May 21, 2009

97 177 Commenters Agree, Dad's Overanalyzing Playground Hubbub

Jason Kottke wrote about a playground incident, where he intervened to stop a slap-happy 2yo from beating on his own son Ollie, only to be accused by Slappy's mom of threatening her son. The particulars of his situation matter, of course, for any real discussion of what Jason did "right" or "wrong" vis-a-vis New York City's varied parenting styles and playground culture.

But what stuck with me the most was how awful he says he felt, and how he kept analyzing and revisiting the incident to figure out if he'd actually been in the wrong somehow.

I had an almost identical experience recently, where a kid maybe 6 mos older than K2 started following her around the playground to smack her and push her down. K2 had no context, so she'd just get up and run off somewhere. But the Pusher kept at it, and no one was telling her not to. Finally, when I saw that the Pusher was about to push K2 off of a big foam block, I hopped up and quickly pulled the Pusher off the block and set her on the ground. Only then did I pick up K2 and start looking around for the Pusher's derelict parent--who turned out to be a dad, intermittently watching his kid, but not moving a muscle, because he was shooting the shit with someone on his cell phone.

For the rest of the day, I kept replaying the incident in my head, wondering if I'd done the right thing. For all the "NEVER touch someone else's kid!" messaging out there--and no, I don't agree with such an absolute rule, and yes, about 5-10% of Kottke's close to 200 commenters do--I was faced with the fact that my reflex was not "remove my kid from harmful/confrontational situation," but "remove threat to my kid."

To some extent, I think it's really no big deal, and a conscientious parent trying to recognize and do the right/best thing in a situation doesn't need to second-guess himself--or beat himself up over a snap decision, even if it was, looking back, suboptimal.

But it's not so easy, and I'm left wondering if this self-questioning and self-doubt becomes an inseparable part of being a parent, or if dads are more susceptible to it than moms, or if it's very common, but it's only the bloggers who are more likely to dwell on it publicly.

At the playground (ya know?) [kottke]


A wise man said something along the lines of "If we fail to discipline our children, society will in ways we may not approve."

I think almost every parent paying attention has been confronted with that exact situation. I had one as well, where I didn't touch the other child, but told him on no uncertain terms that pushing other kids was not okay.

The mom paused long enough on her cell phone conversation to jump up and tell me that she didn't like the tone I took with her kid, I replied that had she been paying attention I wouldn't have had to intervene (not to mention the tone of my voice might have changed dramatically were the kid successful of pushing my kid off the top of the slide.)

It is our job to protect our kids. The real challenge I have is when to intervene and when not to. Nature makes me want to intervene at the slightest conflict, a little wisdom however urges me to sit back (of course when there isn't imminent danger or bullying) and let my kids learn how to work out conflicts with their peers.

That was a long-winded way of saying, you gotta do what you gotta do.

I can assure you that self-questioning and self-doubt is not at all something dads are more susceptible to... we moms engage in plenty of it and then some. I think you're right, it's just endemic to being a parent (with the possible exception of Checked-Out Mom at Kottke's playground).

I *do* wonder though, if the response of removing the *threat* rather than one's own kid skews more towards dads. I will speak to an ill-behaved child, or insert myself between the child and my own, or remove my child, but I think the only circumstance in which I'd actually grab or pick up an unknown kid is if he or she was under immediate threat of harm (have done, actually, the hood-yank as one ran into oncoming traffic and the parent was too far away to reach).

As a S-A-H-dad, that is one of the things I worry about more than most.

Men are seen differently than women (stereotypically, anyway) and I'm always reluctant to so much as even touch another child, even if it means my lack of doing so results it that child falling on it's face, possibly to some injury (excepting, of course a major fall/oncoming car, etc).

In our overly litigious society, I'd rather just steer my little devil to a different area, but I think you were well within your rights to scoop that other little menace up and re-direct it.

see, this is why I love parenting in detroit. people here usually sit in the car while their kids are on the playground, and that means I get to be everybody's daddy.

bwahaha, I love Detroit and I love you [and no, I don't want your Bud Light]

Three points. First point: people are generally fucked in the head, so despite your intentions never lay a hand on someone's else child unless you're prepared to lose that hand. You never know - Mom might be packing garden shears in that bigass diaper bag. Second point: the only thing that should be of concern is your kid - remove your kid from the situation, and let the other parent deal with it. Sounds very un-"it-takes-a-village"-y, but at some point the kid who pushes/hits other kids and whose parent doesn't do anything about is going to oush/hit the Third point: the kid whose parents enrolled him in karate class, and who's been dying to show off his Flying Spin Kick.

reply to Jason:

What does "mom might be packing garden shears" have anything to do with anything? So what are you going to say to your kid: sorry son, we can't go to your favorite park anymore because I am unable to teach you how to stand up for yourself and also I refuse to intervene on your behalf. Grow some buddy.

I assumed he meant that mom could be crazy and dangerous. Frankly, I feel it, too. There's always a small-but-real possibility in an urban situation, that there's an armed, irrationally aggressive parent who'll turn even the most benign playground negotiation into a chance to teach his kid "how to stand up for himself" by kicking someone's ass.

According to the Stone Cold Derek Lindsay Index [1], a city of 8 million people has at least 145 completely #(*$%ing insane dads who'll pick fights with the cops who come to break up his original playground fights. And it just expands from there.

[1] SCDLI = 1 per every 55,000 residents, based on 2000 population figures for Taunton, MA. [a href="">source]

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