DEAR AMY: I have a concern about how my mother-in-law baby-sits my toddler son. She is a very free-spirited woman who believes that my son should have a lot of freedom. She feels that playing with sticks, running free in a store, chewing on ice and exploring the garage (which is filled with many adult tools) are all acceptable things for him to do. His dad and I have told her how we feel, but she thinks we are too protective, and she does these things and other unsafe activities regardless of what we say. She loves her grandson very much and loves to watch him once a week while I go to the gym or run errands. We hate to tell her that she can't watch him but we are thinking about informing her that she can only watch him supervised. How can we tell her more clearly that these activities are unacceptable?
-- Concerned Mom
DEAR CONCERNED: Rather than debate the relative merits of free-range versus risk-reduction, let's boil this down to its most basic component: You are the parents.
The fact is that many readers managed to survive childhoods that were dangerous -- certainly by today's standards. But I know of other children who did not. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 9,000 children die each year (and 250,000 are hospitalized) due to unintentional injuries. At the CDC, they don't term these as "accidents" because they are "predictable and preventable." Free play is wonderful, but no heartache could match that of a child being injured or killed while under the care of a loving grandparent.
Let's stipulate that you and your husband have the normal amount of anxiety about your child's safety. But even if you wanted Grandma to adhere to a gluten-free, risk-free, boy-in-a-bubble routine, she should respect your choice.
Your mother-in-law is behaving like a defiant, naughty toddler. There should be consequences. Invite her to spend time with him supervised until she shows she will respect you.