Carrie On Parenting: Should You Correct Other People’s Children?

To begin with, let me be the first to call myself out on the irony that I, mother of the gynecologist’s office demon kids, am complaining about this particular subject, especially when just last week I regaled readers with how horribly my own children behaved. But I am.

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This past Saturday, I felt the urge to correct someone else’s children in front of her. Interestingly enough, the idea of disciplining other people’s children is the subject of an NBC miniseries, The Slap, whose first episode aired February 12. The Cliff’s Notes version of the plot is that at a birthday party, a man slaps a misbehaving child after the child kicks him in the leg. According to Wikipedia, each of the eight episodes is told from the perspective of a different character who witnessed this incident. The miniseries is based on a 2008 novel by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas, also called The Slap. I haven’t seen it (if you have, let me know how it is!), so I’m not plugging it or saying it’s no good…just interesting that these two things came up simultaneously. Not that I’m into slapping kids, mind you.

Back to me. Here’s the scene. Our Arkansas town has what is arguably the most awesome children’s clothing and gear consignment sale in the history of the world. Seriously…100,000 items poured in, and for this week only, they are going out the door to new families while their previous owners make a little cash and get a return on their investment. Uh-maze-ing. Along with about 250 other people, I stood out in the cold and drizzling rain on Saturday in a line like I was waiting to enter a rock concert just so I could get inside and find my three little darlings good stuff to wear (I have a self-imposed moratorium on bringing anything except clothes into our house…). And boy, did I ever find awesome stuff.

Then, there’s the waiting in line to check out, which is where my story officially begins. Technically, the sale asks people to refrain from bringing kids with them on this particular day because it’s so crazy, but sometimes, as we all understand, this can’t be helped. Personally, I would rather take a turn as a cart-return person at the grocery store than arrive at this sale with my three kids.

Anyway, a mother, a grandmother, and their two girls who were about 5 and 7 were in line behind me. The girls had had enough, as was evidenced by their running around, hitting each other, and general refusal to obey the women. And I totally get it…my kids would’ve been nuts by that point.

But then the girls started playing on baby swings. These were the swings that people pay like $200 for, and families were selling them again for quite a bit of money, and these girls, who probably weighed at least 50 pounds each, were getting into the swings, feet leaving the floor, perfectly suspended in midair held aloft only by the swing that some other new precious babies might not get to swing in and some family might not get to sell…because these kids were totally about to break each and every one of the ten or so swings in our vicinity.

I waited. And waited. And waited. Neither the mom or the grandmother said anything to these little girls. And all I could think about was that if I had submitted a perfectly perfect $200 baby swing to this sale, what would I do if it didn’t sell because some kids broke it…because their parents didn’t feel like correcting them? There was finally a half-hearted “if you break it, we have to buy it” admonishment, but it fell completely on deaf ears, and the girls continued on.

And friends, let me mention that I am a former teacher…I used to correct other people’s children for a living. Furthermore, I come from a long, LONG line of women who know what’s best and want to fix everything…right, Mom? And since I’ve gone over this in my head many times since this incident, I have come up with a fairly benign comment to the little girls that probably would’ve worked…

But I said nothing.

Yes, I sent snarky text messages to my husband and my friend Jamie about them, but I never said anything directly to them. Those little girls weren’t my students, they weren’t my friends’ kids, and they weren’t my own children, who would’ve attempted very-expensive-swing-icide exactly once before I put a stop to it. They were strangers. And so were the owners of the baby swings that I felt so strongly that I needed to defend.

In short, this was none of my business. And that’s where I left it, even though I resisted every gene in my pool to do so. And I didn’t know these people or their circumstances…maybe this was a good day for those kids? Maybe the women were checking on an ailing relative on their cell phones?

How would I feel if a stranger intervened and corrected my kids while I was standing there? I’m not sure.

I grew up in a close-knit community where all moms had jurisdiction over all kids. We were a good group of kids, but I remember being corrected a few times by other moms, and that was okay with me. My kids know that the same rule applies to them: friends and relatives have jurisdiction! Please correct my kids if you can get there first or if I missed something!

I hate it that I’m one of those people who analyzes things (like this incident) in my head long after that ship has sailed. I should’ve said THAT… (insert witty comeback or comment). But I didn’t.

So…what do you think? Should I have intervened or kept my mouth shut?

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4 thoughts on “Carrie On Parenting: Should You Correct Other People’s Children?

  1. Most of the time, I’m in your camp. Not my circus, not my monkeys. However, I have been known to correct the pre-teenagers at the park who try and climb into the toddler swings because they think it’s funny. I’ve witnessed these young adult size adolescents climb into the swings while little kids were there waiting. I won’t keep quiet about that. I’m the crotchety old mom who says, “Those swings weren’t made for you and can’t you see the little kids waiting? Please get out of that swing.” (said in my mom voice with my mom face). I don’t ever feel bad about that. 😉

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    1. Wanda, I totally agree on the preteen thing. I never fear calling out children who are unsupervised (however old they are) or my friends’ kids if they need it. It was the “while mom and grandma are standing there” factor…yeesh. I’m not sure they would have necessarily appreciated an intervention…even one that was past necessary from all other points of view. In short, I might’ve been beaten up. And lost my place in line!😉

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