My three kids and I were checking out our usual boatload of children’s books from the library when the older gentleman checking us out said, “I believe in discipline.”
I was taken aback. Granted, wrangling my three kids during a tedious activity like checking out 50 books from the library is a difficult task on the best day, so I never feel like Mom of the Year during this task. But yikes. I think I said something like, “Me, too?” and proceeded to try even harder to make the little ones behave.
The next time we headed to the library, I was determined to have three angels accompanying me. I gave them The Talk on the short walk over, talking about Best Library Behavior and The Rules of the Library, followed by the usual threats of revoking privileges and TV time. All is going well; we gather our 50 books and head to the checkout desk. My oldest, thinking we’re leaving, hits the handicapped access button by the door, which we use to more easily navigate out of the double doors with the stroller. Only we weren’t leaving. So the two doors open and I grab my daughter by the arm and tell her to stand there and to NOT MOVE. She and her brother angelically stand, while the littlest is in the stroller.
The older gentleman? “Your children are very well behaved.”
Score! I did something right! I’m succeeding! Only 47 books to go! Then, Avery hits the handicapped button again. What the eff, David Blaine. I’m like, no, seriously, don’t do that.
I wish that was the end of it. But nooooo. Of course not! Despite my “You better not ever touch that button again” she TOUCHES IT AGAIN. Both double doors open FOR THE THIRD TIME. I’m mortified. I can just feel the older library gentleman mentally retracting his compliment. But is that the end of it? It sounds unreal, truly, but you guessed it: She hits the button prematurely a FOURTH TIME. I’m not even kidding.
When we finally shuffle out of the library, my tail between my legs, I am beside myself. I’m nearly in tears because how hard is it to NOT push a button? I’m not asking you to cure cancer, kids, I’m asking you to NOT touch a button!
In situations like that, when I’m clearly being ineffective, I always wish someone else would step in. Maybe had Older Gentleman said “Don’t push that button until you’re leaving” it would have had more impact. In fact, I know it would have. There have been at least a couple of times when I was going blue in the face from repeating myself and a stranger has either told my kiddo the same thing I’ve been saying or said, “Listen to your mother.” And when that happens, kids listen. It’s like your parental authority gets watered down because of how you’re always telling them something and they tune it out. But if someone else pipes up? They’ll listen.
I think everyone is so concerned with offending others that they ignore the situation and let the parent deal with it. And minding your own business is a great philosophy a lot of the time. But piping up when a parent is clearly having trouble getting a child to listen or when a child is clearly misbehaving and no parent is in sight is perfectly acceptable behavior, in my opinion.
There was one incident when we were at the park with friends. I’d brought a ball for the kids to play with and it was being played with and passed around by a lot of kids. When it turned into a game of an older child throwing it at my son, I started paying closer attention. Owen had been a willing participant in their version of dodge ball at first. But when it became clear that he was no longer into it and was being picked on, I spoke up. When that didn’t have an impact (kids clearly ignore me, this is becoming clear as I’m writing), I calmly went over, took the ball, and put it away in the stroller.
The mom of the child who was throwing the ball came over to me. Oh shit. But instead of coming at me with any sort of attitude, she said, “Did my son do something?” I downplayed the incident and explained that while they had all been having fun, it appeared to take a turn for one-sided dodge ball. She’d been paying attention to her youngest child and hadn’t seen it go down. Before I knew it, she was dragging her child over to apologize to my son.
Other times, parents don’t step up even when they see behavior occurring. On occasion, older kids will see my youngest toddling around and think “BABY DOLL!” They’ll come over, invade her space, get in her face, and clearly make her uncomfortable. Yes, the kids are being nice, but it’s surprised me on several occasions when parents haven’t tried to get their kid to back off. In those instances, I’ll speak up and try to teach those kids about the concept of personal space — and when that doesn’t work, off to the swings we go where they can’t invade her bubble without getting kicked.
The issues change when you get to older kids, as I learned over the weekend. Just the other day, an elementary-aged neighbor boy showed me a picture on his phone that had me concerned. It was a picture of a high school friend of his with a noose around her neck. I couldn’t get it out of my head — what if one of them got hurt when they were just playing around, not knowing they could get hurt? After confirming I wasn’t just being pearl-clutchy, I spoke to the boy’s mom. Turned out she’d seen the picture (he was none too shy showing it, which was reassuring) and had warned him about the dangers. But after thanking me for saying something, she also texted me later thanking me for keeping an eye out.
We’re fearful of stepping in, overstepping our bounds. And maybe sometimes we will. My sweet neighbor could have told me to mind my own business; the lady at the park could have yelled. But the worst case scenario is typically some attitude. I’ve wondered if other adults at the Cincinnati Zoo were worried about overstepping or if they too just got outmaneuvered by a wily child. Worst case scenario had someone grabbed that boy at the zoo? Maybe the mom yelled at them for grabbing her son. But I’d take getting yelled at over the alternative, wouldn’t you?
We’re all in this together, and we do have to look out for each other and each others’ kids. We don’t see everything that happens at every moment. But we should all be reinforcing decent human behavior, even if that human doesn’t share your DNA.
Have you ever stepped in to discipline someone’s child? What’s your attitude when it happens to you? —Erin