It’s inevitable, really. You have a child and spend a year or two bouncing off the walls of your house with the baby. By the time you can look at the kid and see that they are able to kind of stand up even if the wind’s blowing, you know that it is high time to get ’em outside and let them loose.
So, playgrounds become a big part of your life and your kids life, too.
That said, having been a playground parent for the better part of the last six years now, I’ve taken to watching the other parents who end up there just like me. In fact, there are times when I probably ought to be watching my own kids a little closer instead of conducting my own social research project by staring at all the other moms and dads.
But, I am who I am and I have finally figured out a way to put all my observation to a little good use.
Thus, I present to you my very own list of the eight different kinds of parents you see hanging around the swing sets and slides.
I’ll reveal which one I am as we move along, but more importantly, as you read through my list, I think it’s time we figured out: which one are you?
The 8 Kinds of Playground Parents:
1. The Helicopter
I used to be one of these people. I used to stand there underneath the jungle gym as my son or daughter were trying to enjoy themselves out in the fresh air. I was a madman, just bolting all around with my arms at the ready, eager to pounce into action at the first sign of one of my kids tumbling towards certain tragedy.
Helicopter Parents mean well, of course. But they can be super annoying just because of the fact that they make you all jittery and nervous just watching them be all jittery and nervous. It’s nervous osmosis, I tell ya. Nowadays, I have abandoned my Helicopter ways for way less interaction or interference with my kids while they’re playing at the playground. But I still get a kick out of seeing the new wave of Helicopters whenever I’m at the park.
2. The Overgrown Kid
Man, I enjoy watching The Overgrown Kid. These are the parents who just can’t help themselves when confronted with the prospect of good times and fun. They just have to be a part of the action, no matter what. The Overgrown Kid is usually a younger parent, but not always. I have seen grandparents who fit the bill, too. There’s nothing quite like the sight of Grandpa waiting his turn to come down the swirling slide like a character out of the movie, Cocoon.
The Overgrown Kid never really bothers me that much, and to be perfectly honest, I think I’m about as much this style of playground parent as any of the others. I get bored sometimes just sitting there watching Helicopter Parents spin their rotors, so it’s not uncommon for me to follow my 3-year-old son, Henry, or my 5-year-old daughter, Violet, out into the middle of the action myself. If you aren’t this type of playground parent, or you haven’t done it in a long while, give it a whirl. Your kids will think you’re a blast, even if everybody else’s kids are pretty freaked out by the grown-up in the tunnel.
3. The Lurker
The Lurker seems a little strange to me. I mean, there they are taking the time to hang out with their kids at the playground, but they simply cannot bring themselves to seem to enjoy it at all. They stand off by themselves, usually at a pretty good distance from the action, and they look like they’re waiting for the bus or something.
The Lurker never tries to mingle with any other parents at all, and their tendency to stand quietly off to the side and never really interact much with their own kids sometimes confuses people. It’s not unusual for observant parents to get to thinking that there’s a possible creepy child molester leaning against a tree with a straight face when everyone else seems to be having fun. I feel bad for Lurkers, actually. They’re missing out on a lot. I’d much rather be an Overgrown Kid or even a Helicopter than a lonesome Lurker.
4. The Chatty Cathy
The Chatty Cathy obviously gets its name from the old term used to describe someone who barks out endless conversation like a hungry chattering squirrel. But don’t let the name fool you because The Chatty Cathy could be a dad just as easily as a mom. These folks like to while away their playground time by never coming up for a breath once they dive headfirst into talking.
They often pair themselves with other Chatty Cathys since the prospects of getting to the playground and being unable to find someone to yap with is almost too much to bear. The Chatty Cathy doesn’t just want to talk, they NEED to talk, and so if you see someone heading your way with a friendly smile and a focus on your face, you can be sure that you are about to meet a real live Chatty Cathy who, depending on how talkative you’re feeling that day, might make your day a little brighter or might make you hurl yourself into the duck pond.
5. The Baby Tender
The poor Baby Tender has their busy hands really full. They typically show up at the playground with two or three toddlers or older kids in tow, ready to let them blow off some steam on the swings and the fire pole. But they also have an infant in a stroller or a chest carrier with them as well, so that’s where all their attention and energy goes.
The Baby Tender is on a mission and that mission is either to keep the sleeping baby sleeping or to get a non-sleeping baby to pass out cold. Either way they have their work cut out for them, especially when things hit the fan and the tiny one won’t stop crying and the breast/bottle must be broken out as quickly as possible before things spin too far out of control. I always like to smile at Baby Tenders, to show them a little solidarity by letting them know that I’ve been there before, that I understand. But they never see me do it; they’re always way too preoccupied with diapers and cooing.
6. The Phone Junkie
Well, there’s nothing like The Phone Junkie to make you feel a little better about yourself as a parent, huh? I mean, at least you are probably watching your kid have a good time over on the parallel bars or the balance beams when you’re at the playground. Heck, even The Lurker watches his children having a good time. But not The Phone Junkie. Oh no. No way.
Phone Junkies are on their cellphones from the time they wander towards the playground, walking real slowly, a full minute or so behind their kid’s arrival since they’re walking forward across the Earth and all of it’s potential dangers without ever looking up from the phone in their hand. Phone Junkies aren’t usually ON the phone nearly as much as they’re burying their heads in their Facebook feeds or texting nonstop to someone somewhere. I wouldn’t want to be a Phone Junkie parent, really. It’s like wearing a blindfold to the art museum.
7. The Old Yeller
The Old Yeller is kind of taxing. They stand there and holler at their kids across the playground as if they’re an NFL coach screaming plays through the din of the crowd. Old Yellers love to interact with their children, which is nice in a way, but they also seem to want to share their innermost thoughts, shallow as they may be, with everyone else in a square mile radius, too. And unlike The Chatty Cathy, The Old Yeller isn’t at all interested in engaging you or any other parents in conversation or anything.
They simply appear to want to let you know that they’re there and that they are in constant communication with their kids and that your head is merely another obstacle for which they have to blow their hot air through so they can get their message across. Old Yellers more or less suck, if you ask me.
8. The Not-Your-Mama
Finally, last but not least, we have the one kind of playground parent who isn’t really a parent at all. At least not to the kids they’ve brought along to play. The Not-Your Mama is typically a nanny or a babysitter or maybe a daycare person. They’re often women, but they can also be a male, of course. (I just use the term Mama in my phrase for them because I like it.)
Not-Your-Mamas seem pretty evenly keeled to me. They hardly ever yell at their charges, to start with. And rare is the day when you see one of them bury themselves in their cell phones or yell across a hundred feet of park at whichever kids they’re taking care of. Plus, they seem nonplussed by the insanity of other kids being around their own, which is always a nice touch considering how many playground parents act like their kids are the only ones out there. I like The Not-Your-Mama a lot, actually. I like seeing them arrive because it reminds me that the place where I take my kids to hang out and have a good time, is exactly where the pros bring their kids, too.
Now get on out there and have a great spring! And thanks for reading!
Image: S. Bielanko
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