When you become a parent, you very quickly discover unsolicited advice is waiting for you at every turn, from how you chose to feed your baby to what clothes he is wearing ― the latter being a particularly popular topic of unsolicited advice here in Berlin, where the locals collectively seem to think I don’t wrap my children up warm enough.
But one of our parenting decisions, the one that has attracted the most unsolicited advice, is the use of walking reins. In Scotland, where my older son was born, they are readily available to buy in any high street store selling baby gear, and I didn’t think twice about getting a pair when he started walking. Everyone else we knew seemed to be using them, too. However, I’ve never seen any other parents using walking reins in the five years we’ve been in Berlin.
““Children do not belong on leashes!” I agree. That’s why I don’t refer to it as a leash.”
When I say unsolicited “advice,” I should really say criticism. First, there were the disapproving looks. Those looks that quite overtly tried to express what a bad mother I am. Then the sniggering, pointing, and half whispers about children on leashes just within earshot. And, lastly, the people who would just come up to me and straight out say, “It’s a child, not an animal!” or, “Children do not belong on leashes!”
I agree. That’s why I don’t refer to it as a leash.
People here seem to equate the use of walking reins with bad parenting. Something parents fall back on when they can’t discipline their children. Especially when you only have one child (having multiple children to keep hold of apparently gives you some leeway). I’ve even had it suggested to me that if you can’t control your children and stop them from running away, without the use of a “leash,” maybe you shouldn’t have any. Harsh.
Here’s the thing. I don’t use walking reins on my children because I can’t discipline them. I use walking reins to keep them safe, and it has nothing to do with the number of children I have. “Your child could get injured by the reins!”
“I don’t use walking reins on my children because I can’t discipline them. I use walking reins to keep them safe.”
Do you know what else he could get injured by? Being run over by a car! We live in the city, next to a very busy road. My older son has always been very good at holding hands, but even he would sometimes unexpectedly pull away when something else caught his attention. A bug that needed examined. A stone that needed picked up. Or a car ― his favorite thing in the world ― that needed to be looked at closer.
All good parenting aside, he was too young to appreciate the dangers of four-lane city traffic. I didn’t want to rely solely on my reaction time. Walking reins gave me an extra sense of security, and I’d rather put up with pointing and staring than having to scrape my boy out from under a bus. Walking reins are also known as safety harnesses, which really says it all.
Now my younger son has just started walking, and we are reliving our experiences from four years ago. Unlike his older brother, however, he hates holding hands. And unlike his older brother, he’s a runner. He thinks it’s hilarious to not just pull away, but to then leg it down the road. And little kids are surprisingly fast. Not as fast as adults, but fast enough when you’re that close to traffic. We’ve disciplined our two boys exactly the same, but their personalities are as chalk and cheese. One still likes holding hands at almost 6 years old, the other makes you think your hands are covered in poison ivy, he’s so reluctant to hold them. So even good parenting will only get you so far.
“It’s like saying, 'I had a heart attack and survived, how dare that other guy die.' People are different. Kids are different. It has nothing to do with good or bad parenting.”
Besides everyday situations, there’s also traveling. When I have traveled alone with my kids, the walking reins have been a godsend. Busy airport, over-excited child… out come the reins and save him from disappearing in the crowd while I’m trying to navigate check-in. Similarly, when traveling by train the reins have kept my little train lovers from throwing themselves at their objects of affection, everything they have been taught going straight out the window at the excitement of seeing one up close.
Sadly, the most scathing comments often come from other mothers. Having two kids so different in nature, it would never cross my mind to judge others based on my personal experience. And yet countless times I’ve heard, “I just make my kids hold my hands,” “I have four kids and I’ve never needed a leash,” “My kid has started walking and he never runs off.” It’s like saying, “I had a heart attack and survived, how dare that other guy die.” People are different. Kids are different. It has nothing to do with good or bad parenting. If you have a runner or a hand-holding hater, you’ll know where I’m coming from.