When Parents Go Bad

I had one of those experiences today that I’m sure every parent encounters at some point.  We were at the pool, and one of my kids (won’t say which one) went too far in annoying some other kids–nothing major but inappropriate nonetheless.  I was in the process of dealing with my kid (bringing him over to apologize, talking through it, etc), when the father of the other children went off on me and my child–completely came unglued.  I thought, “OK, this is bizaare,” but figured at first he just felt he had to assert himself, did so by going overboard, and that would be it.  But this wasn’t typical jerk behavior; it continued to ramp up until I decided to take the kids and leave, not knowing where he was headed.  I should add that the pool staff did their best to handle the situation professionally and were sympathetic.

This was, in my experience, an atypical situation involving someone with clear anger management issues, but it got me thinking in general about what has to be one of the trickier aspects of parenting–the socialization of our kids.  At the point in their lives when we’re sending them to school, or camp, or letting them have more freedom in the neighborhood in general, we remind them to “play nice with others,” and sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.  Maybe I’ve got some latent sociologist DNA in me, but I generally like to watch first and see how kids work out their rules for social behavior–the clan managing the clan, so to speak.  Obviously, there are limits to this (I’m not in favor of The Lord of the Flies approach), but I sometimes think kids do a better job at this than parents do, when it comes to dealing with other parents.

I think there are several reasons for this.  Parents sometimes have a hard time not projecting their own childhood traumas onto their kids and are determined to rescue them when they aren’t necessarily asking to be rescued.  But I also think there’s another thing going on: parental pride.  When a kid is mean to our kid, we don’t just see it for what it is and deal with it appropriately, we’re tempted to take it as a personal affront.  If we give in to that temptation, then suddenly you can have a situation where a group of calm seven-year-olds are standing by watching their parents act like defiant three-year-olds.  Anyone who has attended youth sports leagues knows what I’m talking about.

I don’t have a slick answer to conclude with, except to observe that growing up is apparently a lifelong process.

2 Replies to “When Parents Go Bad”

  1. Hear, hear to your concluding thought! I try to be cognizant of how I intervene for the very reasons you’ve articulated. I wish I could say I do this for some very deep and awesome reason, but it’s more the offshoot of watching people interact at the dog park before my son was born. It’s how the people interact over a perceived slight that more often than not tips a situation from iffy to ugly.

  2. In general I agree — the kids need to figure out how to work through these things together. When my nieces used to bring their conflicts to my sister-in-law to solve, her first response was always “Work it out.” I’ve tried to emulate her in that respect — intervene if needed, but let them try first.

    I haven’t had this (ugly sounding) experience yet, but several times in a public setting I’ve witnessed parents lighting into their kids for seemingly minor infractions. Always makes me wonder what the kids have to deal with at home.

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