ControverSundays: Other people’s children

So here is this weeks topic: (quoted from Perpetua’s blog)

“Hypatia proposed a great topic this week: disciplining other people’s children.  I’m going to expand that a bit and call this week’s topic “Other People’s Children” to incorporate those grounds on which one might find it appropriate or necessary to intervene in someone else’s parenting.”


As this is a HUGE topic, I am going to narrow it down a bit for the sake of my sanity. And so this post doesn’t end up being a 10000 word essay- because you all know I can get a bit long winded at times. So here is the way I am going to narrow it down. Take all the parents in the world and put them on a scale from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ (assuming this is possible.) Now draw a line at the point, under which is the subset of parents that shouldn’t be parenting. What defines this line and where it is- I am not going to go there. It is not black and white and it is way too complicated. Suffice to say there are some times where I believe the government should step in when a child is in danger. Define danger however you feel comfortable- I am not going to go there. But wherever danger is, I don’t think individuals should be stepping in at that point- I believe it should be the government.

Okay- now take all the parents above this line. That’s who I am going to talk about. The parents that are really trying to be the best parents they can. Some are better then others, but they love their kids.

Now that we have that cleared up, I am of two minds about this whole thing. Do I think there are some not-so-great parents out there? Yes. But let me just say that part of the point I have tried to make (a number of times in a number of posts) is that I don’t think the individual choices you make as a parent determine if you are a good parent or not. I believe there are crappy ‘attachment’ parents, good ‘helicopter’ parents, crappy ‘co-sleeping’ parents, good ‘cry-it-out’ parents, crappy ‘baby-wearing’ parents, good ‘push your kid a bit to hard’ parents, bad ‘all organic’ parents, good ‘fed their kids too much junk food’ parents…. ect. You get my drift. This is why I think it is so important not to judge each other on our ‘choices.’

I also believe that every parent makes mistakes. And every parent (within the definition above) loves their kids and wants the best for them. We are all good parents at times and crappy parents at times. That being said, there are some messed up kids out there and in most cases, I think it is the parents to blame. I do think it is valid to sometimes judge each other on the end result of the combination of all our parenting choices and HOW those decisions were carried out.  But I wouldn’t judge those parents to be bad people or unintelligent. I would judge them to be misguided, unfortunate and ill-equipped. Or maybe I am being too judgmental. I don’t know. I mean, we are all at least a little bit messed up, aren’t we? We all have our issues. But I believe that most of us turn out okay. And I have seen great parents have some pretty challenging issues with their kids. Kids are more then just their parents influence. But I believe that how parents react to those issues can have a huge impact on the adult that child becomes.

So back to the point- what do you do about other people’s children? The short answer- I don’t know. Would I step in if my daughter and an other child were having a disagreement in the playground. No. Not right away. (I think parents step in too much and it is important for developing social skills for kids to be given the opportunity to resolve their own conflicts) Would I step in if a kid was hurting my kid on the playground and their parents were not doing anything about it? Yes. Would I take that kid over to their parents and politely ask them to ensure their child understood it was not appropriate to behave that way? Yes. Would I step in a discipline that kid if they continued to harm my child and their parents still didn’t do anything about it? I don’t know. We might just leave the playground. I am not one to cause a scene.

Would I provide what I believed to be appropriate consequences to my daughters friends if over at our house without their parents? Yes. And if there parents had a problem with that? Then that child would not be invited over again. (When I say appropriate consequences, I am talking pretty middle of the road stuff- like time outs or loss of a privilege. Nothing extreme.) And by the way, that would go both ways. If someone disciplined my kid in a way I felt was in conflict with my parenting style? Then my daughter would not be going to that house again.

Would I step in if I saw a parent struggling with their kid throwing a tantrum at the mall? Probably not. I would think about offering help. Because I know it is hard and because I know next week it will be me. But I would likely not step in because I know I wouldn’t appreciate it. I don’t do well when people offer me help, beyond opening the door for me. When my kid is freaking out at the mall I always feel embarrassed. When I feel embarrassed I don’t respond well to offers of help from family, let alone strangers at the mall.

Would I step in if I saw a parent hitting their kid and telling them they were worthless. I don’t know. Part of me screams YES and part of me says… it is really not my place. But hasn’t this parent probably crossed the line that I spoke of above? So that is my out on this one.

What if I say a parenting talking a bit to harshly? Not abusive, but harshly? Again, probably not. We all get frustrated sometimes and do something we regret. It is no excuse. But we are human and we do screw up.

Would I say anything if a parent was feeding their baby french fries? No. I would cringe, but I wouldn’t say anything.

I think I would only ever step in under 2 circumstances:

1) As I mentioned above- if their kid was harming my kid.

2) If I felt I could help in a gentle and subtle way that would be appreciated. I remember when I was in university and I worked in the kids section of a big book store. There was an older grandma with her granddaughter who was probably 5. The granddaughter was throwing a fit because grandma said she wouldn’t buy the girl a book. I am going to hazard a guess that every time that kid goes with Mom or Dad- she gets a book. And grandma obviously did not agree with this. But after 10 minutes of struggle, grandma was at a loss. So I approached the girl and told her that grandma said she couldn’t have the book today, but that it would be here next time and she could look at it then. The girl, being smart, called me on this claim “what if you sell it?” So I put the book in a secret cupboard and told her I wouldn’t sell it. The girl calmed down, grandma thanked me. I helped. I felt great. I would do that again.

There have also been times I have wanted to tell a parent how impressed I am with them. I remember when I was about 6 months pregnant my husband and I were at a store. There was a father with his 3 or 4 year old standing just inside the door, to the side. The girl was throwing a total tantrum. The Dad was doing amazingly. He was calm and kind. He told her that he understood that she was upset but that her behaviour was not appropriate. He stood there with her until she stopped her tantrum. He didn’t give in. He didn’t yell. He was in control while still letting her express herself. I wanted to give him a medal.

So overall? There is not many times I would actually step in. We all make mistakes and seeing a parent make one mistake doesn’t mean they are bad parents. If they are anything like me, they will realize their mistake later, feel horrible and learn from it. I can’t judge someones parenting skills by one interaction, nor is it my place to. And as such, I would tend to give them the benefit of the doubt that I am likely seeing them at their worst and believe it is none of my business.

This begs the question- what if it is someone I know? Someone that I see has a pattern of parenting behaviors that I feel is detrimental to their kid. Honestly- I know I would want to say something. Something kind and supportive. But something to jolt them into realizing what they were doing wasn’t working. You know, Dr. Phil style “Is that working for you?” But I really don’t know what I would do. It would probably depend. It would depend on who they were, how well I knew them, how I would think they would take my suggestions.

So, in conclusion, other peoples kids: it depends. And, I don’t know. Ask me in a about 5 years. Then ask me again in 15. How’s that for controversy?

Here are the other posts so far:

Our Lady of Perpetual Bread Crumbs

I Know Why You’re Single

Now You’re in the World

The Mothering Life

Fearless Formula Feeder

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10 responses to “ControverSundays: Other people’s children

  1. Perpetua February 28, 2010 at 9:25 am

    You make so many good points about when it’s appropriate/necessary to step in, and when it’s not. I agree, when my child is somehow involved, then it’s my business, and if I can make a difference in a positive way, then I’d feel comfortable stepping in. Otherwise…not really.

    Maybe it comes down to judgmental attitudes again? It’s so easy to roll your eyes or think, “I’d never do that,” but…maybe the kid is melting down because he has an earache, or the parent isn’t handling it well because he/she isn’t getting any sleep.

    And like you said, ask me again when I have a Terrible Two year old. I’m sure I’ll have a completely different take.

    • amoment2think February 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      I totally think it comes down to judgment! The fact of the matter is when you see something happening between an other parent and child you really don’t know all the details behind it. You don’t know why they are making the choice they are in terms of how to respond. Context matters. It is not excuse for abusive behaviour. But beyond that we need to accept each other as human. When we see something we disagree with sometimes it is a choice on a part of that parent and sometimes it is a mistake, something done spur of the moment that someone didn’t think through. You just don’t know. And I don’t believe it is our place to judge.

  2. Perpetua February 28, 2010 at 9:25 am

    And thanks for participating! You’re awesome. 🙂

  3. Bree February 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

    Thankfully I haven’t felt I had to intervene in any friends’ parenting … I may not always agree but part of the deal is that you learn through your mistakes. I do step in with verbal discipline/redirection on the playground if needed – and I appreciate other parents who do the same. I think it’s good for kids to see that it’s not just Mom who says hitting is not ok! I would be upset if someone spanked my kids (since I don’t use that form of punishment), but unless it was grossly out of proportion I’d probably try another visit there after talking it over and communicating my rules.

    • amoment2think February 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm

      That is a good point- I would appreciate too if an other parent told my kid that hitting isn’t okay. I can see it would help to hear it from more then just Mom and Dad. And having a whole bunch of watchful parents at the playground is always a good thing.

      I also think it is a good point that if a disagreement arose between myself and an other parent over how they choose to respond my child when over at there house, I would likely try the talk it out route first. But I would also draw the line at spanking. I would be pretty upset if someone did this to my child.

  4. Megan February 28, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I love the bit about there being “crappy attachment parents” and “good cry-it-out parents”. It is so true that our methods don’t make us a good or bad parent, or at least not completely. Our intentions and individual circumstances play a huge part in it.

    It is SO confusing to think about when to step in and when not to. But, I think yours is a very good approach. I agree about letting kids work out their conflicts, but intervening if it goes too far. It’s a complicated matter, especially when it comes to those actually “bad” parents, the ones harming their kids. But, I guess we just have to play it by ear and step in if it feels like the right thing to do.

    And, I have given my baby french fries, but just a couple. She REALLY wanted them! LOL

  5. Fearless Formula Feeder February 28, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Like Megan. I need to confess that my son LOVES french fries. Blame my husband for that one. But you know, sometimes we are out at a restaurant, and the poor kid is a vegetarian who can’t eat dairy, and french fries are the only thing he can/will eat. I don’t like it, but I look at nutrition as an overall thing; for the most part he eats really well, so the occasional fry won’t kill him.

    I think the above anecdote touches on what Perpetua said – sometimes we don’t know the whole story. I never thought about that until I had a kid. Granted, there are times where this doesn’t apply – as you mentioned, it crosses a line if a parent is hurting their child or talking to them in a horribly mean way. Other than that, though… what people do with their own kids is their business. I’m a big believer in live and let live.

    And let’s be honest… no matter what we do or don’t do, chances are our kids will be complaining about it in therapy in about 20 years. Sigh.

  6. Megan February 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Phew! Glad I’m not alone on the french fry thing! I agree about the overall nutrition, versus a dogmatic “everything my child puts in his/her mouth MUST be organic and sugar-free” kind of attitude. And, I also agree on acknowledging that you don’t know the whole story. I’m with ya’ as always, FFF!

    • amoment2think February 28, 2010 at 3:50 pm

      I know I can be a bit judgmental on the food thing. I shouldn’t be. I totally agree that the “dogmatic “everything my child puts in his/her mouth MUST be organic and sugar-free” is a bit extreme. I also agree that not knowing the whole story is a good reason to not judge. But I will admit that I struggle with this one because I think there is a difference between feeding your kid mostly healthy food most of the time and parents who see no problem with feeding their kids high sugar, high salt and high fat foods at every meal. Again though, just seeing someone feed their kid something once does not mean that is what they always do. So I should try to be less judgmental about that one.

      • Fearless Formula Feeder February 28, 2010 at 10:55 pm

        Ah, no worries, we all judge on SOMETHING. And I also judge about the food thing, to tell you the truth – at least in extreme cases. (We are raising our kid vegetarian – ya think we don’t judge? Geesh.) You don’t need to be less judgmental. I don’t think judging is ever the problem – it’s what you DO with that judgment. I am writing a post as we speak about this…

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