over at the union, enjoy the sunshine. Although you couldn’t tell, we’d had a rough morning because we’d attempted to take my older son, M, to the zoo. He’d had a sensory overload meltdown. We were pretty happy to be able to get out in the evening then.

The first group of you, I guess you thought my sister couldn’t hear you mocking the harness my son was wearing, but she could. The second group of you, being drunk didn’t make you funny (& seeing as you looked old enough to be my parents, you should know that), but it did make you a little easier to ignore. And you two girls who had the audacity to criticize the harness in front of me, using a highly offensive swear word to boot? Well, you got to hear what my mother and I thought of you and your judgements. I only wish I had the time to say more.

So, I’m taking a moment to reach out to you, and ask you to reconsider the things you said tonight. I know it’s hip to think you can parent better than anyone else these days, but try to take a moment and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. I realize my son looks pretty “normal”: we haven’t gotten around to making him a sign proclaiming to the world that he has autism and therefore bolts whenever he hears an uncomfortable noise or something fun catches his attention yet, so you couldn’t have known that his harness (“puppy backpack”) is necessary.

Truly though, his diagnosis is irrelevant. Do you honestly believe parents buy these harnesses for kicks and giggles? We use them because we believe it keeps our children safe. End of story. You shouldn’t even care because at the end of the day, you’re not the one going home with my child. Your comments make my job more difficult though. I’m already stressed trying to keep my son happy and functioning; I don’t need your hateful speech on top of that.

Before you make a snap judgement, take some time to consider that you don’t know – can’t know – the full story. And while you’re entitled to your opinion, no matter how wrong possibly uninformed it may be, also know that if you choose to make a critical remark about how I choose to keep my son safe, my Mama Bear will come out and I will verbally come after you.

Sincerely,
One ferocious mama

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20 Comments

  1. Well this sucks. I’m so sorry people were so rude to you and your family. Personally, I’m a believer in one having the right to judge. I can’t stop you, I don’t even want to try, and I have to admit, i do it myself. Because my thoughts are my own, even when they aren’t very nice ones. What I don’t get is why anyone would think they have a right to take their uninformed judgments and throw them in your face?! Clearly they were a bunch of rude, insensitive, ignorant people. What college did you say that was?

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    marfmom Reply:

    Exactly! Everyone gets an opinion/judgement, but when it’s cruel, I don’t want to hear it. This was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The girls who were particularly vulgar about it were pretty clearly students.

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  2. I still don’t understand what the big deal about harnesses is. They’re a tool to keep your child safe, period. There were several times I wanted to buy one for Chaela, who also had a tendency to run away in public places (scary). I literally had to chase her down on many occasions. Not all kids need them, but some kids do.

    The way I see it, there’s a stigma about using leashes on kids because we use leashes on animals. Stupid. Fences were also originally intended for animals, but it’s pretty common to use those on kids, these days, too. However, I may be wrong about the reason people don’t agree with child harnesses, because it escapes me entirely.

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    marfmom Reply:

    That’s more or less the reasoning I’ve heard: “They’re leashes and therefore demeaning to children & only lazy parents who don’t want to put in the effort to control/discipline their children use them.”

    Not every moment is suitable to be a teaching moment, however. When I am somewhere – with another adult – that would be safe for M if he chose to run, I can work with him on staying next to me and holding my hand. It would be irresponsible to set him loose in an unfamiliar area like last night with lots of cars and strange noises and smells and say “ok, here’s a good place to practice.”

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  3. Seems a few of them could have used a harness of one type of another.

    Good parenting means taking whatever steps needed to make sure your child is safe. You do that always so ((hugs)) and smiles for the “Good Parent” award. Also, the Mama Bear is there for being a good parent as well.

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  4. We have a small wrist harness/leash that we use with Darling Girl sometimes. She’s a bolter. Always has been. I can’t look away from her for half a second without her taking off and hiding somewhere. Yes, I do work with her to stay close by, hold my hand, etc, but it’s not always feasible to do that in certain instances. I like knowing that she’s close by if I have to look away from her for a second.

    Yep, we get the comments about treating our child like a dog because we use a leash, but they aren’t me. They don’t know why we use it. If they don’t like it, too bad. Frankly, it’s none of their business. And just like you, bugging me about it, makes my “Mama Bear” come out BIG TIME! :)

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  5. Wow, wouldn’t you love to have a peek at those girls in 10-15 years, with little kids of their own? always easier to judge when you’ve never been through it. As for the drunks, best to ignore.

    We used a harness on our middle child when he was around 2. While he is not autistic, he was a runner. I had an older son and an infant to care for, so I could not have him taking off on me, especially in parking lots or crowds. I’m happy to say I never had the misfortune to overhead rude comments, but I hope I would respond the same way.

    I’m not sure a dog would be appropriate for your family, but through our volunteering activities for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, I’ve heard about their Heeling Autism program (and others like it around the country.)
    https://www.guidingeyes.org/prospective-students/children-with-autism/

    Go get ’em, Maya!

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  6. people can be rude, but honestly- the first time I saw a child on a leash, I laughed. It is something automatically equated with a dog leash in many brains. And even though I (and I’m sure many others) can see the value in this tool, I still equate it to a dog on a leash. And when I see this, I still giggle a little bit, and maybe make an comment to whomever I am with, probably only to get a laugh-I am not instantly placing these parents in a “bad” category. Nor are my intentions to make parents feel bad.

    Since you have decided this is how your life can work better- own it! Don’t let other people’s ignorancy dictate your feelings and let you become insecure. I’m sure for every person who makes a rude comment, there are at least 10 people who think “wow. good idea” or “i wish I had that when my kids were young” You will probably never hear most of their comments though, and that is just how it works.

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    marfmom Reply:

    Oh, I definitely am not going to stop using the harness just because some people have a problem with it. My job as a parent is to do what’s best for my child. However, I do want to encourage people to think about the issue. While you may be trying to get a laugh out of the person you’re with, please also think how the child might feel if they heard you, or their parent. While your intention may not be to make the parents or child feel bad, but the actual outcome may be different.

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  7. I’m so sorry that happened and that people can be so unenlightened, unkind and ungenerous of spirit. I’m glad you have that ferocious mama bear in you though! I’ve been mulling over a post of my own about harnesses. Before I had my daughter, I thought they were like putting a child on a leash…, but I totally get it now. I even wonder if it’s not better for the child structurally. It isn’t good to be holding them by the arm and pulling on their shoulder and tendons like that. I now believe there are pro’s and cons, but no judgement at all. It looks comfortable and the child gets to feel safe and free to explore a little at the same time.
    I’ve read enough here to know that you’re a wonderful and loving mother.
    Maybe keep a squirt gun filled with water in your pocket and just spray those people, like you would a bad cat.

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  8. L is neurotypical (as far as we know) and LOVES her “puppy”. To the point of nursing it. She doesn’t much like us holding the leash, but that’s not surprising.

    It really takes a parent to understand their utility. Before I was one, I thought, omg, who would do that?! …and then I had a toddler, and thought they were brilliant. I have gotten the “what a fabulous idea, wish I’d had one when my kids were little” comment on more than one occasion.

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  9. The day will come when they realize what idiots they were- as they have their own struggles with kids.
    I am a proud leasher myself, as are several mommy friends, for several reasons, including handicapped parents and very quick children! I have judged a leashing parents, but only because the child was lying on the floor trying to pull away while she talked to someone. I don’t even let me dog do that!
    I love having a longer arm, and a way for my son to not get lost in the zoo/amusement park crowds. And I’m with Katie- several people have actually complimented the idea!

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  10. My kiddo is “normal” just.. rambunctious and I used a “teddybear backpack” on him whenever we were someplace he could get lost. I was a single mom and was terrified he’d get away from me, especially at places like the zoo. He’s six now, and has two baby sisters and I’m still terrified he’s going to run off – because he’s 6, not 26.

    Some kids needs a “leash” – obviously, some adults need a muzzle.

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  11. There were very few parenting decisions I judged before I had a child, but this was one. I remember seeing a child in a harness and thinking “why? why would you need to do that?” I didn’t say anything or stare but I did think it.

    I had never so much as babysat a toddler and special needs hadn’t even come up on my radar so to say that I was clueless about it would be a massive understatement.

    Rock on ferocious mama, educate us ignorant fools!

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  12. My mom used a small wrist harness with my little brother when he was 2 and that was around 24 years ago. He was a bolter, and since it was normal in our family I had no idea it invoked such judgement in others until I became a parent and heard it for myself. I can’t wrap my brain around what there is to judge. Even to a child without special needs, a harness can give a bit of freedom to roam or a bit of independence in a place like the zoo. I had my oldest daughter in a harness at the zoo one day when she was around 2.5 (there were various reasons we did that, one of which is that I am visually impaired any by the time I see that she has run off it could be too late), and a little girl, probably around 6 or so, came up to me several times making rude comments about how I was treating my daughter like a dog. This little girl was obviously put up to that by some adult in her group. It was beyond irritating and of course it makes you second guess yourself for that split second. I really hate rudeness and insensitivity and I wish I could have been there to hear what you and your Momma had to say!!!

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  13. Hi, Maya,
    Sorry we missed you while you were in Ohio. Way back in the days before the backpack harness, when Mel was young and a runner also, I had a wrist leash for her. She vaguely remembers that she liked the colors of the wristband, and she never felt like a dog or that she was demeaned in any way. In fact she says it made her feel special because we were wearing matching bracelets that were connected! Anyway, I’ll just chalk those insensitive people’s remarks up to ignorance, not stupidity. AND…I always enjoy reading what you have to say. Thanks for giving me some new things to think about.

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    marfmom Reply:

    I’m sorry we missed you too :-( We ended up having less time in Columbus than I thought we would. Matt had a wristband as well. Gabriella & I apparently weren’t runners. M is *very* much like Matt, haha.

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  14. I think a good child harness can be a wonderful thing. For a while I considered getting one for Aurora when she first started to really walk around on her own. Thankfully she is way too shy and attached to run to far from me. I can completely understand why parents need to use them. I think they can be kind of cute too. Now that they make them into little dogs and monkeys it’s like an accessory for your kid!

    I really love the fact that most people who make comments about kids don’t have kids of their own! Because they have nieces and nephews or have babysat a few times they think they know everything about raising a child… it bugs me. No my daughter doesn’t talk in public, yes she’s three and we are still struggling with potty training, no I don’t intend on putting her in daycare just to “socialize” her… she’s figure it all out on her own in her own time.

    Good luck with future outings!

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  15. This website fourm was very helpful, and made me feel alot better after the huge argument that just happend on my FB today! We just bought the (we call him our puppy pal) puppy pal yesterday and my son Loves it. My son is a bolter. And very hyper! We have had it for 2 days and he loves it so much! And it is such a relife in the store. He has meltdowns if he has to be put in a basket. He likes his freedom. This way he gets his freedom and I get my comfert of knowing he wont get away from me!! And being the very paranoied mother I am it does make it less stressful to go out! I love it and I had so many insults today from it that really hurt my feelings!

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    marfmom Reply:

    I’m sorry people were giving you a difficult time! It never ceases to amaze me how judgmental people can be. :-(

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