Life With Nine Kids

Friday, April 20, 2012

Eggshells: Telling Another Parent They Are Wrong

So how does one tell another parent, a stranger in public, that they are totally out of line and ridiculous towards their child?

Well this is how I did it. And it didn't really feel good, but it did feel right...

   At the park I was enjoying my kids. We brought a hot dinner and were having a fun time picnicking and playing. As I was pushing three year old Sebastian on the "baby swings" (which I will from now on call safety swings) a little boy nearby pleaded with his dad to push him on them too. He said no. The boy persisted. His dad said no, "Those are baby swings for kids three and under." I was shocked because this little boy was much, much smaller than my three year old who fit just fine in the swing.
   The dad continued telling the little boy he'd push him on the regular size swings. The little boy said he really wanted the other swings. The dad said they were for little kids. He earnestly pleaded, "BUT, I AM a little kid." No you aren't was his reply. "You're are a big kid, not a baby." My heart ached for the little boy.
   The pleading continued as steam started to rise up in me; I got angry, I got that bad feeling in my gut. I told myself to just ignore it. The boy stopped complaining for a minute. I focused on talking to Sebastian as I wondered what he thought of the situation. Sebastian is a big boy: strong, wild, confident, and tough. He didn't mind being on those "baby swings." Just as I had started to enjoy the park again the little boy cried and pleaded again with his dad. It was getting ridiculous. In the dad's defense he stayed clear and concise and did not get angry at the child, but he was very cold and uncaring. His lack of empathy was just brutal though. That's what got to me. I mean it, it was BRUTAL. I let go of my anger and growing hate and just took it all in. I tried reasoning with myself and with the situation. The dad continued to meet the child's pleading and now crying for a chance at the baby swing with rejection. The dad told his kid that he was just tired, he was big, and that he was not pushing him unless it was on the big swing. The boy was so sad. It was a huge playground scene at this point and everyone was watching.

   A woman came into the picture, I can only assume his mother, and she said nothing. I thought for a moment oh good the mom, she'll talk to the dad. Nothing. They hardly spoke. She just sat down and the begging continued. Maybe she wasn't his mom, maybe she was the man's girlfriend. I don't know. She seemed very uninvolved. At this point I thought it was all over. I thought I can now release the tightness in my chest and pain in my gut over this crappy guy who is treating his kid crappy and trying to be some macho bad ass by winning a power struggle over a safety swing. Then the little boy said once again in desperation, "But I AM a little kid."

   And because he was right, he was a little kid, I calmly walked over to the man and boy. I looked at the little boy first and said, "Hey little guy I'm sorry you are so sad." He looked at me kindly. I then said to the dad, "Hey I'm trying to be friendly here so please don't take this the wrong way; what's wrong with him just having a turn at the little swings?" He told me that the boy is just tired and he can go on the big ones, he does all the time. I kindly said, "But, they are only little for a short time. Believe me I'm not trying to say you are wrong, just give a different perspective, I'm sure you are doing a great job and you love him to death. I know how hard parenting is, I have seven kids, my oldest is 15. One thing that I have learned though is to I pick the battles that matter. I have kids that I don't want dating until they are older, or wearing make up, or watching inappropriate movies, those are the important battles to me. At the end of the day doesn't it matter the most that he had a good time at the park?" The dad sort of shook his head yes, but said the kid was big enough for the other swings. I agreed he was big enough. I asked the dad if he knew why the boy might want to try the little swings. He said no. I offered that maybe he wanted to try something new and different today. The dad seemed like that might be a good reason. I told him that I just wanted to put the thought out there, that I felt his little boy was a little boy and to just think about in case it helps things because he won't be little long. I also tried to explain to him that kids have such a different view on things than we do, that I've researched a lot about preschoolers, and that if I hadn't learned what made little kids tick, and how to deal with them I would have gone crazy a long time ago. I reiterated again, "They have reasons, they have a different view and feel differently than we do about things." He took it all in as I talked. I have no idea if he was just being polite or what. I commented about how it's very interesting why little kids are indecisive, why they lie, why they do lots of things. It makes sense to them at the time. He nodded and I sympathized again how hard parenting is. I then got down to the little boys level and said, "It's hard being a little AND big kid, huh?" He smiled a half smile and with his little sad voice he said, "yeh." I told him to have some fun at the park before he had to go. I said, "Maybe go down the slide or something, ok?"

   Before they left the woman, I still presume his mom, pushed him on those "baby swings." I have no idea if I helped a family or hurt the situation. (The woman did not hear my little intrusion speech. I think she was too far away.) The dad seemed civil (but macho) and not too annoyed that I talked to him but who knows. I have no idea what to do when I'm confronted with these things in public. In the past and on rare occasion, (VERY rare) if I say something to a parent it's hardly ever been in a kind, caring concerned tone. It's been in a 'you're such a jerk to your kid' aggressive type comment as I'm leaving the situation. That is not productive. That only feeds anger. I promised myself a long time ago to never do that again. Let go of the anger and judgement that builds up inside. Don't fight fire with fire. Fight fire with understanding and compassion. If I feel I *have* to say something then I tell myself to do it to make a difference and not add gasoline to the fire. The thing is... it takes more effort, more understanding, more patience to do what I did. It takes almost no courage and it takes zero understanding to fire back insults and disapproval.
Compassion. I acted out of compassion again this week! I just realized it!
This has been my mantra for a long while now, and it made me a better, calmer, more loving person


Meghan said...

I love how you handled this situation.

Mom of a bunch of great kids... said...

Thank you! :) I am pleased with myself this morning. I was still doubting myself last night.