Large groups of toddlers make me very uncomfortable. Simply surviving the tornado that is my own (almost) two-year-old is a daily workout. When there is a group of these creatures underfoot, my blood pressure goes through the roof.
I’ve written about the struggles of keeping my son in check when visiting a friend’s home, but today’s post is not about my kid; it’s about everyone else’s.
My kid gives me enough stress. If it’s not my kid? It’s not my problem.
Mom and Buried and I took Detective Munch to the park the other day, to sit with other kids his age and listen to someone with a remarkable lack of self-consciousness play guitar and sing children’s songs. All the parents laid blankets out, along with some toys and maybe some snacks to better distract and occupy their children. It didn’t quite work.
These are toddlers we’re talking about; nothing works.
What you had was a bunch of parents sitting on blankets while unruly children swarmed around them. Most of the kids were well-behaved, and most of the parents kept an eye on their own offspring, reining them in if and when they started snatching someone else’s toys or wandering too far afield of the music zone. I was very much on edge during the whole experience; the last thing I want is my kid getting a reputation as a loose cannon or a bully, wandering around all over the place, grabbing everyone else’s food and toys.
Thankfully we ended up getting through it okay – he behaved and I didn’t have a heart attack – but there was one mother so enthralled by the 24-year-old’s songs about monkeys jumping on beds that she didn’t see the havoc her son was wreaking. Unfortunately for her, everyone else did.
This one kid was wandering from blanket to blanket, taking other kids’ toys, grabbing and eating their food, generally being aggressive and handsy and rude. All of the other parents were helpless. No one is comfortable attempting to discipline someone else’s children, so most of us did our best to protect our kids while staring daggers across the park at the brute’s mother, silently screaming for her to notice and take an interest.
The closest she came to doing anything was to raise herself up to her knees and peer around when she’d completely lost sight of her child, which happened several times. But she never once got up.
I’m not judging this woman’s parenting. Her kid is two years old – part of a class of people without proper social skills. They don’t understand personal space, or appropriate volume levels, or sharing, or basic English. But one got the impression that this mom brings her son to these large gatherings so that she’ll have help from other parents, most of whom, like myself, were clearly concerned to see her child wandering around while his mom was totally oblivious to his actions and whereabouts.
I honestly have no idea what kind of parenting technique she uses at home and besides, it’s not my place to pretend I know what works; I hardly know myself. But I do know that regardless of what kind of parenting you’re doing, you have to do something. And she wasn’t paying attention to her son at all.
Every mom and dad knows that sometimes your toddler is just gonna be a jerk. He’s gonna get unruly and grabby and he’s gonna wander off and show no regard for yours or anyone else’s requests that he share or be nice or stay closer or whatever. They’re not called the terrible twos for nothing.
I just watched “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” so I have sympathy for this woman, believe me. But it’s not fair to thrust the responsibility for your child onto other people.
It’s embarrassing to have to go pull your son away to stop him from stealing someone else’s toys or eating someone else’s food, or to stop him from pushing another kid or wandering too far off. But he’s your kid, he’s going to embarrass you and make you do embarrassing things. We all understand that. And no matter how mortifying it is to lay claim to the tiny terror ruining everyone’s good time, it’s part of the deal.
You have to pull him away. You have to stop him from abusing other kids. You have to go get him. You have to do these things yourself. You can’t rely on other parents to do it for you; it’s not their job. They are (hopefully) watching their kid and (hopefully) stopping him when he acts up. All they want is for you to do the same.
There’s obviously a need for children to learn independence, something I am still struggling with; my wife often scolds me for monitoring my son too closely. And she’s right. But the time to teach independence is not when he’s terrorizing a group of other kids in the middle of an outdoor concert.
I have a hard enough time parenting my own toddler. Please don’t make me responsible for yours.
5 thoughts on “Not My Kid, Not My Problem”
Thanks for sharing your post over on our LittleBrowne site. I hear ya and I totally agree that I don’t care what style of parenting you use but you have to do something. I don’t remember things being this way when i was a kid, but I think every generation says that. I just know that the lack of involvement from parents nowadays is pathetic. We live in a society where so many people expect their family members, their friends, the teachers, and the government to raise their children…scary.
All I have to say is good gravy I’m glad I’m on the other end of the toddler-raising shenanigans. It was horrible. I’m pretty sure I’ve suppressed most of those memories. And as the mother of two teenage boys, I can honestly say that those parents who lament that they “grow up too fast” must be insane masochists at heart. I love my kids. I love being their mom. The teenage years are by far the best, especially when you have good kids. But I’d poke my eyeballs out with an icepick before I ever raised another kid. The smell of the baby section at Wal-Mart almost gives me a panic attack. I consider it a rousing success that my husband and I survived the toddler years without permanently losing hair, our kids, or our sanity. Although that last one is highly subjective….
I was with you until you called watching Kevin a compassion-building exercise.
I’ve been the mom of that kid, who needed constant watching. I hope I did a better job than the gal you described, but I know I had bad days in which sometimes the best I could do was take him to the park or someplace open and just let him loose. I didn’t worry *too* much because he wasn’t a bully, wasn’t mean to other kids unprovoked, but his temper tantrums could be nuclear.
Everyone complains about their kids’ temper tantrums of course, with varying degrees of exasperation, but I’m talking about all-on screaming, kicking, hysterical fits that could last up to 4 hours.
Today, my son is 15. He’s empathetic, compassionate, and someday he’ll be an incredible dad. There’s barely a trace of the kid who kicked holes in the side of his bunk bed and destroyed a closet door (from the outside, in case anyone gets the impression we were locking him in closets. It was tempting at times, but no. Just no.)
Those toddlers are annoying. Scary. Frustrating. Their parents are a lot more frustrating. But, I disagree with the idea that other parents are “helpless.” While I don’t feel responsible for implementing consequences for a child who is not my own, I have no problem at all saying, “No, honey, you can’t take that. That’s not your toy,” and even taking a child by the hand and leading him back to Mom, and politely explaining that he’s being a bit cheeky.
I get that you might not be comfortable actually physically returning a kid to Mom- a lot of people aren’t, but I’ve done it and yes some parents get embarrassed and annoyed, but I’ve found that a calm, non-judgmental approach usually diffuses any irritation on their part. I had people do that with my son once or twice when I got distracted, and it was actually a good thing. I got to talk to other moms at the park, and those who had difficult kids of their own, who took the time to talk to me, were some of the most supportive people I ever met.
It’s not my job to parent someone else’s kid, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let him or her ruin my family’s experience, either. Sometimes having compassion just means recognizing that we’re all in this parenting thing together.
Being a mom of four and my youngest one just starting kindergarten. I understand this completely. Though I have no problem taking a kid back to their parent and here we have an issue which parents leaving their kids at our local pool ages 6 to 12 by themselves. These kids I have no problem telling them to stop or letting management know that they are being unruly and unsafe.
I agree to an extent & disagree. This problem will actually get worse as your son gets older & makes friends who will come over to your house to play. My son is 7. One of his first good neighborhood friends came from a family with a lot of kids and parents who clearly both worked long hours to support the family. They left 16 yo sister in charge most days. My son would invite friend over and he would be at our house from the time school let out until 7-8 pm without a single person checking on his wear abouts. Now, my 7 yo is very independent for his age but he’s still 7 & I could never dream of just hoping my kid got off the bus, got dinner, and was safe all night without having a solid plan in place & a responsible sitter. My fiancé and I often felt in a tough place. We felt as if we became the parents to a second child. His sister would leave the house and he would be expected to go home at 8 pm alone, into a dark house and he voiced being scared to be there alone. I could not send that kid home alone. So I would be trying to do homework with my son, bath time and get him ready for bed while I had his friend over until 10 pm some nights. But my heart broke for this child & I felt a responsibility to him as a compassionate adult to help look after him. To me, that just felt right.
I firmly believe in the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”. I would never leave my child in this position repeatedly or ever even once, but I would ALSO HOPE, if something did happen & I got delayed getting home from work, that an adult around would look after my child until I got there. I can’t demand or expect anyone to do so as he is MY responsibility but at the same time, as adults, I feel if we aware a child is being unsupervised, it’s our job to help & do what we can. I never judged the parents as they were clearly working hard to support their kids & didn’t know older daughter was leaving him alone all night. It was an uncomfortable conversation to have with this boy’s mother but I did it because it was the right thing & she needed to know. I couldn’t keep him until 10 pm every night but I wasn’t going to send a scared child home alone in the dark either.
And as our kids get older and make close friends that start spending more and more time in our homes and around our children, it’s important to learn to also discipline them. When my sons friends are over, our house rules apply to them as well. It helps to get to know the parents & establish guidelines & get a feel for their parenting style as well & some ground rules established. But I have many times had to tell someone else’s child to stop certain behaviors. I do it much more respectfully than I would my own son, but you can’t let your kids friends walk all over you or your kid will follow suit shortly after (trust me, I had a few choice words I left out to the 3 boys who were exposing themselves and peeing all over the playground but kept locked down until the kids were out of sight!) But even with this situation which just happened this weekend, I immediately told all the kids how VERY inappropriate, wrong, & disgusting it was along with how severely the punishments could be. I have a list of the parents that I will be talking to. It’s not something I’m looking forward to but it needs to be brought up. And if other parents chose to continue allowing their kids to act that way, my son will no longer be anywhere near them. And those are boundaries I’m very willing to set and follow up on bc I don’t want my kid being THAT kid.
So I don’t think we should ever EXPECT other parents to watch our kids, but I hope when my son is at their houses or around and I’m not that someone cares about him like I care about kids in general and would be there for him when/if needed. Some won’t be. And because I stay involved with my sons friends and their parents, I know who watches them and who doesn’t and my son isn’t allowed at those kids houses. But as adults, I feel it’s our job to recognize when a child may need help or guidance from an adult and help provide that I’m whatever small way we can. Sadly, not everyone who is a parent should be ones the older your child gets and the closer he gets with other kids, it’s devastating to witness it. And if for those couple hours I can help make that kid feel worthy of my attention and help him/her with something they need, then I’m doing my part as a caring person to help a child who needs it. I feel that’s something we should all do whether we have kids or not. I know not everyone will agree, but in the situations I’ve been in, you’d have to be a pretty cold hearted person to NOT.