Here we are in the throes of summer. If your summer is structured at all like mine, this means you are spending ample amounts of time in a community swimming pool setting.
The children love this. We parents like it, too. Especially if our kids are a little bigger. Once we reach the status of “we’re inside the fence, but it’s all trashy novels and earbuds from here on out,” the community pool becomes a dream. Our kids see their friends and we didn’t have to plan or coordinate or keep a close eye on anything? Parental heaven.
Sometimes even amidst my oblivion, though, the former lifeguard-within springs to life. I see a child dash by and I yell, “Walk!” I see teens doing flips into the shallow water and walk over to discuss with them safety and setting a good example. I tell the neighborhood kids sternly that diving or jumping in backwards will get them hurt, and they are to stop immediately. I’ve even told babysitters that they need to get off their phones and do their jobs.
I yell at your kids. And I’d like it if you’d yell at mine.
Somewhere along the line, it seems we stopped being a village. We sit and watch unruly children go wild and wonder, “Where are the parents?”
Well, not to be a jerk, but get up and look. His mom might be absorbed deep in her Vogue and may simply not notice her son has climbed the exterior of the water slide. Don’t pretend she’s a bad mom. Don’t pretend she couldn’t be you. Help a parent out.
If you don’t see a parent and you know a child’s behavior is unacceptable, it is more than okay to say so. It’s scary to think we’ve become a society where an adult isn’t comfortable guiding a neighborhood child in the direction of safety or general decorum.
I, personally, want you to tell my kids your rules and general rules of life. If my kid comes to your house and your house is “shoes off,” they need to take their shoes off. If my kid throws his feet up on your coffee table (and he probably will), please tell him feet belong on the floor. My children need to know that there are different rules in different settings. That people other than their mom will boss them around in life.
Someday, this child will get a job. This will be a rude awakening in and of itself. I’d like to at least equip him with the knowledge that people will tell you what to do in the workplace, and you may have to do things outside your normal routine.
You may have to do something difficult. There may be no one there to hold your hand and walk you through it. I can’t come to work with you, dear one. You’re going to need to learn to take instruction from others.
Back at the community pool, it’s my turn to miss the window. I am laying in a chair, working on a piece like a weirdo, laptop and bikini.
Another mom says, “Is it okay if I ask your boy not to do that?”
I look up, dazed. I have no idea what he’s been doing, but I already know the answer to her question.
“Of course. Actually, please. Thank you.”
I need my kid to know that a broad base of people expect things from him in the world. I need him to know that sometimes you have to behave in a way you don’t necessarily want to because of the place or people around you. I need my kid to know that I am not the only person he has to answer to. I need my child to know I am not going to jump in and save him and defend him in every situation, and that sometimes he will be held accountable for his actions.
“Village” is the word of this article. Tell my kids no when they ask to eat your kids’ snacks. Tell my kids to throw out the trash they left on the table next to yours. Tell my kids, “Sure, it’s a pool and people get wet, but don’t splash someone in the face.”
All of this is fine. All of this is appreciated and expected.
Yet I meet parents who have a lot of trepidation about talking to other people’s children. I’m not sure where this comes from, but my guess is they might not believe their child is ever wrong. You know, those few parents who go to the principal and demand their child get an A. Those parents who may say, “You do not get to tell my child what to do.”
It seems these few and far between parents have paralyzed many a well-meaning parent. People have become so averse to and expectant of confrontation that they would rather keep quiet.
There are, of course, instances in which parents should do their best to be sensitive before reprimanding someone else’s child. Watching for signs that the child has special needs, speaks another language, or that their life experiences may not align with your expectations can create meaningful opportunities for education, friendship, and breaking down barriers. When it comes to most kids in my neighborhood, I know their general schtick, even if I don’t know the family well. Caution, respect, and empathy should be always taken.
In times like these, we need to build community more than ever. Remember being a kid and riding through the neighbor’s grass? The neighbor would tell you off and tattle you out to your mom. Remember how your mom knew everything, even if she was across town?
How do you think she achieved that? Because mom can’t be everywhere.
She didn’t need to be. She had a support team. She knew because of the mom hive, and not for any other reason.
So yes, jump on in. Tell those little kids to stop climbing backwards up the slide. And know I’ll do the same for you.