For many moms, it’s not difficult to take charge at an anonymous place such as a playground by scolding an unruly child who is bullying others or encouraging children to share or take turns. Maybe in the back of our minds we find these situations relatively easy to deal with because we think, “I’ll never see this child or his mother again. I’ll just do my best to fix this situation right now, and I won’t have to deal with it again.”
It’s not as easy when you’re dealing with friends and family. These are people whose feelings are important to you, and people who you will be seeing again and again. So, uncomfortable moments or confrontations may be avoided in order to save yourself from future grief.
Not long ago, we had a large group of people and their children over to our house. I am pretty laid-back about my son Caleb’s toys and allow anyone to play with them. As far as I’m concerned, they are all “fair game.” I do not hide Caleb’s special toys that are particularly important to him, nor do I establish ground rules for where the toys are to be played with or how to treat the toys. It may very well be my own mistake for having assumed that our house, and more specifically, Caleb’s toys, would be treated with respect. This is something I naïvely assume parents instill in their children. Treating one’s own toys with respect is important, but certainly when you are in another person’s home, treat their belongings with respect. Isn’t that how it works?
One child kindly came up to me at one point and asked if he could take several of Caleb’s toys outside. I was impressed with his request and let him pick out five little action figures to take outside with him. I asked him to make sure that he remembered to bring all of them back inside. I appreciated his responsible attitude about the situation and knew that his parents were supervising him. I know that some parents have certain toys that are meant to be taken outside and others which are only allowed indoors.
However, several of the other children did not think twice about bringing tons of Caleb’s toys outside and mashing them into mud. Their parents did not seem to mind this behavior. Now, this would have been the appropriate time for me to address the matter. But I hesitated because I did not know how to handle it. I did not want to offend the parents. Our children and our parenting skills (or lack thereof) are all pretty touchy subject matters, particularly when we feel that we are being lectured or attacked and made out to be bad parents. Even though I would not have been presenting my feelings in this way, it may have come across that way. And yet, I wanted to establish and implement rules at my home. I felt this was only fair. Though I was frustrated, I just figured I would wash the toys later and not worry about addressing the matter.
Another child, who was 5 years old, decided he would scribble all over several of my paving stones surrounding the garden with a black permanent marker. And just when I “caught” him and took the marker from him, he was very proud to announce that he had “colored on my rocks, and it would not come off.” I told him very sternly that he was a big boy and knew better than to behave that way. I felt that he should not only apologize but also that there should be some sort of consequence for this unacceptable behavior. But nothing was done, and the matter was never addressed. Of course, it was never addressed by me either, so I wonder if I am partially to blame. But I figured the consequences of me confronting the parents would be far worse. So again, I let it go and hoped that I’d find a magic way to erase the marker. So far, no luck. All this rain has not eroded the marker, much to my dismay. I’m certainly not in love with my paving stones, but it was the principle of the matter.
After the get-together, I ended up throwing away about 15 of Caleb’s toys which had been snapped, twisted, or broken in one way or another. Several of them were in his “favorites” category, and were not fixable. This was really hard for me. I don’t think I'm an unreasonable person. Boys tend to play rough. Kids inevitably break things. Little children often misbehave because they are still learning. OK, these are all true. But I feel like the whole point of parenting is to teach your children as they are growing and to learn along with them. So, even though children may be on different levels of maturity, in my opinion, 5-year-olds should not be purposely breaking toys and scribbling on paving stones. This is not acceptable behavior. And if a child should accidentally break a toy, that’s OK! But it’s still nice to apologize. And if the child does not, it’s nice for the parent to apologize FOR the child, or at least use it as a teaching opportunity. One or two toys being broken seems normal to be. Fifteen is another story.
I struggled with knowing how I should handle the situation. Was I being really unreasonable? These are, after all, “firsts” for me. Maybe I have certain expectations that are not being met. I am just hesitant to address bad behavior with parents who are friends or family members.
How you handle these types of situations that involved other parents' unruly children, and what has been productive for you?