Mommy Vortex: When Someone Else’s Child Hurts Yours
One of the very first times I took my son to a playground, I was presented with a parenting conundrum that I still have not fully worked out years later: how to effectively address another child’s inappropriate behavior when that child’s parent/caregiver refuses to do so.
I remember, all those years ago, my son trying to scramble up the small ladder to the toddler slide, when an older child ran over and deliberately knocked my son out of the way to get onto the slide first.
I just stood there, mouth gaping, when I should have rushed to my son’s side to see if he was alright. I noticed the other child’s mother shrug her shoulders as my own maternal instincts kicked in, and I quickly grabbed a baby wipe to mop up the blood from my son’s knee. The other mom simply sighed and said, “Boys will be boys! Gotta be tough!” And then she went to sit on the bench.
Um, what? Seriously? Did I miss some Parenting 101 rule that said it was perfectly fine to knock another kid to the ground (causing them to bleed!) as long as it was on a playground? I was pretty shocked by her blasé reaction. Maybe I was a new parent, but wasn’t now the time to start teaching these little people that pushing, shoving, and refusing to wait your turn were inappropriate behaviors that are (generally) not tolerated by others? I really—I mean really—wanted to reprimand that child myself. But could I do so? Would that be appropriate?
I decided against it, and instead looked at my son, and told him (in a very loud voice) that I felt badly he was knocked down, and that it wasn’t nice to do such things to other people. He rebounded the way kids do, but I remained fairly aggravated.
We parents are raising the next generation here, so isn’t it our job to make sure they have basic manners, or at least understand that aggressive, physical behavior is rarely the most effective way to communicate? A pushy pre-schooler may not necessarily become the next teen bully, but without proper direction, yeah, he might. Parents just cannot simply look the other way.
I have never quite worked out how to deal with other parents on these types of issues, which, I have noticed, tend to get worse as the kids get older. Yes, I agree that kids need to learn to advocate for themselves; mommy and daddy can’t always speak for them. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that parents need to step up, too, and give their children proper guidance so that we don’t end up feeling like we should reprimand each others’ kids.
Recently, my son (who is now a naïve, if not kind-hearted, seven year old), was being called names by older boys while my daughter was at dance class. I was watching the dance lesson, and so I didn’t hear my son being called “weird,” “stupid,” and “four eyes.” I also didn’t know that he was laughing at the name-calling to feel accepted—as he later told me—never realizing he was actually laughing at himself (my heart still breaks a little when I think about it).
The fact that the older boy’s parent was there, along with two other parents, made it worse: they were laughing at my son, too. I only learned of the events from one of the dance studio owners who intervened on my son’s behalf and later told me about it. I was infuriated. How could other adults allow a child to be treated like that? How could they stand idly by—worse, participate in!—mean-spirited name-calling? It is so disheartening to think about what kind of teens and adults these kids will turn into considering how the parents acted.
How could a child learn that bullying behavior is wrong when the adults they learn from and trust act like bullies themselves? And yet, given that parents today have shamelessly taken to Facebook and Twitter to publicly victimize their children’s “friends,” I guess I should not have been surprised by the entire situation. Nonetheless, I fumed for an entire week.
I had no idea what to do: should I confront the parents? The kids? Teach my son to better advocate for himself? All of the above? I was really conflicted about how to handle what had happened; it was like I was standing on that playground all over again.
In the end, I did say something the following week to the same collective group of parents and older boys assembled in the dance studio’s waiting room. I told them all that name calling was unnecessary and mean, that they should all try to be a little bit more human. Yes, it made me a pariah with some of the parents. And no, I don’t regret it. I only regret the fact that I had to say something at all: part of me wishes my son had advocated for himself; a bigger part of me wishes the other parents had given their own children some (very) necessary guidance. Or at least that they hadn’t made the situation worse by laughing and acting like bullies themselves.
Despite my decision to speak up, I still find myself wondering when it is appropriate to correct or reprimand another child when an adult refuses to do so, or (worse) when the adult participates. Always? Never? Case by case? I am often conflicted about it. In the end, I think it may just be one of those parenting dilemmas I’ll never quite solve.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.