You’ve probably seen toddler harnesses. Parents use them in the mall and around town. They look like backpacks that snap in the front. They have a removable ‘leash’ that fits onto the back with a handle for parents to hold. These are very controversial among parents, many who believe that they are demeaning ‘leashes’ used by lazy parents who do not want to make the effort to hold their toddler’s hand. There was an exposé a while back that suggested that parents looking obliviously in store windows may not notice as a child predator cuts the ‘leash’ and takes off with their child. This reinforces the notion that parents who use harnesses are walking around in a listless oblivion as their leashed children run wild.
Due to the controversy surrounding the harnesses, I was hesitant to get them. We stand out enough already with four toddlers who are the same age. I was not anxious to add controversy to the picture and listen to comments from outraged, misinformed parents. My husband had been wanting to get them for a while but I was not ready to deal with the controversy.
I have not taken the Sugar Snaps out very often by myself since the quad stroller broke (unless it is in stores where I can put them in the shopping cart). Recently, I decided to take them to a local park where there is a contained playground. I only needed to keep them safely on the path to and from the playground. That sounded really doable so I gave it a try. They cooperated very well on the walk to the playground which was at the bottom of a hill with a path leading from where I parked the car to the playground. I held two of their hands while the other two held hands in front of me. It went off without a hitch.
They played nicely at the playground where there were only two other toddlers and two grandmothers. I started to feel confident that I could go places alone with the Sugar Snaps and keep them safe. The time to leave arrived after they had been given sufficient warnings that we would be leaving soon. Two were fine with it being time to go and two were not which would have been no problem if Greg were there and we used strollers to whisk them off amidst protest. Instead, I held two of their hands (the ones who were protesting) and the other two walked hand in hand up the hill back to the car. I opened the car doors and the four of them sat side by side in the grass next to the car.
I loaded the first one into the car and then it happened. Two ran full speed down the hill away from me before I could stop them. One was in the car and one was on the grass. The one on the grass said, “no boo boo cars” which is a catch phrase we have used to talk about sidewalk safety. I instinctively knew that one would not run and bolted after the other two glancing repeatedly behind me. I caught up to them and walked them briskly back up the hill towards the other two, my heart pounding inside my chest. All the terrible things that could have happened raced through my mind as I told the two runners to ‘never do that again.’ As I told them that, part of me was standing outside of myself realizing how silly I sounded trying to imprint this wisdom onto the minds of active two year old toddlers.
As I drove home, adrenaline coursed through my veins. After I got them safely inside, tears flowed as the magnitude of what could have happened sank in. I called Greg in tears and told him I was never taking them out alone again (outside of a cart). He gently reminded me of the option of harnesses and that my absolute answer was not the answer. As our family trip to Disneyland approached, he picked up the harnesses which are animal ‘backpacks’, two dogs and two monkeys.
As soon as the Sugar Snaps saw them, they were in love, Miraculously, two loved the monkeys and two loved the dogs. They could not wait to try them on. Then, Greg took them on a walk around the block by himself. They loved it and he loved it. He was able to keep them safe and hold two of their hands as well. Two preferred the freedom of not needing to hold hands. Those who object think it is like walking a dog. Dog lovers would say that they use leashes because it is the law and it keeps their dogs safe, not to demean them. We put our children in child safety seats in the car to keep them safe, not to keep them tethered, the same reason that we use strollers. Those who judge harnesses are simply misinformed and place a stereotype on them. Toddlers actually love the backpacks and do not feel demeaned as some adults imagine. I would much rather use a harness than be on the news because my child was run over by a car because I was too afraid to use them.
My first experience using them was at Disneyland. Greg needed to carry two strollers onto the shuttle while I got all four on by myself. The harnesses allowed me to do that safely. Then, they came in handy while we stood in line for rides. Sometimes we waited fifteen to twenty minutes in the sun and they were too squirmy to hold hands for that long and were tempted to duck under the railings. The harnesses allowed us to keep them safe. It is not feasible as an adult to duck under the railings and watch the other toddlers at the same time. We got our first (and probably not our last) negative comment.
It was from a woman who was also in line with her child. Her daughter, about six or seven, noticed the harnesses. She innocently asked, “what’s that Mommy?” Her mother responded in a scathing tone, “those are leeeeeeeeashes!” I reminded myself that our children had no idea what she said or why and chose to say nothing for the sake of her child. Reprimanding a mother in front of her child would be more harmful than helpful. In my mind, I had all kinds of answers I chose not to utter. She, with her one older child, was not in a position to judge us (nor would she be in the position to judge a parent of one active toddler.) No one likes to be judged. We all care what other people think, as much as we may wish we didn’t. Otherwise, we might all run around in our pajamas all day because they are more comfortable. I am sure we will be tried again in the court of public opinion, but the safety of our children outweighs attempts to please strangers. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you. As always, your comments are welcome and appreciated.