My Parents Kept Me on a Leash and I Turned Out Just Fine

I admit it looks weird, and makes me cringe a little at first. But as someone who actually grew up on the end of a leash, I can only be grateful.
Publish date:
October 11, 2011
parenting, childhood, boundaries, judgement, rules, discipline, society

My car was stopped at a red light the other day when my husband nudged me and jerked his head toward a young couple on the sidewalk nearby. The couple had two young children with them, a boy and a girl. Mom walked with the girl, Dad walked with the boy. Each child was wearing a leash that looked a lot like this one:

It had been a long time since I'd seen a kid on a leash, and I'm sure I did a double take. Kids on leashes is just not something you see very often in laid-back Los Angeles. Most of the parents in my hood let their kids run all over creation and back again -- which, I'll admit, can sometimes get a little old when you're just trying to buy a coffee and some tiny tot in a designer romper is banging on your shins with his Yo Gabba Gabba toy. But mostly I dig it just fine; I'm not a parent, so who am I to judge?

Except I totally judge. We all do, apparently! I wonder if the kids are really so rambunctious that just can't be handled without leashing. I wonder what steps the parent took before resorting to a leash, if any. I wonder why I care? Proponents of leashing say it helps encourage safe exploration and allows kids burn off some of that crazy energy (as opposed to sitting in a stroller, strapped in and cranky). That all sounds well and good.

These particular leashed kids looked happy enough, and the parents didn't seem to be neglecting them or anything. That's one of the main criticisms you hear about parents who leash; that they use the fabric tether as a substitute for proper discipline and attentiveness. That they're just too lazy to keep an eye on their own children. But is this always the case?

I know that if I ever saw a parent dragging their leashed child across the ground like this lady caught on tape at the mall, it would be pretty hard for me to NOT go off on them. It would be a real Suzanne Vega/Luka moment. But when a reasonable-seeming public figure such as Joan Lunden sells her own version of a kid leash on QVC, is the bad rap they get always justified? It's not as though she's "hot saucing" her kids like Blair from "Facts of Life," right?

As I said, I'm not a parent yet (working on it) -- and unless I saw a case of cut and dried abuse, I wouldn't be likely to offer my unasked-for opinion. Parents rarely want the opinions of the childless when it comes to this stuff. I admit it looks weird, and makes me cringe a little at first. But as someone who actually grew up on the end of a leash, I can only be grateful.

I'm one of at least three xoJane writers who ran away from home as a teenager (what's up with that?!), and my wandering habit started early. I used to take off like mad in public spaces, loved finding way-out places to hide, but still distinctly recall the body-shaking terror I felt when I got separated from my Dad at the mall one day.

If I can still remember that scared, hopeless feeling decades later, I can only imagine what my Dad must have been feeling. He's the dude who lost me! I can't blame him one bit for using a leash to keep better track of me, and I don't remember being upset by wearing at all. Knowing me, I saw it as a fun accessory.

Still, I wonder what I'll do when my turn to parent a kid comes along, knock wood. Would I be able to deal with the eye-daggers people shoot my way? Would I feel I needed it?

What about you guys? Has anyone else out there either worn a leash as a kid, or put one on your own? Would you? If not, why not?