Parenting other people’s kids
Ah the playground. A place where parents of all different beliefs and discipline styles (plus their children) are thrown together and forced to share equipment that none of them can lay claim too. When so many people are trying to use the same stuff, and they each have a unique way of dealing with their children, there is bound to be conflict.
“Why isn’t someone parenting these kids?!” is a question every mother and father has asked at one point or another. I’m sure parents were wondering the same thing about me when I was searching for my wallet in my bag at the water park and my daughter ended up in a ring of lifeguards trying to persuade her NOT to climb into the small pool at the bottom of one of the slides. Surely we’ve all had a moment when we’ve looked away, for whatever reason, only to find our child engaged in something precarious when our attention returned. It happens to everyone at least once.
What is really bothersome is when parents seem to be absent for significantly longer periods of time and their kids are wreaking havoc all over the playground. In these situations I’m never sure what is appropriate. Do I ignore (and try to avoid) said hooligans, hoping their parents come back? Or do I try to change their behavior so their fun doesn’t interfere with the fun (and safety) of everyone else.
Case in point: Yesterday we went to a relatively new, and very popular playground, with our two year old daughter. This playground is obviously tailored more for older kids and there are always LOTS of children over the age of five there–many of them are eight, nine and ten. I will admit, I’m not used to these bigger kids that are old enough to go wherever they want with limited parental supervision, and have the skills and strength to attempt all sorts of daring feats.
So at this park yesterday, there was a situation that really frustrated, and concerned, me. Two brothers–I guessed they were maybe three and five–kept going down the main slide and then immediately turning around at the bottom and walking back up. Now this slide is a safety hazard for a number of reasons: it’s super wide and kids love to shoot down it in huge groups of five or so kids, all tangled together, literally careening out of control. I’ve seen plenty of smaller kids getting knocked over and out of the way by large groups of kids oblivious to their presence.
So here were these two boys just going up and down the slide over and over again, preventing other kids from getting a turn because they were always in the way, either going down or walking back up. All these kids were waiting at the top to go, but these boys were just walking right up the slide, sitting down in front of the ones waiting, and sliding down again. They must have done this three dozen times in the five minutes I was watching.
At first I thought a soft spoken woman who intermittently suggested the boys climb up the stairs was their mother and I was frustrated she wasn’t doing more to discipline them. Then, when her daughter gotten taken out by the older boy, I realized she was just a poor parent trying to help her little girl enjoy a slide that had been hijacked by two boys whose parents were nowhere to be found. Or maybe they saw what was happening and just didn’t care.
Now I am a teacher and it’s hard for me to sit by and watch kids being both rude and unsafe on a play structure that other children are trying to enjoy. When I saw them take down the poor girl, I walked up the side of the slide and talked to the older boy, asking him if he realized that by walking up the slide he was getting in the way of others who wanted to ride. He was very adept at blowing me off and basically ignored me, despite repeated attempts.
Finally, realizing there was literally nothing I could do, I directed my daughter elsewhere to save myself from the increasing frustration. The whole rest of our afternoon at the park was spent coming to terms with the fact that I would only experience more and more of these situations as my daughter got older.
I have to admit, teaching my daughter how to treat others with respect in a large, crowded space is really important to me. It bothers me when I’m asking my squirmy, impatient two year old to wait in line for the slide when older kids just walk up and cut us in line. I know when she’s older we can share in teachable moments, where we discuss how having someone cut in line made us feel, and whether we want to make others feel like that by cutting in line ourselves. But right now, it just makes me look like a jerk who won’t let her just rush to the slide and climb on when she sees all these other kids doing just that.
The reality is, when we bring our kids to public places with other parents and kids we might have to interact with them, sometimes in ways that make us feel uncomfortable. At an earlier visit to that same park, some moms and nannies were asking another mother to keep her 12 year old son from riding his bike down the wide slide. Her response? She dragged him over to the group and sneered, “these bitches want you to stop riding your bike on the slide.” I was sitting within ear shot and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! Not only was this mom teaching her child that it was okay for him to do something that put himself, and others, at risk, while preventing other kids for using a public structure, she was also showing him how to treat other women with disrespect. It was appalling.
Not shockingly, the boy kept riding his bike down the slide and most of the moms and nannies with younger kids eventually left the park.
So what is the recourse in situations like these, when kids are behaving in a way that definitely ruins other children’s fun and may end up harming them? Can I, as an outsider, step in and say something? Or am I overstepping my bounds? And if a mother responds with anger and disrespect do I hold my ground or walk away with wounded pride?
I wondered for a long time what might have been considered an acceptable response in the case of the boy walking back up the slide. Was it inappropriate for me to even speak to them like I did? Should I have done more, physically removing them from the slide to ensure no one else got hurt? It’s easy to assume one will know when something constitutes a safety risk but sometimes the lines are blurred, the area is gray and you find yourself second guessing. In those cases it can be hard to know what to do, to figure out if you want to step in just because you’re annoyed or because you really believe they are posing a safety risk.
There are so many times when as adults, we are forced to deal with people who act in ways we don’t appreciate. But when you add children to the mix, both your own and someone else’s, things feel infinitely more complicated and difficult. As a teacher, I am used to disciplining other people’s children and it’s hard for me to step back in situations that seem blatantly inappropriate. At the same time I want to be respectful of children and their parents. I guess in every situation, I’ll just have to do my best.