When visiting a park overflowing with kids, my reactions are always mixed. On the one hand, Great! My children will have a playmate to play with that’s not just me—potentially giving me the rare opportunity to catch my breath and have a moment to relax.
On the other hand, it can be utterly exhausting to play referee between children who are learning how to share or take turn when I just want a peaceful park experience.
On one particular occasion, as we arrived to the park, I observed a family as wholesome as the word is defined. Their eldest was sitting at the end of the slide reading his bible. The mom watched with glee while the dad and daughter were playing tennis on the courts.
And then there was us.
As our kids began to interact, I could anticipate it wasn’t going to be a sought after laid-back experience. As soon as this boy pulled out a toy car, I saw my son’s immediate interest in attaining that toy for his own. And what did my son do? He grabbed it. Just snatched it right from the other child’s hands. Complete impulse took over without even pausing to think.
There my son was, the bully. That dreaded moment where you cringe watching your child’s actions and guessing the other parent’s thoughts about your parenting.
After returning the stolen toy to the little boy, I began to go through my spiel, which probably sounded like a recording after saying it so many times: “Honey, that’s not nice. We don’t take toys from other children.” Yadda, yadda.
During my speech, the other mom decided to interject telling me, “It’s not that serious.” She then proceeded to take the toy from her son and give it back to mine, instructing him he could play with it.
Before this moment, she and I hadn’t shared much conversation beyond cordial commentary. As I heard her tell me it wasn’t that serious, I was immediately taken aback. I was a bit embarrassed thinking I somehow turned into that mom who was too intense and concerned with her children and not giving them the freedom to explore and learn.
But, wait. That’s not me. I pick my battles, yes, but I am not the excessively harsh or fierce parent by any means.
Even if I wanted to be, I’m too exhausted to attempt. I’m 7-months pregnant and constantly running after two toddlers. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
After giving my son the toy, she transitioned her son onto something else. The moment went as quickly as it came, but it stuck with me.
In the grand scheme of things, of course, there are bigger fish to fry in the world than my child taking a toy from another child. But to me, in that moment, it was serious in the manner that it’s my job to help my child navigate through the world and learn right from wrong.
I am not on a high horse, by any means. Everything I thought about parenting has been thrown to the wind since my first-born came into the world. I am still learning about parenting and even with my best effort, I feel like I can do better. There is no guidebook, and most of the time I question what I’m doing.
Maybe it was the day to pick that battle and, on another, I would’ve let it go. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones. Regardless, how else do I teach my child not to take other people’s things unless I tell him? Maybe she drew the lucky hand of giving birth to these magical children born with this trait engrained in their DNA. Unfortunately, I was not that lucky.
I walked away from the park second-guessing everything I was doing as a parent and whether or not I should’ve just let it go. Is there a right answer? Was I trying too hard? Is there such a thing as “trying too hard” when it comes to parenting?
To be honest, I envied her laissez-faire attitude. She effortlessly sat back on the park bench taking in the beautiful day almost as if she didn’t have a care in the world. How do I get to that euphoric place?
Meanwhile, here I am thinking about everything and anything: Did I lock the door? What am I getting my husband for Father’s Day? What am I going to make the kids for lunch? Are they eating healthy enough? What are they going to be for Halloween? Is that smell me or the kids?
Am I standing in my own way to get to this unattainable happy place?
Analyzing the situation more than a normal human being would, I’m sure her children respond effectively to that approach, which did seem to reciprocate based on their demeanors. They were very polite, mild-mannered and picture-perfect tiny human beings.
On the other end of the spectrum, mine are very energetic and strong-willed. One is entering terrible twos and the other is the definition of a threenager. Both are testing the limit every chance they get with a secret craving for direction and guidance, trying to understand what’s expected of them and what is considered appropriate behavior.
Thinking back about it all, there isn’t a hands down right or wrong answer. Every child is different with individual personalities just as each parent is.
You take the approach that best aligns with your morals, values and attitudes and adapt it to best coincide with your child’s unique personality and temperament. My approach isn’t the same as another parent’s, but neither is wrong.
We are all in this together trying to raise our children the best to our abilities.