Lenore Skenazy, a New York City native and mother of two, was called the world’s worst mom in the press after writing a column for the NY Sun where she revealed that she let her then 9 year old son ride the subway alone. She was accused of child abuse and just plain insanity. Whether you agree with that parenting decision or not, naming her as the world’s worst mom seems a bit extreme considering that there are moms out there who, you know, drown their children or sell them into prostitution. And while I know that Discovery Life wants to lure viewers in with a catchy title, this one doesn’t really jibe with the subject matter of the show.
World’s Worst Mom could instead be called “How Not To Helicopter Parent” or “How to Raise Confident, Independent Kids” or something like that. (Okay, okay, this is why I don’t make a living writing TV show titles.) The show’s premiere on January 22nd is especially timely considering the recent viral news story of the parents in Maryland currently under investigation for allowing their children to walk home from the park alone.
In the show, Lenore visits thirteen different families and stays with them each for 4-5 days, encouraging them to embrace free range parenting. At the NYC screening, Discovery Life presented one episode of the show. In this episode, a ten year old boy named Sam was being treated like a toddler by his mother. She spoon fed him, ran his baths for him, and didn’t let him roller skate or ride a bicycle for fear he’d get hurt.
In swoops Lenore. While his mother watched via video feed, Lenore started by allowing Sam to use (gasp!) a knife to make himself a sandwhich. She demonstrated the safest way to cut and supervised his first attempts. His mother watched from another room via a video feed and was literally horrified. Her husband practically had to hodl her down so she didn’t run to her child’s rescue. When Sam was finished, he brought the sandwich to his mom, beaming with pride.
The episode continues on, with Lenore encouraging the boy to ride a bike, go two stops on a bus alone, and (the grand finale) go on an overnight Boy Scout camping trip. Each time his mother felt huge amounts of anxiety. This anxiety was obviously a source of tension in her marriage and also rubbed off on poor Sam. When asked if he wanted to go on the overnight trip, he answered an enthusiastic, “Yes!” before his mom had finished the sentence. Mom then spent the rest of the evening “making sure” he wanted to go by saying things like, “You know it’s very cold and you’ll have to sleep in a sleeping bag. You know you won’t know anyone there at all. They’ll all be strangers.” This resulted in a meltdown for poor Sam. It was heart wrenching to watch how this mom’s anxiety rubbed off on her son.
The next morning, Sam embarked on the trip and had the time of his life, earning a merit badge for learning to start a campfire.
After the conclusion of the episode, there was a question and answer session with Lenore and the Executive Producer of the show. They related that a few months after Sam’s episode was shot, his mother emailed Lenore to tell her that he would be attending overnight BMX Bike Camp for the summer. Success!
2,000 families were screened for the show. The final thirteen families that were selected were from varying socio-economic backgrounds. There didn’t seem to be any correlation between one’s education/financial situation/race/culture and their tendency to helicopter parent. As the producer said, “I tried hard to show that everybody is f’ed up.” Lenore emphasized that the show is not about discipline or even parenting but about “replacing fear with reality.”
I had a lovely chat with her after the screening about my own fears for my son. I loved the lightheartedness of the show, which showed the humor in the situation without looking down on the parents. I’m looking forward to catching the rest of the season on Discovery Life.