Why A Stranger's Seemingly 'Innocent' Suggestion Overstepped A Boundary

by Alicia Stein
Originally Published: 

If you’ve ever parented a moody, stubborn pre-teen, you know that it’s a delicate balance of playing it cool, putting on a little pressure, backing off — and mostly having faith that their extreme crankiness has more to do with raging hormones than anything you’ve done as a parent.

Case in point: This past weekend, we are at my in-laws at a small family gathering. My 12-and-a-half year old was in a bit of a funk, which has been normal for him these past few months as I’ve watched him shoot up in height and turn into a little man. He’s pretty comfortable at his grandparents’ house, so he was basically letting it all hang out – complaining about how bored he was, not wanting to participate in this or that game or activity … you get the picture.

It was mostly just us family, but my mother-in-law’s friend was there too. And as she watched my son act all kinds of grouchy, I made little comments here or there to ease the mood. “You know teens. They don’t really want to do anything,” I said, adding that I’ve mostly given up on making him do stuff when he’s in a bad mood, knowing that he’ll return to himself soon enough.

Now, I will say that his behavior wasn’t really that bad at all. Yes, he was in a mood, but he was having conversations with everyone, talking about his interests, and being polite and pleasant. He was just rejecting certain activities, like this or that board game someone wanted to play, or going down the block to play at the park with his little brother. He was in a “I don’t wanna” mood, and I didn’t get the impression that anyone cared much.

Well, that is, until after dinner, when the family friend announced in an over-the-top cheery way that all of us were taking an after-dinner walk, and that any objections would not be tolerated. I could tell that she was directing this toward my son in particular, and by default, me.

Listen, taking an after-dinner walk isn’t a big deal, right? Sure, but it is to a obstinate pre-teen who has made it clear that he isn’t going to do anything that he doesn’t want to do, thankyouverymuch. And this woman (who I should add, never had kids of her own) was deciding very clearly that she was going to be the one to get my child out of his stubborn state, no ifs, and, or buts.

If fact, before my son could even object to anything, the woman made a big to-do about how she had watched the video that my son had wanted to show to everyone, and now he owed her the walk. So, clearly, this was a whole plan directed specifically at my son, in defiance of his shit teenage mood, and with the clear intention of single-handedly being the one to snap him out of it.

Let me tell you: I was fuming.

It wasn’t because I didn’t think my son should take the walk. It wasn’t because I didn’t think he needed someone to put their foot down every now and then and give him ultimatums. Those are things I do all the time, though I don’t always choose to do them in a public setting where he is liable to feel uncomfortable and humiliated.

Nope: I was pissed the eff off because this woman was pushing a boundary in a major and entirely inappropriate way.

Unless you are with my kid at least a few days a week, unless you understand where he is in his process of managing raging teen hormones, unless he is in danger or posing a danger to others — and unless you are his freaking parent, please don’t try to parent, discipline, or manage my kid.

It’s embarrassing AF for him. And it’s a very clear critique of my parenting, something you don’t know anything about.

What you see on the surface about my teen’s behavior is just that — a surface characteristic. You don’t know what he struggles with. You don’t know where we are in our ongoing conversation about how to manage one’s feelings, behave in social settings, etc. And you have not been invited — in any way, shape, or form — into that conversation.

Luckily for us all, my son has enough self-consciousness and a drive to be polite, so although he clearly did not want to go on this woman’s walk, he got his shit together, and went anyway, without much of a complaint. The walk was fine, although he was definitely rolling his eyes all over the place throughout it all.

Ultimately, I was more pissed off about the forced walk than he was, especially because I could tell that this woman was gloating all over the place that she had been the one to finally convince this teenage boy to do something that his mom had predicted he would not want to do. I’m sure she was thinking, “If only his mom disciplined him the way I did, the world wouldn’t be so full of bratty teens.”

I hate that I let this woman have her “win,” but I honestly wasn’t up for a fight in that moment, especially with my in-laws present, who may or may not agree with this woman about how well I discipline my son (but that’s a whole other story in and of itself).

There was a silver lining to the whole experience, though. As we were walking, my son stayed close to me, because he was extremely uncomfortable being anywhere near this woman, who he could tell was trying to teach him a lesson. I told him point blank that I thought she was acting like an idiot, and we were able to have a little mother-son bonding moment about that.

But besides that, it was a totally shitty experience, and one I hope to never have to endure again. I remember having times like this when my kids were babies and toddlers – where virtual strangers tried to intervene in my parenting. I truly thought that now that my kids were older, we were past that stage.

Clearly, we are not. I only hope that if something like this ever happens again, I will open my mouth about it. Because stepping in to parenting someone else’s kid is a really crappy thing to do, and people should be called out when they do it.

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