Etan PatzEtan Patz was six years old when he disappeared while walking from his apartment in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan to the school bus stop. It was 1979. I saw his picture on the milk carton every morning as I ate Apple Jacks for breakfast and every evening on the local TV news.
I was seven years old and lived in Brooklyn a 10-minute drive from Etan's home. We were both born in October, our birthdays only days apart. I think I knew this from the milk cartons. Though I didn't know him, Etan's disappearance terrified, haunted, and traumatized me.
Most parents would agree that they try to shield their kids from scary news stories, but I'm not sure my parents could have shielded my 7-year-old self from this one. Etan's story took over New York City. Sadly, Etan's disappearance continues to be a mystery and has resurfaced at many different points over the past three decades. As my life has evolved, new leads on the cold case have re-emerged and forced the story back in the news. It happened again this past week: Another new lead, more headlines and TV news stories. And then another dead end. And more heartache for Etan's parents.
But things are different this news cycle. I'm a mom now, and it's dawning on me that Etan's disappearance scarred me so deeply that it's affected the way I parent. Though New York today is nowhere near what it was like in the 1980s, I still fear for my child. As a parent, I feel like there's danger behind every corner. To me, the city still feels like the same scary place for kids that it was when I was a child. I realize this is completely irrational and purely emotional, but it's my reality.
As a mom raising an increasingly independent nine-year-old boy, this reality of mine is becoming a problem. I don't know how much longer my son will tolerate me waiting outside of the men's bathroom in the movie theater, coming up with excuses to call his name to assure me he's okay. Even though there are security cameras in our building and a doorman, I worry when my son rides the elevator alone.
My overprotection isn't healthy for my son or for me. I know I have to learn to keep my fears to myself and help him learn to be confident in his independence. And I know it can be done. I would classify my own parents as the protective type, but despite, or perhaps because of Etan, I grew into a teenager who navigated the city carefully and extra aware of my surroundings. This is what I want to pass on to my son - autonomy, not fear.
- By Isabel Kallman
MORE ON BABBLE
25 things every kid should experience
7 things you should NEVER say to your kid
20 simple ways to show your kids you love them
10 ways to bully-proof your kids
15 things I wish I knew before having children
Isabel KallmanIsabel Kallman is the founder and chief at Alpha Mom, an online parenting destination and marketing research lab. Isabel and Alpha Mom have been featured by leading national media such as USA Today, The Today Show, and Good Morning America. Forbes anointed Alpha Mom one of the Top 10 Mommyhood Gurus and Parents Magazine named Isabel one of the ten "Power Moms." Isabel lives in New York City with her husband and eight-year-old son.