This should begin with a statement that everything that I am about to share I have shared with the parties involved.
I have a neighbor that is about my age. She is a single Mom with two elementary school aged kids. For as long as we have lived in this neighborhood her kids have been “hang out in their front yard” types and very kind and social. They wave to W, W waves back. A few months ago it started to get cool in the afternoons and instead of playing in their front yard the kids started playing in their Mother’s car.
It started with the kids hanging in the backseat and car dancing to the stereo. Then the lure of the impromptu dance club became an attraction for some other neighborhood kids and within a week up to ten kids were hanging out around and in the car listening to music and jamming out.
Honestly? I wasn’t a fan, but it wasn’t my problem. I wasn’t going to get involved.
A week ago W and I came home from grocery shopping and as I was parking our car I saw the usual small gathering of kids around my neighbor’s car. Then the trunk swung open and two kids climbed out. It freaked me out. Big time. HUGE. The neighborhood kids could tell that I was in shock and they immediately began a chorus of, “it’s ok! We are ok! The car has a latch! It’s all good!”
To which I replied a not very eloquent, “You scared the SHIT out of me! That is not safe at ALL!”
W was on my hip and he began to wail so the kids scattered a bit and I gathered our groceries and went into the house. And then I fumed on what I had seen. I kept thinking about a recent local news story about two boys that had started a game of hide and go seek that ended with the police finding their dead bodies in the trunk of a car. I thought about W being at a pretty impressionable age right now where he does pick up behaviour and actions from other kids. I thought about how yes, THAT car had a trunk release latch, but what about other cars? Older cars? What if these same kids took this game to another car? Finally what pushed me over the edge was thinking, “what if W had been playing this way?” I would want to be told.
The next morning as we were walking to our car to go to school I saw my neighbor walk out to her car. I knew this was the time.
I started by saying hello and she responded very kindly back. We chatted a bit about the neighborhood and the holidays. Then I told her what I had seen the day before: the trunk to her car popping open and two young kids popping out. Her first response was that the kids were older than they looked. But I don’t think she really heard what I was saying, just that I was calling them “young kids”. Then she paused and she got it. And she freaked out.
What I wanted to avoid was her thinking that I was making any comment on her parenting. This is SUCH a hard line to walk in parenting. Well, not all time time, but sometimes. As parents we have a way of doing things. OUR way. This is how we make our kid’s lunch, this is how we get our kid to school, this is how we deal with a tantrum at the grocery store. Not every parent has the same way.
I might see another Mom reacting to their child in public in a way that I would NEVER react (and visa versa) and inside my brain, yes, I might judge. The judging is probably only happening in some way to validate the need to feel like MY way is the right way. But I won’t remark to another mom that I think her way of dealing with her kids is bad. You know why? Because I would FREAK OUT if someone did that to me.
What makes things a deal breaker is safety. What the kids were doing in the car was unsafe and someone needed to step in. If W was doing something unsafe I would want someone to tell me immediately. And it might sting a bit to feel like I didn’t catch it myself, but I would be relieved that someone else had eyes on my kid and let me know.
I wonder where the threshold is, in general, for when to cross the line to speaking out to another parent about what their kids are doing? Do we all have our own personal sliding scale? Have you ever remarked or reached out to another parent when you felt something had to be said?