I have advocated for a long time that when it comes to parenting it takes a village. In big ways and especially in small ways.
I will always think fondly (and a little enviously) of visits to my inlaws, in which aunts weren’t afraid to discipline nieces, or carry their squirmy, dirty bodies over their shoulders to the bathtub, whether it was her own child or not. Such are the benefits of a bigger family.
I’d like to believe that this notion extends to the community as well, although, let’s say not at bath time. However if my kids are knocking over some little kid in the playground en route to the slide, I want to know about it. If my baby were having a crying spell in the elevator or on an airplane, how much would I love if a neighbor asked me how they can help, instead of communicating through every non-verbal means possible that I have ruined their lives for years to come. I love the positive commitment we can try and have to one another and how it really can make our moments, our days, even our lives better.
But I have thought a lot recently about where the courtesy ends, and unhelpful judgment begins.
We all have some parenting choice that gets under our skin, or freaks us out (a lot) or brings out our inner sanctimommy. I of course have my own. We all do. Well, maybe not the Dalai Lama–I bet he’s like totally Zen about all parenting choices everywhere. But the rest of us? We do.
I think what I’m learning (because aren’t we all still learning every day?) is that in the majority of cases, my best course is to resist saying anything out loud about a child who is not related to me by blood and isn’t hurting my own kids. It doesn’t change anything, and it’s bound not to end well.
And then this happened.
Recently, a friend confessed that he was livid when he saw a child riding a bike down a quiet Upper East Side street without a helmet. He said to the father accompanying her, “No helmet?” And that father did what I bet a lot of us would do. He looked back at my friend, and sneered a firm, “Nope.”
Well. That sure showed him.
My friend asked me it were the right thing and while I understood his point, I was really fast to say, “Don’t do that. I think those are the kinds of comments that get you punched in the nose.”
I’m not sure what purpose it serves, except to make you feel superior for not having made that choice; plus the other parent is likely not to change behavior in the least.
The other issue we discussed was that you never know a parent from a snapshot in time; something I wish the entire world (and certain snarky, parent-shaming tumblr blogs) could figure out sometimes.
Think about it:
We don’t know if that parent texting in the park and “ignoring her child, the poor dear” is dealing with a work emergency or a cancelled sitter or sick older child. We don’t know if the toddler with no socks in the stroller threw such a tantrum that for the first time ever, the parents said screw it; we’re going out without socks on even if it is barely 50 degrees. We don’t know if the kid eating the Snickers bar before breakfast is indulging in a once-in-a-lifetime treat after befalling some horrible family tragedy.
And yeah, we don’t know if that kid with no helmet was riding down that Upper East Side block–carefully, and with her father–to go get her helmet which was waiting for her at the next corner.
We just don’t ever know the whole story, do we?
(Unless we see a young child running, unsupervised, down the beach and straight into the ocean. In cases of imminent danger, I think we don’t need to wait for the the whole story to unfold.)
So I’ve tried really hard over the past few years to pack up the Etiquette Bitch–an alter ego who, upon a lot of self-reflection, I believe comes out more often when I’m angsty or not feeling so good about myself. I admittedly look back at that post series with not a small degree of sheepishness, and hope that while littering on the subway tracks and taking up two parking spaces still make me crazy, I can address them without the whole bitch aspect.
Or at least I can try. I am trying.
Dahli Lizzie? Eh. Probably never.
Where do you draw the line when it comes to other children? If you see something (as they say on the NYC transit system every chance they get) do you say something? If a child is behaving recklessly, if a 5 year-old is stealing a toddler’s shovel in the sandbox and a parent is ignoring it; if a ten year-old accompanied by her father is riding a bike without a helmet down city streets–do you address it? Do you tell the parents? Do you do it politely or firmly?
I wonder, is it our obligation to mind our own business? Should we always give parents the benefit of the doubt when we see bad behavior that isn’t consistent or repetitive? Or is it our obligation to look after children during those moments when a parent’s attention might be elsewhere?
What are the rules of your own Village?
Because no one wants to get punched in the nose.
[photo copyright © John Bourne, stuckism.com]