09/23/2014 04:37 pm ET Updated Nov 23, 2014

I Won't Put A Leash on My Child

John Whyte, M.D., MPH

I will admit it: I'm a new Dad and still trying to figure out parenthood. I know I won't always get it right, but recently, I'm pretty sure I made the right choice.

I try to bring my toddler son along with me to most places I go -- especially stores. It definitely takes a lot more time to get through my shopping list of items, but it is totally worth it. It's become a bit of a bonding ritual with him and me. Some cashiers even know him by name, and the few times he isn't with me, they want to know where he is!

Now, I should let you know that when I take him to the store, I do let him roam the aisles and touch things. I don't ever lose sight of him, but I do let him run up and down the aisles, as well as touch the items on the shelf. Sitting in the cart just doesn't interest him. And there have been many times I have had to buy items we don't even use or even like (I've never liked mayo, but sometimes it comes in plastic, colorful jars!). But the point is I include him in my "to-do-list" so we can have more time together. Everyone tells me how fast children grow up, so I want to maximize my time with him.

During a recent trip to my local grocery store, I got one of the most disapproving looks from a parent.

"Ah, is that your son? He just knocked those balls down."

Yes, my son was taking all the soccer balls off of the shelf in the seasonal section area, but unbeknownst to her, I always put items back. Indeed, we always put things back the way we found them. Clearly, this woman was not approving of my parenting skills and probably didn't think he should be "unattended." And her tone was so condescending. She obviously knew he was my son -- he bears a strong family resemblance and the fact that he and I tend to wear the same type and color of shirt (and sometimes pants!) leaves little question as to who he belongs to. She wasn't really inquiring whether he was my prodigy; rather, she wanted to make sure I knew she didn't condone his or my behavior.

But you know what? I don't have any problems with what I did. I always vowed I would never be one of those parents who use those harnesses on their children -- keeping them essentially on a leash. I always hated seeing that! My son is never out of my sight, and never in harm's way. I'm not going to hover over him all the time and always say "no," or act like every object is a hazard. I'm letting him explore the store using his natural curiosity. So if he wants to press on the shaving cream can, I let him do it. And if he bites into a lemon he picks up since it's at his eye level, his facial expression is priceless! (And yes, I do buy that lemon.) And if he runs down the aisle laughing while carrying the cereal box, that's a good time! Does that make me a bad parent because I allow him to explore his world in a safe and creative way rather than being left at home or strapped passively in a shopping cart?

As Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus espouses, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy." And that's exactly what these store trips allow.