I was four years old when I was kidnapped. If anyone should be a paranoid parent, it should be me. But living through a traumatic ordeal has made striving for normalcy in my daughter’s lives that much more important.
I can remember the white Mustang and the July heat, which caused my legs to stick to the red leather seats inside our car. It was the summer of 1977. We were at a party store, buying supplies for my parents’ upcoming luau.
Since the Mustang had no air conditioning, my mother rolled the windows down before loading the bags into the trunk. My younger brother was in a car seat up front, and my older brother sat beside me in the back. A strange hand reached through the open window for the lock on the passenger side of the car. Then, the man climbed in, placed a foot-long knife against my little brother’s neck, and ordered my mother to start the car.
“Take me. Let the kids go!” my mother yelled.
“Drive.” Remarkably, my mother calmly obeyed.
We drove around the surrounding counties for hours, stopping numerous times at gas stations to use pay phones. I remember watching the man hold the knife against my mother’s back while she talked on the phone in the gas station’s phone booth. My father, the vice president of a bank, was in an important meeting, according to his secretary. Our kidnapper didn’t want my mother to alarm anyone so we simply kept calling back. Finally, contact was made. We would be released after the kidnapper’s partner was able to pick up the ransom. He parked our car at the head of a dark alley so he could meet his partner. I noticed my mother surveying the surroundings. “I’m taking the keys. Don’t even think about getting away.” Our kidnapper warned.
The man wasn’t fifty feet from the car when my mother began to collect us. She watched the kidnapper turn around to check on us. It would be a few more steps before he’d check again. As soon as he turned back around, the door flew open.
My mother, who had been preparing for months to run in the New York City Marathon, charged down Paterson’s sidewalks in her platform shoes. A baby in her arms. My brother and I in tow. She watched her back and pleaded for help in front. No one listened. Meanwhile, the kidnapper sprinted after us.
We were losing ground so my mother made a drastic move. She ran up the steps of someone’s house, pushing through the teenagers hanging out on the stoop and barging inside. With no time to explain, my mother begged the teens to go back outside. She hoped the kidnapper would pass unsuspecting. We lay on the floor beside the couch. My little brother kept from crying long enough for the kids to come back inside and say he was gone.
After he was caught, we learned the man planned to pose as a knife salesman and hold us hostage in our own home. Since my mother was always busy running errands, the opportunity never presented itself. The kidnapper had grown impatient. For years after that horrific day, I worried about the criminal knowing where I lived. Millions of happy moments occurred on Dogwood Drive. Home, however, never felt safe again.
The reality is most people don’t have to endure what my family did. In fact, Lisa C. DeLuca wrote in her article, “Statistics on Child Abduction: Parents Fear Kidnapping More Than Car Accidents,” that “in 1999, only 115 children were abducted by strangers with the intent to keep, kill or hold them for ransom. Though horrifying for those 115 and for society as a whole, the number does seem small, especially considering that there are 40 million children in the US. This would place the odds of a child being kidnapped and held or killed by a stranger at 1 in 347,000.”
Still “this obsessive fear about the safety of children has led to a fundamental redefinition of parenting,” according to Frank Furedi, author of Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child. Furedi argues that “scare stories always conclude with greater vigilance, creating an impossible strain on fathers and mothers while helping to reinforce their already intense sense of insecurity.” Whereas, Furedi says, the reality is that children are healthier and safer now than they’ve been in decades.
While media provokes irrational attitudes, Furedi argues it’s the breakdown of adult solidarity that has had the biggest influence of parenting. People just don’t make time for each other. “We often live in neighborhoods without neighbors.” Whether it’s fear of a lawsuit or hectic lifestyles, many people no longer assume responsibility for other people’s children.
Furedi also claims, with fewer parents parenting full-time, conversations about child rearing have diminished. When alarming headlines streaming over one’s Blackberry outnumber anecdotes of normalcy from one’s community, it’s easy for parents to get caught up in the hype.
According to Furedi, no research proves that an increased amount of parental supervision leads to more capable offspring. “Serious research, unlike the plethora of parenting advice available through child-rearing manuals and parenting magazines, is very hesitant on this subject.” Why? Because too many other factors contribute to a child’s success in life.
But does that mean a parent shouldn’t worry about safety? Of course not. Just be practical. Don’t let tragedies that emerge in extreme settings keep your children from enjoying their lives. My experience has taught me it’s better to live life the way my brave mother did, facing danger head on. How differently things may have played out if she’d waited in the car as she was told? So ignore the experts and teach your child how to live without fear. Filling your home with happiness, not paranoia, will help your child become more resilient in the end.