Naked 4-year-old complaint takes unsolicited parenting advice to new low
Child's nude romp illustrates difficulty of criticizing other parents' decisions
Ian McIlwaine never set out to be a champion for frustrated parents everywhere: he just thought his four-year-old should be able to run on the lawn naked without a SWAT team showing up.
But the Squamish, B.C., father says his ordeal has touched a nerve with non-helicopter moms and dads — parents tired of being made to feel like child abusers for letting their kids watch too much TV or spend more than five minutes unoccupied.
"People can't believe that this happened," he says.
"Overwhelmingly, parents are a little outraged. It's something that every child does and it truly is the innocence that's being affected and that's being messed up by us adults that should know better."
It takes a village, but ...
The 41-year-old has been inundated with calls and emails after telling his story; his wife received a lengthy visit from RCMP last week after a neighbour called to complain that his son Tyler had been seen on the street naked on a warm day.
Police now claim the issue is more about safety than nudity.
But the problem speaks to a perennial parenting issue: if it takes a village to raise a child, how much input should the other villagers have?
"It's the judgmental component that goes into parenting," says Margaret Wright, a professor at the University of B.C.'s school of social work.
"I'm not so sure that's much different than it was many years ago, except now everybody can do it anonymously and at a distance. There's always been a lot of judgment about parenting."
A father of two, McIlwaine says he respects anyone's right to disagree with his decisions. But in a supposedly friendly town of less than 20,000 residents, why did they have to call police?
"It's baffling to me that in this day and age with all these things to connect, you can't walk over and simply say something," he says.
"Or even leave a note if you really feel you truly need to be anonymous."
Walking home alone?
The incident comes just weeks after police in Maryland handed 10-year-old Rafi Meitiv and his six-year-old sister, Dvora, over to child protection because they were caught walking home alone from a nearby park.
"When did Americans decide that allowing our kids to be out of sight was a crime?" the children's mother, Danielle Meitiv, wrote in the Washington Post.
"Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of young children being outside without adult supervision. We're not always comfortable with it, either. We think, however, that giving them an opportunity to learn to make their way in the world independently is the best way to prepare them for adulthood — and that it is safe for them to do so."
Wright has studied the interaction between child welfare systems and the justice system.
"Everybody has a responsibility under the law to report child abuse. Everybody does, legally," she says.
"The problem is defining what child abuse is."
'Society is trying to parent everybody'
Despite decades of bitter debate, the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the right of parents to spank their children.
Yelling in public, while upsetting to many, is also legal. So is feeding your children too much sugar, giving them unlimited screen time and entering them in beauty pageants.
Likewise, it's no crime to find other people's kids irritating.
Squamish Mayor Patricia Heintzman called McIlwaine to sympathize.
"I think the shocking thing about this is that everyone feels like: "I could have had neighbours call 20 times last weekend for a situation just like that," she says.
"And for this type of situation to then spiral into something big like this is an interesting commentary on how society is trying to parent everybody, and we stop the ability to rationalize and intuitively assess situations. And we rely on the police to go and monitor things like a kid playing in front of their house with no clothes on."
The naked truth?
Then again, maybe it's just something about nudity.
Wright recalls a neighbour complaining to her husband about their daughters running through a sprinkler naked when they were children.
And she also remembers someone complaining to her own mother about similar activity when she was a child.
"I lived in a small community where people felt that they had to be the moral regulator of children's behaviour. It was a very different time in a small town. I felt badly about it as a small child," she says.
"As a parent, I didn't really care. I just wrote it off as the person who was making the complaint. But it never would have occurred to me that somebody would call the police."
McIlwaine says the upshot of the incident is that his children are now scared of police. But after meeting with RCMP on Wednesday, he said his family accept the police apology and the issue is "resolved."
The neighbour remains anonymous.