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Small Animals

Parenthood in the Age of Fear

By Kim Brooks
13-minute read
Audio available
Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks

Small Animals (2018), explores how parenthood has become an exercise in fear, anxiety and constant intervention. Drawing from the author’s own parenting experiences, it explores how our perceptions of risk have become so distorted that we intervene, meddle, watch and manage our children’s lives at the cost of their freedom, fun and health.

  • Parents who value their children’s independence and freedom
  • New parents
  • Anyone interested in how fear and moral judgments are entwined in today’s society

Kim Brooks is a writer and editor of personal essays at the news and opinion website Salon. She is also the author of the 2016 novel the Houseguest. She lives in Chicago with her husband and four children.

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Small Animals

Parenthood in the Age of Fear

By Kim Brooks
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks
Synopsis

Small Animals (2018), explores how parenthood has become an exercise in fear, anxiety and constant intervention. Drawing from the author’s own parenting experiences, it explores how our perceptions of risk have become so distorted that we intervene, meddle, watch and manage our children’s lives at the cost of their freedom, fun and health.

Key idea 1 of 8

The author was arrested for leaving her son alone in a car for a few minutes, despite there being little apparent risk.

On an overcast day in March, 2011, the author was standing in line at the checkout counter of a Target store in a suburban strip mall in Richmond, Virginia. She was stressed – she had to catch a flight later that day with her two children. On top of that, she was a nervous flyer. As the cashier slowly scanned her items, she grew more and more anxious.

The author had taken what would prove to be a fateful decision. Outside, her four-year-old son was waiting in her car, alone. He was happily playing on an iPad. He hadn’t wanted to come with her into the store, so she had decided to leave him in the car. What could go wrong in a locked car in a quiet parking lot in a safe part of town? She’d avoid the hassle and potential tantrums involved in bringing him inside.

It was a cool day, with no risk of her son overheating. She’d child-locked the car and activated its alarm. He’d be safe for the five minutes it would take her to dash inside and buy the headphones that would help keep him quiet on their flight later that day, freeing her up to look after her baby.

Eventually, she paid for the headphones, dashed outside and breathed a sigh of relief as she returned to the car. Her son, engrossed in his game, barely acknowledged her presence when she climbed in and drove off.

But that evening, back in Chicago, she got a voicemail message from the local Richmond police force. While she was in Target, someone had seen her son alone in the car. Concerned for his safety, this person had filmed her son and called the police. When the author emerged from Target and drove away, the observer gave the police the car’s registration number.

Despite her son not having suffered any harm, nor even being exposed to any apparent risk, the author was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a charge used in cases where someone is accused of neglecting or exposing a child to harm. She had to employ a lawyer, travel back to Virginia and self-report for arrest.

Eventually, she reached a deal to perform 100 hours of community service back home, in return for not being prosecuted. The punishment was bearable. Far worse was the emotional impact the situation had on her.

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