This leash demeans us both!
August 7, 2019 12:19 PM   Subscribe

There were no cars near us when J. made a run for it [into a busy street], but what if there had been? Suddenly, I understood why people use child leashes—and I wondered why I’d always assumed I wasn’t the sort of parent to buy one.

Looking at the turmoil in the [Slate Parenting] Facebook group, I realized that somehow, the child leash has become a bright flashpoint in our parental culture wars. How did this happen, and is there any way of knowing for sure which side is in the right?

...Shaming of harnesses and leashes definitely aligns with our ideology of “intensive mothering,” as defined by sociologist Sharon Hays in her 1996 book The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood—a way of thinking that emphasizes the responsibility of individual mothers, while insisting that motherhood has to be expensive, difficult, and exhausting, because that’s “just the way it is.”

The most telling comment... came from member Erin Michelle, who said that she noticed a big difference in public response to her and her toddler son, between their leashless outings and their leashed ones. “When my son is walking free and I’m scrambling to keep him safe and not accomplishing the point of being ‘out’ to begin with (groceries, visiting with someone, a nice jaunt) he gets big smiles from everyone we pass,” she reflected. "When he has on his monkey harness I get stone cold no reaction. It’s super weird but all I can think is that folks like to see a momma scramble. We like when she does that puff her bangs out of her face thing and we can give her that 'oh, the young of our kind, how tricky they are when they act like noodles and somehow disappear their armpits' look. But when she’s got shit to do and the means to keep that baby from running away they don’t feel proud of that at all."
posted by devrim (80 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Having a kid that just doesn't seem to listen or care when you give them safety instructions (especially but not limited to streets) is terrifying and exhausting. I'm happy that my kids are starting to pay more attention now, but the first few years were bad.
posted by Jpfed at 12:28 PM on August 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

The fact that the desire to be able to stop a child from charging into traffic without having to rugby tackle the little fucker has become an ideological issue will never cease to baffle me.
posted by howfar at 12:28 PM on August 7, 2019 [33 favorites]

I last had a toddler 5 years ago and this was a hot topic back then, too.

Leashes forever, man. We barely even used ours because as it turns out Soren Jr. isn't a runner, but you don't know that about your kid when they first start moving independently and better safe that sorry, so we got him a little bat-wing toddler harness and leash.

People just have this weird notion that the more deliberately hard you make it for yourself to parent, the better person you are. It proves that you're not one of THOSE PEOPLE who do terrible lazy things like use jarred baby food or have "other people raise their children" in day care (otherwise known as people with jobs and maybe not a ton of extra money, you know, those people.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2019 [21 favorites]

once again i present my proposal for tethering toddlers to low altitude drones
posted by poffin boffin at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2019 [64 favorites]

OH AND ALSO when I was a thousand years pregnant, I never got more "aw, look at the darling mother-to-be" knowing smiles as when we were having a multi-week heat wave and I was walking to work red-faced, covered in sweat, close to tears, just absolutely hating my very cursed existence. People just like seeing women suffer? Like, don't give me that fucking smile unless you are pulling up next to me in an air conditioned car offering me a ride.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2019 [32 favorites]

I'm told that I was that leashed toddler, because I learned to run before I could walk properly. (I say "I'm told" because there's no way I can remember anything that far back.) This would have been in the mid-1960s and while my mother never came out and said it was controversial, the fact she felt the need to mention it—faintly apologetically—speaks volumes: it's not a new controversy.
posted by cstross at 12:36 PM on August 7, 2019 [11 favorites]

all I can think is that folks like to see a momma scramble

I think some of it might be that parents who have, themselves, gone through what you are struggling through now might be smiling to commiserate.i know I've intentionally done that more times than I can count as a way of saying "hey it's all good, hang in there".
posted by davejay at 12:41 PM on August 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Throughout my life, I always internally mocked parents who kept their children on a leash. And now post 60, I find out from my mother that she used a leash with me. I guess I was a runner. For the past four and half years, I’ve been helping out with a friend’s new kid. Great fun. And no leash as he has never been a runner and always quite safe around streets. He’s not a stroller kid. As soon as he could walk, he walked, the stroller was just for when he pooped out. As soon as his endurance increased, no more stroller ever. But now having dealt with a toddler and all the complexities associated with them, I can understand why some would use a leash. Safety first. And I assume the kid can be trained to not run off. But I’m still anti-strollers. Four and five year old kids sitting in strollers playing with phones? Ugh. Let them walk. And safely too. With or without a leash.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:41 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

"WIth the patter of little feet, come lots of words you will have to eat."
posted by ocschwar at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2019 [42 favorites]

the preschool near my old office would take the kids on a daily walk (like dogs!) on that Walk-O-Dile thing and i don't really understand why that kind of thing isn't more acceptable and normalized. i mean, i do, it's because people hate women and want to see them suffer, and god forbid anything make the life of a woman, with or without a child, any easier.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:45 PM on August 7, 2019 [20 favorites]

I mean, I get why kid leashes are useful, but it is just discomfiting to see a human on a leash.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:46 PM on August 7, 2019 [15 favorites]

It's just another extension of "my kid is special."

Putting a leash on your kid is admitting that they don't follow directions 100% of the time, that they might be unruly at least occasionally.

And then, of course, people see the leash and don't think, "wow, that parent is making a responsible choice," they think, "wow, that parent must be desperate, even my little shit doesn't need a leash!"

Pretty much every decision in the name of safety goes through a period where it's mocked before it's widely adopted, whether it's seat belts or elbow and knee pads. But those are concessions to "accidents happen," and the leash is a concession to "my child isn't perfect," so it's understandable why the leash is having a harder time gaining traction.
posted by explosion at 12:47 PM on August 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

The comparison of children to pets and/or animals in this context comes up in the article, and personally I think that is part of it. I mean, it's definitely misogyny and competitive parenting, too, but I have a bit of a visceral reaction every time I see a child on a leash because I've been conditioned to think it's inhuman treatment. I never think that about keeping babies in cribs, jolly jumpers and other things they can't extricate themselves from, which leads me to believe the reasons for my reaction are specific to leashes.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:48 PM on August 7, 2019 [13 favorites]

Before the 19th century this was just called “leading strings”. Seriously, the child leash is not a new invention.
posted by Hypatia at 12:49 PM on August 7, 2019 [32 favorites]

I'm reminded of the advice my uncle gave us as we were expecting little joecacti.
"Do you have any advice?"
posted by joecacti at 12:53 PM on August 7, 2019 [37 favorites]

i have two daughters, neither of which was a runner. for this i'm thankful, because my wife and i were not fans of the leash. if either had been a runner, then we would have had an opportunity to better understand the whole dynamic.

and also, let's not forget that men do parenting too. i see dads with toddlers, leashes or no leashes, as often as i see moms.
posted by rude.boy at 12:55 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

We did the leash way back in the day with our kids. They seemed to actually think it was fun. It allows them a bit of autonomy (not having to hold mom or dad's hand constantly) and lets them wander juuuust a little.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:55 PM on August 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

Count me in on LEASHES 4 EVA.

Elder Monster was an ornery little fucker. Still is, though he's 27 now and it would be really weird if I leashed him...

Anyway, I was a SAHM, and he was a busy-butt, so we were constantly out an about. Hold his hand? Oh, hell no. He'd writhe and scream like I was killing him. So I got one of those harness and leash deals, which let him feel independent and let me not have to bust into a sprint to keep him from getting mashed by a bus. Or someone else's stroller. Or a particularly interesting topiary that he'd shimmy up if I didn't have him tethered to me.

You'd think I'd had him on a tow chain, naked, thrashing him with a whip, the way some people reacted. Stares. "Fucking bitch" muttered as we passed. "THAT'S A BABY, NOT A DOG!" shrieked from across the street. I even had Mall Security called on me once - some asshole claimed I was abusing my kid. I'm sure you can imagine that it lit my fuse. You might even be able to imagine how lividly I reacted to the people staring at me as Paul Blart, Mall Cop, told me I should perhaps not use the leash, as it upset people quite a lot.


Moms can't win. Ever. If the kid runs around wreaking havoc, you're a terrible mother. If you leash him, you're a terrible mother. If he gets hit by a car because he's wrenched his stubborn little hand out of your grip yet again and darted into traffic, it's all your fault for not keeping hold of him and you didn't deserve to have children anyway.

Fuck all that. Mamas, you do what you need to keep your Monsters safe. If anyone gives you shit, send 'em to me.
posted by MissySedai at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2019 [71 favorites]

Not a leash user here, though we do have girls and they seem easier to handle than many boys of the same age that they play with and my wife and I parent together more than many so that helps distribute the labor of keeping a 5 year old and 2 year old alive and breathing.

No easy task that, so I try to keep my judgement to a minimum though. I reserve my judgement for kids who are being bad, leash or no, while the parents are 100% not interested in fixing said bad/dangerous/bullying behavior because of something that's happening on their phone or earphones. Blah, I digress...

However this rang especially true to me

“I always said I would never use a leash on a child, then we were visiting the Grand Canyon with our basically obedient, but still just 4-years-old, little boy. Before leaving on the trip I learned what is probably obvious to everyone else, but was terrifying news to me, that there is no railing at the Grand Canyon! If grown people fall to their death there, was I willing to bet on his obedience to keep him safe? Nope.”

Hell, I've even said it on this site years ago (about Yellowstone instead of the Grand Canyon):

I'm not one of those 'put your kids on a leash' type parents, but I'd consider it very strongly if I were visiting front country/board walk thermal features with a kid too young to do geometry.

Kids are hard, I wish everyone the best of luck along the way (parents, kids, and bystanders).
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Re: device association and dogs vs children, I've seen a decent amount of cultural mocking of dogs in strollers, even if it's an old dog that really enjoys going out for a walk but has bad arthritis. Leashes are for dogs, strollers are for kids, don't you mix it up!

Some thirty or so years back I was a kid on a leash, because I would start talking to strangers and merrily walk off chatting at them, or get distracted, or who knows what, and my mom would turn around (I had a 18 months younger sister, so you can imagine the difficulties in logistics) and find me gone. Mind you, none of those strangers wanted to be chatted at by a strange child, particularly. I'm sure I'd have put me on a leash, too.
posted by foxfirefey at 1:00 PM on August 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

and also, let's not forget that men do parenting too.

As a dad who has probably done more parenting than the vast majority of dads, and whose work from home job while we were dead broke and DrMsEld was on internship and post doc meant I was the primary caregiver getting all the weird looks along the way that come from being a dad pushing a stroller all alone through the grocery store:

Thanks and I also cede the floor to the women who face the brunt of this and much more problematic thinking on the daily.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:01 PM on August 7, 2019 [17 favorites]

One of my kids was a runner, and we occasionally leashed her. She was a late walker too and generally kinda lazy the rest of the time. I would go to stores with my wife and other kid and for a solid year I was off chasing the runner instead of shopping together. She took off on the Santa Monica Pier once. That was fun.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:04 PM on August 7, 2019

We called them "reins". Mine were a very nice rainbow pattern, which I believe I remember being quite proud of. I've always liked rainbows, anyway, so it seems it was fine.
posted by howfar at 1:09 PM on August 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was a leashed kid. I was a certified wanderer and disappearing act and my parents liked to take me hiking. There’s a picture of me somewhere decked out in a 90’s toddler parka with a purple harness and leash in Muir Woods just happily freaking out because nature was awesome. If my parents didn’t have the option of a leash I probably wouldn’t have been outdoors much, and I think I’m richer for having outdoors experience at a young age. Leashes 4ever.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 1:09 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Ocschwar 2.2 is a runner. He's also strong enough that a leash is counterproductive.

In most of the US, going out with him is a fucking nightmare. He has some respect for cars, but not enough to put me at ease. In Boston, America's "most European city" according to Spanish media, he doesn't give me additional grey hairs, but he is keeping me in shape.

But east of the Pond? It is such utter bliss to set him loose on an English high street, or a Spanish casbah and just let him explore, knowing I can let him wander beyond arm's reach.
posted by ocschwar at 1:11 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

We never leashed the twins, but there were certainly times I could have used the help. They discovered pretty quickly that if they ran in opposite directions I would have to choose someone to chase. Eventually I realized that they would run for a bit and then look back to see which one was being chased, so I stopped chasing either, and they stopped running very far. The first two times I tried that, however, were very stressful.

I do see a parallel between cars getting faster/streets getting busier and the need for leashes on kids. The stakes are too high, as car impacts are a very strong punishment for a mistake that a small child might make.
posted by davejay at 1:15 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

How often do you see people grabbing and hauling kids around by their arms? Too often.

Leashes are way less restrictive. They're great.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:15 PM on August 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

When my son is walking free and I’m scrambling to keep him safe and not accomplishing the point of being ‘out’ to begin with (groceries, visiting with someone, a nice jaunt) he gets big smiles from everyone we pass,” she reflected. "When he has on his monkey harness I get stone cold no reaction

OMG i just realized I do this exact thing, but not for the reasons she thinks! When I see a kid walking around in their unpredictable kid way I feel compelled to WATCH THEM because THEY DO NOT FEAR DEATH. And yet, you don't want to walk around potentially glowering at someone's kid because then you are one of the Hateful Childless who Think Children Should Stay Home. So you smile at the damn kid while you make sure the kid isn't flinging themselves off a ledge.

Whereas a kid on a leash is HANDLED, and not my problem, and I can look away and nonreact with confidence.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:16 PM on August 7, 2019 [21 favorites]

I laughed at the notion of toddler leashes, even up through the toddler-hood of my first kid. Turns out she's a well-behaved people-pleaser who responds instantly to rebukes regarding traffic safety. In contrast, my youngest is now two and is possessed with the full rampaging fury of a Norwegian berserker. He was running approximately three days after first learning to pull himself up, and he's drawn to the closest busy street like a compass to true north. Ironically, this doesn't much change my stance on leashes... a leash would do no good to contain his enthusiasm, unless it come complete with five-point restraint and a 600-pound blocking sled. An iron grip on both hands mostly works, unless he sees a butterfly or something (oh, god, the butterflies), at which point your only move is to knock his legs out from under him and hope his momentum doesn't carry him into oncoming traffic.

Toddlers, man. The struggle is real.
posted by Mayor West at 1:16 PM on August 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

Oh Lord I am seriously considering a leash these days. Maybe one of those retractable ones like you can get for dogs.

My oldest is 4 now and I thought we were over this phase but in the past month he's taken off running towards an ice cream truck in a busy parking lot like it was the Pied Fucking Piper, a lawn mower starting up down the street ("I wanna go see it!") and darted out into the very active pickup/dropoff zone of his daycare center because he "wanted to see the wheels spin" on the car that was driving away. This is why we don't do outings yet with both kids + 1 parent. We can't risk him running away when the solo parent is hindered by the baby, who brings her own challenges to the table because she communicates that she wants to do something else by wildly pitching forward or backwards in your arms while slamming her bowling-ball head against your jaw.

What's really fun is when Eldest decides this is a HILARIOUS GAME and will begin to sprint faster as if you are chasing him just for the hell of it. Kid's terrified of the vacuum cleaner but somehow running towards a busy road is A-OK. I'm excited for his self-preservation priorities to realign a bit.
posted by castlebravo at 1:18 PM on August 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

once again i present my proposal for tethering toddlers to low altitude drones

If your drones have enough lift to restrain a 40-pound proto-human with preternatural speed and an uncanny knack for eluding restraint devices, I would like to subscribe to both your newsletter and your Kickstarter.
posted by Mayor West at 1:21 PM on August 7, 2019 [9 favorites]

Years ago I was at Cedar Point, strolling along through a crowd of medium density (by amusement park standards), when a toddler darted out of nowhere and ran head-first into my knee. Reader, I absolutely destroyed that poor little kid. A few seconds later his mom showed up and rather than being angry at me (which is what I was expecting) was just grateful to have found him. I was also once on a Toronto streetcar which had to slam on its brakes - to the point where a lot of passengers including myself fell down - because a little kid had run out from behind a parked car (fortunately, he wasn't hit and everyone was fine, but the driver was white as a ghost afterward).

As I stated earlier I don't love the optics of leashes, but I certainly don't judge anyone who uses them, especially in Toronto "Streets of Peril" Ontario.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:24 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't have kids yet and I never had the best opinion about kid-leashes (seemed pretty over-protective and unnecessary at first glance), but then in Indonesia I saw a momma monkey literally grab her kid by the tail as it was trying to scamper off into mischief and I realized that, no, this is how its always been.
posted by hopeless romantique at 1:28 PM on August 7, 2019 [15 favorites]

Our kid is an impulsive runner with more energy than either of us can match. Our failure to leash him was one of timing, not a deliberate decision. One of the greatest reliefs of parenthood for me was the day he ran all the way to the curb, jerked to a stop, turned, and did a flourishing bow to us-- I knew we'd finally reached a safety benchmark.

As the article says:

"But to those who do leash, even when people stare: I salute you."

Damn straight.
posted by erikred at 1:28 PM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

My first kid was a darter. I kept an eye on him because there was always a chance that he was going to dart out into the street. We had no leash, but my best substitute was to grab him by the hair as he was one step on his way to getting squished. Those cute little overalls, with the shoulder straps, were useful, too. Snag him by the strap and let the legs flail.

I grew to understand those parents who chose to leash their kids. You just have to have some experience with that child to know what kind he was.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:49 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was at Sunday Streets recently, a monthly series of events here where a street in a rotating set of neighborhoods is closed to cars for a few hours so people can enjoy it, and a toddler was enjoying the freedom of the car-free street to run full speed at the intersection, which was not closed to cross-traffic. Fortunately, there were enough people at the intersection to stop the kid, but it still underscored that even in the middle of an event where the entire thing is that there are no cars, this kid nearly got run over by high-speed traffic.

Use a leash or not, but what if we designed some of the places where we live so there's not a steady flow of 2-ton machines speeding by a couple toddler steps away from kids?
posted by zachlipton at 2:01 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

100% team leash.

I was out walking a while back and found a toddler roaming free around my neighborhood, not wearing shoes, just in the middle of the (quiet residential) street. He said he was going to find his brother at the playground. I told him to show me where his house was, and walked him home, and his mother opened the door and asked "where are your shoes?" and barely seemed surprised that he'd been out on his own. I think that kid could benefit from a leash, or maybe an ankle bracelet to track his whereabouts.

Also, my sister had a leash and it saved her life many, many times. I did not and I was regularly picked up by adults (blessedly, none of them harmed me!) and brought to the manager's booth at the front of the grocery store so my mom could retrieve me after she finished shopping. Maybe she allowed that to happen, knowing the adults in the store, and took the chance that she'd be able to have a peaceful shopping trip with free childcare? It was always pretty scary for me, though.
posted by witchen at 2:15 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sometime around 1990 my parents had this kid leash with a springy, coiled, plastic, telephone cord-like tether that attached to both wrists. One day my little brother chomped through that plastic cord and was FREE. After that mom basically stopped taking him out in public if she could avoid it.

Today my brother’s 3 year old daughter is a runner as well, and my parents refuse to take her out in public. It could be due to PTSD or the fact that they’re assholes. My kid was not a runner, and they think it’s because I “taught him limits.” Do they have amnesia?
posted by Maarika at 2:17 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Our cities and towns are filled with deadly fast-moving chunks of metal which are the #1 cause of child death in the US. I've met multiple people who've lost small children that way. If I ever have a toddler, you can bet I'll be using a harness.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:19 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

A couple times I've seen kids as old as 6 or maybe even 7 on a leash.

I tend to have a lot of empathy for other parents. When my own kid was little, she had medical issues that meant we had to do stuff with her in public that drew stares. So, I don't tend to judge oddness in other parents unless it's clearly abusive.

So, when I see a 6yo on a leash, I feel for the people on both ends of that leash. Something's going on there that's pretty tough.
posted by gurple at 2:24 PM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am thankful that both of my girls were self-regulating and didn't require a leash. It is easy to judge others for using one, but if the option is to be unable to do anything because junior is actively endangering his/her person every minute of your time out, I don't actually mind it. I'm also glad that junior isn't interfering with my day because he/she is leashed to a parent who can stop the potential disturbance of the peace...

I've seen these things at work in crowded amusement parks and realized that we were just lucky that our kids didn't bolt randomly. I've seen and understood why people use them.

There is never a lack of somebody judging (I admit to doing this before I eventually understood the leash) - sure, there are crappy parents out there, so it's often easier to just assume the leashed yunguns weren't raised properly...who knows if that kid has special needs or is at risk?

Keep 'em on the leash. Same goes for your dog.
posted by Chuffy at 2:36 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was raised by an anti - leash mother. Then again I was not a runner even if I *did* get up to other mischief. I had a friend with a basically unmanageable little girl. I suggested a child leash. She did it and I know it helped. There are kids who do run, and who will not hold hands or mind. It’s a good tool. I don’t think every kid needs a leash, but the ones who do, really really need it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:38 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

One of my siblings was leashed because he was a runner and fast too. He could run before he turned 2, it was kind of amazing. When his kids were toddlers, they were the same. From a very young age if they saw something vaguely interesting they took off. You could hold them just above the ground and their little legs would windmill around like a cartoon. As soon as you lowered them enough to get traction they were gone. You can bet I borrowed the leash whenever I took them anywhere. At that age they haven't the sense to not run out in front of a car or straight into a river or a tiger cage or whatever lunatic thing they decide to do. Plus they were fast as hell, one ran off in a kids museum once and every parent there was like "wow, that's a fast kid" as she zoomed past.
posted by fshgrl at 2:48 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

"And I assume the kid can be trained to not run off. "

So for the most part this is true, but some kids continue to engage in what will be entered in their medical chart as "elopement" or "eloping." Which is the official diagnosis for a kid who just TAKES OFF more often, more seriously, and for much, much longer than a typical toddler. (It is a common symptom of some neurodiversities and of some developmental differences.) My first was (is!) an eloper, and everyone was like, "Oh, he's just high energy!" "Oh, don't keep going after him like a helicopter mother, when he gets far enough away, he'll come back!" (He never, ever did. No fear.) We enrolled him in gymnastics because it's IN A BUILDING so he can only run so far; attempts at T-ball and soccer ended in ELOPEMENT DISASTER. I knew every fully-fenced park in the city, and they knew us REALLY WELL at the zoo because it was fully-fenced and the exit from the zoo was a door too heavy for him to open, so he could only get so far. We were there so often that sometimes zookeepers would see me come around a corner (8 months pregnant and panting heavily) and point the direction my kid had just dashed off. The crowning elopement moment was when he was at kindergarten, decided he'd had enough of this shit for today, and managed to dash through the entire building, dodging all adults, out the (GUARDED!) front door, across the playground, and ALL THE WAY HOME, while half the building staff chased him while communicating on walkie-talkies. He arrived at my door before they managed to call me, and THANK GOD I was home.

So, yeah, most little kids eventually learn traffic safety, but a few of them eventually scramble the local police department when they dash off in a particularly spectacular fashion. I was at a preschool event the other day and watched a mom with a 3-year-old run across the open field, catch her kid, bring him back, and he immediately dashed off in another direction -- not going towards anything, just running off over and over, and the fifth or six time, I asked her, "Elopement?" and she said "HOW DID YOU KNOW?" Ten years experience. Ten. Years. Experience. I have early osteoarthritis in the fingers on my right hand that I most often held on to him with as he pulled like crazy to get away. (And I can feel my wrist and shoulder on that side aching when it rains so I assume they're next.)

Anyway. I did NOT use a leash, the judgment of other parents was already more than I could deal with, and since he was my first I had no basis for comparison for how outside the realm of typical toddler behavior this way, and I admit I'm a little uncomfortable with the IDEA of a kid-leash, although I'm always jealous when I see other parents with them in practice. I think if he'd been one of my later kids, when I'd become inured to other parents being judgy and I understood that this wasn't normal behavior I was handling badly but actually way outside the norm, I might have used a leash, and I think it would have made both of us happier; when he goes to occupational therapy he often wants to be squeezed tight or to LEAN into things -- I think a harness he could have leaned hard on would have been calming for him, and saved my knuckles a lot of pain.

(And it's not even that he's stopped doing it, but that he can now think through that if he gets out of my sight line, he should come back, or that if he wants to run he should take 20 seconds to come get the phone-watch-tracker I have and then he can elope to his heart's content because I can call him on the watch and see where he is on the associated app.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:03 PM on August 7, 2019 [23 favorites]

I worked at the park in NYC where you catch the boat to the Statue of Liberty. I think it gets about 5M visitors a year from all over the US and all over the world.

Watching parents trying to wrangle toddlers made me really appreciate leashes. The kids on leashes could vaguely wander and look at stuff while their strollered and hand held compatriots were rigid or dragged. They seemed happier and safer.

I now have a three year old and leashes don’t work for him - I use a toddler carrier or he walks. People get judgy about the carrier but tend to be satisfied when I explain that the kid does not move linearly.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:37 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

When he was a toddler my younger brother was a wily little fucker and managed to slip underneath the guard rail at the edge of a hundred-foot canyon. My dad crept over and nabbed him back – and so commenced a few years of a fine leather leash that frankly I wish we still had for him.
posted by Beardman at 3:43 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Elopement! I thought that was the word for what I did. Yeah, I used to pull my poor moms hand like a wrench. The problem was she couldn't leash me at 10! It's very common in ASD kids, one of the reasons my parents were so "no duh" about my late diagnosis was stuff like that. It's a combo of wanting to explore and wanting to get away from over stimulation, I sometimes feel like taking off even as an adult, I just have the foresight to realize that's not optimal.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:48 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

From what I’ve heard throughout my life, I was under the impression that the class connotation was the reverse of what the author states - working class people poking fun at upper middle class people for leashing their children as an extension of a perceived tendency to anthropomorphize pets and as an example of how far they’ve strayed from the “natural” way to do things.
posted by Selena777 at 4:46 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't even have kids, but I've always thought the harness/ leashes were a great idea.
posted by sarcasticah at 4:52 PM on August 7, 2019

I used a leash thing when eldest B was a toddler. I used to attach it to his belt loop in the back of his pants. He loved to dash and dart and run toward the newest shiny object, and it burned off some of his energy that wouldn't have happened if he was toted around in a stroller.

B2 wasn't a runner and was a suspicious-of-strangers child from day one so it wasn't as necessary with him.

I don't remember anyone saying anything demeaning to me, honestly, but perhaps I was so enthralled watching his fascination with everything that I didn't notice.
posted by annieb at 5:02 PM on August 7, 2019

We called them "reins". Mine were a very nice rainbow pattern, which I believe I remember being quite proud of. I've always liked rainbows, anyway, so it seems it was fine.

Same! I had a very nice set made of dark blue leather with contrasting white stitching, and a picture of a bear on the front oval of the chest harness. I’d pretend I was the Lead Husky in a sled team when I wore them.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 5:22 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

My son was born with severe adhd. Like he has a documented attention span of under 3 minutes. Like a gold fish. His short term memory barely exists. And? No impulse control. As a toddler we didn't medicate him, just did a controled diet, redirection, and routines. He was a human sonic boom with dirt on it.

We leashed and I didn't care what the hell anyone thought. It kept him out of the road.

People care way too much what other parents are doing. If their kid is alive at the end of the day and has a full stomach - mind your own business.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 5:31 PM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

As a frail old lady who has had one broken bone caused by a running preschooler crashing into her and two others from being run over by strollers containing three or more children, I am 100% Team Leash. It's better for the kid (no hours of inactivity from being confined in a stroller, no sore arm and hand from having to reach up and hold hands with a big person) and better for innocent bystanders (no injuries from collisions, no high blood pressure from witnessing near misses).
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:59 PM on August 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Child leashes are inhumane, clearly. Instead I'm working on a system where each child under 18 can be constantly kept in robotic leg braces with drone pilots and AI monitoring. They can race around, and, with some difficulty due to the weight, even climb stairs, all of which helps charge the brace batteries, but if they get too far, or do something risky, they can be skillfully piloted back to safety.
posted by gryftir at 6:25 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Okay, now that i got that out of my system, I'd note that pedestrian deaths are up in the US significantly over the past decade, and population is not the biggest factor in that. Distracted drivers, suburban sprawl, and bigger vehicles like SUVs that are more dangerous to pedestrians (though safer for drivers and passengers) are all factors.
posted by gryftir at 6:31 PM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm team leash too. I occasionally watch a friends toddler, and chasing him is hard. I could run at 10 months old, and my mum used one with me and I hope felt no judgement. I don't understand why this is the one safety device that parents don't like, it seems imminently practical to me.

I also almost hit a toddler in a car park once. I could only see the very tippy top of his head as he ran past the back of my car, and my car had a very low back window. I wouldn't have seen him out the back window of most modern cars, he was too short.
posted by kjs4 at 6:54 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

The problem is not the leash, the problem is that we've created an insane system where at almost any time, a child is at real risk of literal death if they run even five feet in wrong direction. It's nuts that we raise our children in these systems of narrow channels with whirlwinds of death hurtling past just a few feet away, almost anywhere you go. The leash is just a symbol of the tyranny of cars that we've created around ourselves.
posted by chortly at 7:03 PM on August 7, 2019 [30 favorites]

I have no kids so really don't have the right to have an opinion, here -- but it seems like reins & harnesses are common in European cultures where walking is the usual way to get around. North Americans frequently put 6 year olds in strollers, which looks even weirder.

Harnesses seem very reasonable to me: as Hypatia says, they're an old idea that originally was a way to help the kid learn to walk. Plus, you can take them out under their own power without hauling them about like a sack of potatoes. North American kids tend to be strapped into strollers, which immobilizes them and lets the parent focus on other stuff if needed, just as a leash does. But I think learning how to walk and engage with other humans while still having some autonomy -- being able to wander a bit, stop and squat for a bit, eat a bug or two -- is better than being imprisoned in a stroller. Judging from the screaming frustration some kids express while strapped into one they might too.

Leash away. Learn a few words of German or Dutch to reply to any nasty comments from strange passers-by, and you'll be seen as Exotic and Foreign, not weird.
posted by jrochest at 7:34 PM on August 7, 2019 [11 favorites]

it seems like reins & harnesses are common in European cultures where walking is the usual way to get around

In some places. They’re less common in Germany (and I think seriously frowned on), more common here in the U.K. We used them here at toddler age because even though my kid mostly didn’t run off, I disliked gambling on ‘mostly’ on the heavy-traffic streets we used, and it worked out better than holding hands for hours in spaces like airports. Her nursery used reins for the 1-year-olds and a Walkodile for the 2s.

I do think there’s a link to car culture, through, because I’ve used various methods to get children from A to B and without fail the people most shocked and “I would never!” about it were the people who could drive their kids from A to B anyway. I got lectured at once for saying I used a toddler carrier for my 2-year-old, because “I would walk even if they’re slow, can’t you just stop and have a chat about beetles and things with them if they want to do that? Why are we all in such a hurry these days?”, which sounds lovely but isn’t really compatible with walking as primary transportation.
posted by Catseye at 10:45 PM on August 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Pretty much every decision in the name of safety goes through a period where it's mocked before it's widely adopted...

My mother said she'd been criticized for leashing me, and that had to be more than 65 years ago. So this is not a new trend, on either side of the issue. She also reported having a sharp retort, and she was not a sharp-tongued woman.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:33 AM on August 8, 2019

The first time I saw a kid on a leash with his parents, it was my brother's kid at my wedding. I was completely unaware that such things existed, somehow. I was immediately relieved. We had a beach wedding, and without a leash the kid (who couldn't swim yet) would possibly have run off straight into the water mid-ceremony. He was in both his "I will bolt off in a random direction and yell" phase and his "I will under no circumstances listen to what these grownups are telling me" phase. Some other family members were judgy about the leash and I was like "step off, that thing helped us have a smooth ceremony."
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:05 AM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

once again i present my proposal for banning cars
posted by entropicamericana at 7:06 AM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I have an almost two year old who has a tendency to elope (I never knew that was a thing) at the first opportunity. This weekend we were at a party in a yard with two entrances both to the street. People kept coming and going through these entrances, often leaving the gates open, and my toddler would decide to run first to one entrance and then to other, over and over again. After about an hour of this my husband and I decided we were just not having any fun and left the party. A leash would definitely have come in handy but I have to admit I'm too afraid of the judgement of other people to actually use one.
posted by peacheater at 7:20 AM on August 8, 2019

My grandparents were small-time cattle ranchers in West Texas. They lived in a small clapboard house perched on the rim of a canyon; the house had no water or electricity. My father was an only child, born on the kitchen table in 1938.

When he was four he decided that he needed to explore the canyon and would not obey my grandmother's instructions to stay in the dooryard. He kept running off... so she tied him to a tree. She gave him 20 feet of rope and he was in the shade and she could hear him if he called for her but she had work to do and he wasn't cooperating.
posted by workerant at 7:31 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

We have a photo of me, age 2, maybe 3, where my dad is trying to stand and smile for the camera and I am practically horizontal in my reins with my feet off the floor and my legs a blur. I'll have to ask my mother if they ever got any pushback but I clearly needed it.
posted by halcyonday at 8:31 AM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

I wasn't a darter, but I was a loller, a trip-and-faller. There are pictures of tiny me with my parents in full-on Geppetto mode keeping me uprightish with the reins.
posted by scruss at 8:37 AM on August 8, 2019

I have no kids so really don't have the right to have an opinion, here

Push, tosh, and piffle. It takes a village, no matter how much some parents don't want to know.

I asked my mother, and she says we were both leashed and nobody ever batted an eye. Heck, it was mentioned in Silas Marner. I think objections being common is relatively recent.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:00 AM on August 8, 2019

I used to be anti-leash for all the dumb judgemental reasons outline here, and then my friends had kids and at this point I wouldn't even blink an eye if someone duck taped their toddler to the wall just for five minutes of calm. Like that would even work, but yeah.

And I'm just as surprised as anyone that I'm into even being around kids. But it's pretty great when I hear stories about my friends toddlers telling their entire preschool that I'm their favorite big person.

I have friends in town and they have a 3+ year old and he's currently a bolter and he's getting more and more bold about it. We briefly lost him at the farmer's market a few weeks ago and oh my god that is not a fun kind of panicky feeling to have.

More than once I've grabbed the little tyke by the scruff of his shirt or pants - or yes, even better, overalls! - to keep him from suddenly bolting sideways off the sidewalk between parked cars and out into the street. There's no rhyme or reason to it, he's not chasing anything shiny, there's no bird in the street to chase. Everything's normal and we're just ambling down the sidewalk at a leisurely place and then *bam* instant turbo mode engaged and he's rocketing off in some totally random, arbitrary direction.

I mean I've seen this kid vector straight off into the side of a parked car or into brick walls. He'll yeet himself right off of ledges or sets of stairs, and luckily he's hitting that age you can get him to laugh it off instead of going into a meltdown about falling down, which is good because he biffs it about every five minutes right now.

And, yep, his mom does a lot of random chasing and is obviously exhausted by this. I think people really do like seeing totally exhausted moms go chasing around after their kids for the weirdly sadistic reasons outlined in this thread, but also because "Hey, entertaining chaos! You go you little drunken pirate!"

And every time I spend more than, say, six hours hanging out with them and any of my friend's toddler aged kids I'm just utterly exhausted afterwards. I have no idea how parents do it. I've had days with them that were otherwise leisurely, mellow and fun days just hanging out at the farmer's market or wandering from beach to beach around town and a couple of times it's taken me a day or two just to recover from all the non stop energy and trying to keep up with a toddler.

Anyway, I'm ok with leashes. None of the parents I know use leashes, but I'd be ok with it if they did and it's none of my damn business anyway.
posted by loquacious at 11:03 AM on August 8, 2019 [8 favorites]

Metafilter - because elopement isn't just for lovers anymore.
posted by Chuffy at 11:45 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I spent three straight years being always within arms reach of my daughter if we were outside in public, and another extra two doing so if there was a pool nearby.

I see leashing your kids as treating them like animals. Being a parent is hard, and "but how will I have fun at the party??" isn't a good enough reason to dehumanize them.

Edit: I should add, my daughter is now 8, and to be honest, I can't remember the last time I saw a kid out on a walk. Perhaps its fallen out of favor here in Southern California, but I don't even see it anymore in places with a lot people from out of town like Disneyland.
posted by sideshow at 12:35 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I can't remember the last time I saw a kid out on a walk.

Eep, that's one of the most mundanely depressing things I've heard in a long time.

Backpack harness made me and my kid happy. That, much like breastfeeding, sleep, weaning and potty training arrangements, is all the reassurance I need nowadays.

But I hope the guy with the tiny weeny baby at the time he shouted "it's a baby not a dog, you know" at me and my son steps on all the fucking Lego every day. Gosh that was a horrid day.
posted by threetwentytwo at 12:58 PM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

I spent three straight years being always within arms reach of my daughter

Surely putting kids on a leash potentially gives them more freedom than being in arm's reach at all times?
posted by BungaDunga at 1:40 PM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

(not to say that there's anything much wrong with arm's length, just that there seem to be some pretty specific benefits to leashes that cut against the idea they "dehumanize" them)
posted by BungaDunga at 1:43 PM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

When Little Purr was comfortable walking and I could convince them to not take the stroller, they helped to walk the dog. The leash was somewhat retractable, so PurrDog and Little Purr could keep each other in check, until Little Purr decided to drop the leash or faceplant when PurrDog went to go sniff something (everyone was fine).
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 1:52 PM on August 8, 2019

I'm pretty sure nobody here is pro-dehumanization; we just honestly don't all agree on what is or isn't dehumanizing. I mean, I sincerely do not believe that pro-leash parents are thinking, "I'm going to use this tool because I don't care if it harms my child."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:21 PM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't understand how it's dehumanising. People are OK with putting kids in rooms they can't get out of, just like they do with animals. Also strapping them into strollers or car seats so they can't escape. It's just another form of restraint, and is eminently practical for when you can't control the environment.

The kid doesn't care that they look a bit like a dog. Many of them would think that was a positive.
posted by kjs4 at 7:58 PM on August 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

I see leashing your kids as treating them like animals. Being a parent is hard, and "but how will I have fun at the party??" isn't a good enough reason to dehumanize them.
I don't have kids myself, but my mother definitely used reins on us when we were small. Mostly as an acknowledgement of the fact that no matter how hard you try, at some point you are going to be distracted, and even the best behaved toddler can suddenly take it into their heads to go and visit the nice doggy (across the road). Practically, it was also difficult to push a 1970s pram, frequently loaded with messages (groceries for non-Irish people), one-handed while holding a toddler's hand and keeping an eye on one or more older kids. (There were 5 of us - 80s Ireland...)

Do I feel that I was being dehumanised? No, and to be honest in a lot of cases, the reins were more used as a backup. We were generally held by the hand, but every so often two hands were required for something- younger sibling was screaming and needed to be soothed, older sibling was messing, tripped and had to be sorted. Sometimes they would be used to give us the freedom to roam a bit ourselves, and touch and explore with both hands, while still giving both us and our parents the security that we couldn't get too far away.
posted by scorbet at 4:44 AM on August 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

Being a parent is hard, and "but how will I have fun at the party??" isn't a good enough reason to dehumanize them.

I'm kind of surprised that it took this long for someone to pop up with "I didn't leash, I suffered and therefore am a better parent than you assholes".

Yeah, no, homie. Good for you that you never had a moments peace. I cordially invite you to head back in time and chase Elder Monster all over Hell's Half Acre to your heart's content. I could have used the help.
posted by MissySedai at 7:45 AM on August 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

The idea that a basic piece of safety equipment is dehumanising seems pretty astonishing to me. Suggesting that people use them because they want to enjoy parties, rather than keep their children safe, seems like it may be an interpretation somewhat lacking in empathy.
posted by howfar at 12:42 PM on August 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've seen a decent amount of cultural mocking of dogs in strollers, even if it's an old dog that really enjoys going out for a walk but has bad arthritis

Sounds like you need to get your little dog a Big Dog. Picture a little terrier, rewarded for her years of companionship with a four foot tall robot exoskeleton, yipping gleefully as German Shepherds and skateboarders flee in terror.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:51 PM on August 13, 2019

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