Last night my husband and I were watching Mad Men (I know, we are super late to the party) and there was a scene where a party guest slaps a child in the face to stop the kid from running around the house. The kid’s parent appears, and he’s perfectly fine with another adult hitting his child. The scene provoked an immediate reaction from my husband, who sat bolt upright and announced that if anyone hit our children he would go “nuts.” I’m right there with him.
No one has the right to strike my children, particularly because we don’t believe in spanking as a punishment ourselves. I reminded my husband that Mad Men is set in the ’60s and attitudes have evolved a lot since then. Pregnant women no longer smoke, children are no longer threatened with the cane in school, and women don’t get told to wear skirts to please their boss.
However, it made me think about when it’s ever OK to discipline someone else’s child. Obviously when we have my kids’ friends over to play, we’re in charge of them and we have to apply the rules of our house — the rules our kids abide by — to their guests. I am forever telling children that our house rule is that we all remain at the table until everyone has finished eating; that my children have to ask to be excused from the table before they run off to play. My house, my rules …
But what if the parent is with the child on a playdate at your house? And they discipline your child? Is that acceptable?
This has happened to me numerous times.
My daughter has a playmate at school — let’s call him Jack. Frequently Jack comes over to play, and he’s a polite, sweet child who is easy to mind. But whenever his mom arrives to pick him up, the hairs on the back of my neck start to rise. She’s a teaching assistant and the skills she brings to her job, well, she starts to use them in my house, with my daughter.
So if my daughter starts climbing on a chair, before I have a chance to tell her to get down, this mom hollers, “Riley, get down! You could hurt yourself.”
Or if we go to the park, she says things like, “It isn’t OK to step out on the road without looking,” which would be fine, except I am right there. Next to her. I’m more than capable of parenting my own kid and it frustrates me when she steps in, because in my opinion, it isn’t her place.
There is an unspoken rule in motherhood: you do not discipline another person’s kid when the parent is right there. That is their job.
Another mom friend has a baby and every time my daughter tries to hold or hug the baby, she becomes wildly overprotective and tells her what she can and cannot do, which I guess is fair enough. But when she starts to tell my daughter exactly what to do, I feel myself getting hot under the collar. I’ve raised two kids — I got this, thanks!
We all have different styles and rules of parenting, and what is acceptable to one mom won’t be too another. Over the years I’ve always felt it isn’t up to me to dictate what a child does when their parent is standing right there. Different story of course if the child is under my care.
It hasn’t always been easy: when my son was younger he had one friend who could be particularly mean to him. The funny thing was this kid never behaved badly toward my son when I was minding them both — he only ever acted up as soon as his parents showed up to collect him. It was like he was doing it to provoke a reaction. He speared my son with a toy airplane, hit him once with a stick, and then one day slapped him right across the face.
His mom merely told him off — didn’t insist on a “consequence,” which is my method of parenting (i.e. if you do something bad or wrong, then you lose the chance to have bedtime stories/have a friend over/get ice cream). I was shaking I was so angry, not least because my son hadn’t done anything to warrant such violent behavior, but also because I wanted to give the mean kid a piece of my mind. But I remained silent because his parent was standing with us and that, frankly, is her job. Even if her reaction wasn’t one I agreed with.
Another time at a soft play area, a kid was being incredibly rough with my son. There was no sign of the kid’s parents, so I had a word with him myself. Then his mom came blustering up to me and I stood my ground. I explained calmly that her son was attacking mine — for no reason — and I wasn’t going to stand by and allow that to happen. She exploded with rage and I saw exactly where the kid learned his bad behavior! I grabbed my son and made a swift exit.
My issue with any parent taking my child to task in front of me is simple: it makes me feel belittled as a parent — as if I am not capable of disciplining my own kid, or making sure they don’t get run over, or whatever. It is as if they are saying, “I’ll take over here as you clearly aren’t up to the job.” Or that they think their parenting rules are superior to mine. If my kids are under your charge, I have no problem whatsoever with any parent or adult keeping them in check. I would in fact hope that they would tell my kids off — I respect that.
But if you see me standing there, then do me a favor and bite your tongue. I got this. Surely I’m not alone in feeling this way?