A village parenting story

The other weekend I was standing in a long long line for a bouncy slide with DC2.

There was a woman behind me.  After letting someone cut in line behind her, her daughters kept running in front and trying to get to the slide.  And she kept ineffectually calling her daughters’ names and making grabs for one of them.

When I got right at the front of the line, I stuck my arm out as one of the daughters made a break for it to run up the slide in front of DC2 who was waiting patiently until it the teenager in charge said it was safe to go up. The daughter ran into my arm instead of up the slide.

This is the kind of thing that parents around here do all the time, catch other people’s kids when they’re making a break for it, because the parents tend to be upper class and the streets are close by and dangerous so parents (right or wrong) tend to have more fear of their kid getting away than of other parents. (I don’t know if I mentioned that DH literally saved a kid’s life earlier this year.  A toddler had wandered from the playground into the parking lot to get something from his parent’s van and was about to get backed over by an SUV.  DH ran his bike in front of the SUV to stop it from backing up, which made the SUV driver upset until she realized what had almost happened.  DH returned the kid to a frantic parent who had been looking all over the playground for the kid.)

In any case, this horrible woman then chewed me out for touching her daughter and she had everything under control etc., but of course she didn’t.

Later that day I recounted this story to our friends out here, and they individually said, “were the daughters names Olivia and Isabella?”  And was the older one Isabella and the younger one Olivia and Olivia a year or two older than DC2?  Did the woman have brown hair?  And the answer is yes.  Apparently this woman has a reputation and it wasn’t me at all.  I imagine she thought my arm was some kind of comment on her parenting (which it wasn’t until she chewed me out about it!)

(After DC2 went down the slide I said no more fair activities because the horrible woman was going to the last thing DC2 hadn’t done, so I was like, let’s go to the library instead.  And so we did.  And I witnessed lots of village parenting and parents thanking other parents for helping out instead of chewing them out and it was nice.  And then we went to another event at DC2’s daycare and I was even more hands on with keeping other people’s preschoolers out of trouble since parents were busy volunteering and I ended up on kid duty somehow.  People seemed grateful.)

I think where we normally live there’s much less of an atmosphere of village parenting, but there’s usually hardly anyone at the park or playground because everyone has a play structure in their back-yard.  And disgruntled women like the one at the park are more likely to be carrying a concealed weapon.  I’m not sure I would have automatically prevented a kid from going up a slide back where we usually live, no matter how dangerous.  But the teenagers in charge of the event would also probably have been better at keeping things safe.

What’s it like where you live in terms of village parenting vs. minding your own business?  How do you feel about other people stopping your child when he or she is making a break for it?


29 Responses to “A village parenting story”

  1. Linda Says:

    I’m not a parent, but I still have a parenting situation I witnessed years ago come to mind quite frequently. This happened maybe 12 or 13 years ago when I was still married and living in Chicago. Husband and I were in a nearby ‘burb to visit a bookstore. There was a Chuck E Cheese that shared the same parking lot, and while we were walking from the lot up to the bookstore I saw a parent struggling to get her children into the car. She started yelling very loudly at one child, who was maybe around 5 or 6 years old. I’ve witnessed stuff like that before, but this was really over the top. In fact, I think she actually smacked the kid, but I can’t remember that clearly. I didn’t know what to do. I thought about walking up to her and offering to give her a hand, but then I thought doing so may make the situation even worse. So I just went into the bookstore and tried to forget it. Obviously, I haven’t been successful at that.

  2. Ana Says:

    If someone was actually willing to lend me a hand (literally! like you and your DH did), I would GLADLY take it, because I can’t be in two places at once and I have two kids trying to get themselves into trouble on the regular. If someone was saving my child from danger or from being obnoxious and ruining another child’s experience, I’d be grateful (if maybe embarassed that someone needed to step in). On the other hand, “helpful” comments like “you need to discipline them” “they need a firm hand” “maybe he needs to learn to share” etc… can be shoved you-know-where.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No judgment from me until she chewed me out! Now she is branded in my mind as, “that horrible woman.” Not because her kids were running around and not listening to her, but because she’s a jerk.

      And she just kept going on and on too. What I said in response was, “I didn’t touch her, I put my arm out and she ran into it” at which point she went off on me again. I mean, seriously.

      • Ana Says:

        that woman sounds terrible. its not hard to grab your kid and leave when they aren’t listening. no way would I just stand there and ineffectively call their names in that situation. My kids are actually pretty well behaved in public these days, but a couple years ago my little one was a runner and he was saved once by a stranger from running into the street when I couldn’t keep up with him. Some people, though, have COMMENTS for everything. I didn’t think my kid necessarily needed to share his own toys that he picked to bring to the park with strangers that cried because they wanted to play with them. I also don’t mind if my kids climb UP the slide when no one is around because its the only challenge left for them in a lot of playgrounds.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, later that day at the library a little girl started crying loudly when another little girl did her puzzle or something, and the mom took her outside until she calmed down. That’s normal kid behavior and good parenting.

        We get a lot of compliments on our kids’ behavior, not because they’re especially well-behaved but because we take them out as soon as they start bothering people so nobody sees bad behavior for long. (Though my sister does like to criticize my warning tone when they start getting squirrely in public… parents just can’t win. Especially with a favorite aunt egging on them on to misbehave at restaurants.)

        Yay adults keeping kids from being killed by cars!

      • Debbie M Says:

        “no way would I just stand there and ineffectively call their names” Oh my gosh, this happens all the time around me. With kids and pets.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Ugh, dog owners are sometimes the worst. If you don’t want to put your dog on a leash, go to a leash free park or stay in your own yard.

  3. chacha1 Says:

    I have extremely low tolerance for inattentive parents, for parents who think they and their spawn are the highest-status creatures on earth, or for parents who just don’t seem to give a shit about basic good manners. My husband’s sister-in-law had her then-young child with her one time when we got together for lunch. The kid was running loose all over a dining patio, climbing on a rock fountain, etc. I thought it was only a matter of time until he fell and hurt himself (ultimately it wasn’t a fall, it was a collision with a chair), but with my SIL and MIL there and acting like this was normal (!) I just kept my mouth shut.

    This is the same SIL, by the way, who left finalizing her (adopted) kid’s naturalization papers so late that it was almost TOO late. I mean, he was a month from turning 18. I understand that once it was all taken care of – facilitated by a family friend who’s a judge – he really lit into her; they didn’t speak for almost a month.

    If I’d had kids, I would have done my best to do what my own parents did: train them to behave a certain way in public, and don’t take them out until they can reliably perform. There are differences between, e.g., park-appropriate and restaurant-appropriate behavior, and these differences are not mysterious once articulated.

    On the flip side I would do what your DH did or what you did – keep someone else’s child from imminent harm or from fucking with my own kid – but I would not otherwise interfere. There are eleventy million parents and only one of me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My mom was really big on that public vs. private behavior thing as well. We could be total hellions at home, but we could not bother other people when we were out.

      I’m thinking that “don’t bother other people” thing is missing from that woman’s psyche.

      • chacha1 Says:

        We also imbibed “you are not the most interesting person in the room” from an early age. :-) My parents socialized mostly with some older couples who did not have kids at home. We were expected to participate in the adult conversation in a civil way, or amuse ourselves quietly. They provided books, puzzles, etc.

        “Don’t bother other people” was definitely a Big Lesson – but, I must note, it was largely in the context of “do whatever you want AS LONG AS you don’t bother other people.” Golden Rule, essentially.

        We were encouraged to use our own judgement as to what was safe or advisable for us to do, given the tools to get ourselves out of sticky situations up to a certain level of impending doom, and that started early. We were not continually being “rescued” from not getting what we wanted or from making the inevitable ignorant mistakes.

        The older I get, the more I appreciate my parents!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m always a little amazed I survived childhood intact with only a few scars here and there to show for it.

  4. anandar Says:

    Village parenting is the norm where I live and I’ve never had a stranger parent express anything other than gratitude at my involvement with their kids.

    On a related note, one of the nice payoffs of volunteering on field trips and doing the birthday party circuit is that I now know and like the vast majority of my kids’ classmates parents. I am totally fine with any of them disciplining my kids even if it isn’t what/how I would do it (which it often isn’t in part because I’m a cultural minority) (though all examples I can think of where this actually happened are very mild, like what you are describing in your post). We now do a lot of last minute pick ups of other people’s kids when one parent is stuck in traffic or has to work late, etc,, and I think it is interesting that the kid-activities that felt like “one more thing” at the time, now make working parenthood easier.

    If I truly felt I was witnessing child abuse, I would call the police, but I don’t think that interfering when I see a parent losing it and imposing overly harsh/unwarranted discipline is likely to help matters, especially since I can’t know any context.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I guess even in our red state, back with daycare kids, parents would do various interfacing with the kids. But the kids were always so well-behaved and the “discipline” was always the same kind of thing because they all went to the same daycare. There were formula that the kids followed for any kind of accidental dispute.

  5. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I live in a super small town and I corralled an escaping small child yesterday! (I went and asked his mother if she wanted me to grab him and then persuaded him to walk back in with me.) Around here it’s SO small town that you’d be considered weird to *not* grab a kid heading for the road.

    I don’t mind if people grab my kid as long as they don’t get all judgy eyes about it. Kids sometimes escape! I’ve had people tell me I’m a terrible parent for letting my kid get ten feet away and fall into a (child sized, eight inch high) sandbox. Look, lady….

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve never seen anybody tell a person off for their parenting, though maybe I just don’t get out enough. I have seen people tell off bus drivers 2x this year so far!

      Normally we live in a smaller town than where we live now, but parenting seems a lot more communal here.

  6. Cloud Says:

    I’m pretty sure behavior like The Horrible Woman’s would get a bunch of eyerolls from other parents here. Kids trying to cut in line get told off by whichever adult is nearby, no questions asked.

    I stopped a toddler from wandering away in a parking lot recently. He left a restaurant where he had been with his Dad to go find his Mom, who was in a nearby minivan. But he turned the wrong way and was heading off to who knows where. The Mom was a little snippy, but in the “embarassed, I think you’re judging me” sort of way, so I just smiled and headed on to my car.

    The place I get most nervous about other people’s kids is the beach, particularly when we go to a beach on the bay (which doesn’t have waves, but still has water and I don’t trust kids around water). I like to see a grown up within sprinting distance of a kid on the beach, and when a kid without a nearby grown up wanders up to play with ours, I’m always extra nervous.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I always feel a little safer about free-ranging (within sight and sprint, but not within grabbing distance) when other adults are looking out for kids. And if my kid disappeared near water or a street I would definitely want an adult looking out.

      People officially in the freerange movement seem a little backwards to me sometimes, the ones who get upset when other adults look out for their kids. Part of the reason I can’t freerange my kids the way I was freeranged as a kid is because there just aren’t other people looking out like there used to be. (There are around here, which means our kids have a lot more freedom then they do back in the small town were we normally live.)

      • Shannon Says:

        Yes – totally agree that free ranging is hard because of fewer people around these days. And I think it’s important to acknowledge that back when we were all growing up, a lot of the free ranging was made possible by the fact that fewer women were in the work place. My mom worked, but she was a teacher, so she was home all summer. And lots of women in our neighborhood growing up either didn’t work or were teachers. So we could run around all day outside at the age of 7 because we know that many moms were right there in case of emergency. That’s just not the case these days.

        We try to free-range our kids, but it’s so hard to do that in the summer because there are no other kids around – because both of their parents are working so they are in day care or camp. I see a lot of people bemoaning the lack of freedom for kids these days, but no one seems to acknowledge what facilitated this. And while I want more kids to free range, I also certainly don’t want to go back to the day and age when women were expected to stay home or had limited work options. I would love to see the whole – it sucks that don’t kids run around anymore – type of articles move beyond this observation to look at the cultural forces that allowed running free and then get serious about thinking about how we create supportive environments for working families to better be able to do this.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Even in outside of work hours it is different. Where we are now there are lots of both moms and dads with kids at the playground after work and on weekends. Back where we normally live, everyone has a play structure in their backyard so there are generally few people at the public playgrounds.

  7. Jay Says:

    I have never seen a parent hit a kid in public; I have seen (and heard) some godawful emotionally abusive screaming and never known what to do about it. And then there was the woman I saw in Target one day with a not-quite-toddler who was gearing up to a meltdown. I caught the kid’s eye and winked and waggled my fingers, which got him engaged enough to stop fussing. The woman with him turned the cart away and sing-songed to the baby “That woman will take you away if you don’t smile at me like a good baby. She’ll take you away forever…” WHO DOES THAT?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The weird thing is that the hitting doesn’t seem like a big deal. I would never hit a child (it doesn’t work and I don’t want children thinking it’s ok to hit other kids), but it all seems very matter-of-fact on the playground. Not creepy like that woman you described (if I were the kid, that would be an incentive to never smile at mom again!), just pointless.

      I did once go up to a dad at a museum in the midwest once when I was a teenager– he was this short little guy yelling at his little boy who wanted a pendant in an extremely abusive way. ARE YOU A GIRL? DID I RAISE YOU TO BE A SISSY? ONLY GIRLS WEAR NECKLACES. I told him that my boyfriend was manly and wore pendants all the time.

      I don’t think it helped, but he was surprisingly polite back to me for a misogynist trans/homophobe. But I was an awfully cute 16 year old, so maybe that’s why.

  8. First Gen American Says:

    That reminded me of a company picnic one year. My 2 year old son was insistent on doing this trampoline thing even though the line was long. He very patiently waited in line forever. When it was finally his turn, one of the executive’s kids just ran right past us like we weren’t there. I think she assumed because he was so small he was not in line…but then I think….then why were we standing here for an hour? I don’t think it even registered with either of them what happened or how rude it was to cut in front of a toddler as they were both entitled and used to being the center of attention. I didn’t say anything as it was a no win situation but it still irks me to this day. It also took me off guard so there was no easy way to block and tackle once she was past us unless we made a scene. I guess the only thing you can do is try to teach your own kids not to turn into that self absorbed jerk face.

    Our town is middle of the road when it comes to free ranging. There is always a parent or two around but we don’t feel like we have to be hawk eyed and watching them every second. I literally had no idea at one point how many kids were actually at the birthday party at our house but they we contained within our yard. Parents do step up to help all the time and are always grateful. This new town I live In though is much different from previous town. Everyone is very highly educated and successful so there are way fewer people who have insecurities about being bad at anything, including parenting, so helping is generally perceived as help and not criticism.

  9. Debbie M Says:

    Village parenting is one reason why my sister is glad she moved away from me! The Society for Creative Anachronism in Indianapolis is much better with the village parenting than the one in Austin where everyone is expected to control their children all by themselves.

    I don’t have kids, so I can only hope I would be cool with people helping me.

    As a bystander, I’m not sure I’ve seen stranger’s kids running into dangerous areas. But sometimes when I see a kid running by and then a grown-up, I’ll tell the grown-up “He/She went that-a-way.”

  10. undine Says:

    I think it’s more “it takes a village” around here. I wrote about it in a post a while back (http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2012/08/it-takes-village.html), but more recently, at toddler hour at the library, there was a big emphasis on sharing, and the one rambunctious little boy who was trying to pull a girl’s hair out by the roots after pushing her over was stopped pretty much immediately.

  11. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I have no idea what people are like in general around here except for a few neighbors who let their toddlers free range on the sidewalk and right into the street while they are glued to their cell phones. I judge them harshly. One family does this frequently and I’m surprised the kids or the dogs haven’t been run over yet.

    We free range JuggerLB now that ze is walking but one of us is always following hir and is in a several steps radius. We don’t worry over small trips and falls because ze is pretty tough and shrugs that stuff off, but we’d never get on the phone to talk or text while ze is running loose in the wild either. At this point, I’ve said it before the dog is a better adult than JuggerLB is so we’d do much better with HIR on lead and Seamus off leash.

    If ze got away from us, though, of course I’d be grateful if someone stepped in when ze was heading for harm. That horrible woman indeed.

    PiC was piqued by a woman who had her 2 year old wandering a restaurant alone while she talked on the cell phone, though, she was apparently completely oblivious to the kid. Luckily the kid was chatty and friendly with JuggerLB but we’ve seen that go the other way and ze hasn’t yet figured out how to deal with bullies. I am more glad than I probably should be that the little punk that’s been picking on JuggerLB (hitting and kicking) is transferring out of hir class at daycare. I know ze has to learn but it still makes my blood boil that he’s managed to hit hir hard enough to make hir cry at least once and is remorseless. The jerk.

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