Don't Be That Parent

In my experience, I wasn't afraid of peers, I didn't have bullies, but other parents made me feel bad about myself and about my family. Adults shouldn't make children feel this way.

The cool evening breeze hit the perspiration on my forehead as I ran to the play ground. A smile stretched across my face as I thought of how well I had done in practice. I hit a ball into the outfield, and I finally got in front of those one-hop grounders I had been afraid of. I couldn't wait to tell my mom.

"Where are you going?" I heard an adult voice ask in my direction. "Are your parents on the way?"

"Um, yea. My mom told me to wait at the play groud for her after practice." I responded.

"For how long?" She asked with concern. I could now see it was one of my teammate's moms.

"I dunno," I said sheepishly looking at the ground. My mood shifted. Was I in trouble?

My teammates mom walked with frustration to the playground with me as she riffled through her purse for her phone. She called, who I assumed, was her husband.

"Hey, I'm going to be later getting back. I'm sitting here with Rebecca Miller, because her parents aren't here to pick her up. Can you turn off the oven? Dinner will have to wait." She explained.

As I sat there, I got a sense that there was something wrong with waiting at the playground for your parent. I realized that "good parents" pick up their kids on time. I had never questioned my mom's parenting, or love for me, and now I was.

When my mom showed up, she walked toward the playground, smiling, asking about practice and was met with judgement and concern.

"We waited here with her. We didn't want her to be alone." My teammate's mom said in a condemning tone.

"Oh," my mom responded, "ok, thanks." I watched her mood change as mine had.

Before this interaction with this other parent, I was a happy, innocent child who knew her parents loved her. My mom was also happy and proud that she was making our family's crazy schedule work. But, after this interaction we felt bad about ourselves. I questioned if my parents should be on time. How come I was the last kid? Every time my parents were late picking me up from any function, I became hyper-aware of whether or not other parents noticed. I tried walking toward the parking lot or behind buildings, so they wouldn't question whether or not my parents were coming. I didn't want to be judged, and I wanted to protect my mom.

My mom was doing her best. She had recently started watching the children at my aunt's daycare, because my 7-year old cousin was battling cancer. My parents considered taking me out of softball with the new demands on our schedule, but they knew that at 9-years old, softball was important to me. So she made it work, which meant asking me to play for 10 minutes, by myself on the playground after practice.

In my experience, I wasn't afraid of peers, I didn't have bullies, but other parents made me feel bad about myself and about my family. Adults shouldn't make children feel this way.

I understand that judgement comes from us thinking we wouldn't do those things, but we haven't walked in people's shoes and we don't know how we would handle their situation. Had that mom had fun with me on the playground and then offered to start giving me rides home after practice when my mom arrived, things would have been SO different.

I would not question my mom's ability to parent or her love for me. My mom would have felt supported by her community. We both would have felt normal and loved, not bad and ashamed.

I like to assume every parent is doing their very best. We do not need to point out each other's failures, trust me, as a mom, I understand we are hyperaware of our failures. A small interaction like this can have a profound impact on a young child. These messages come in the form of side eye, a remark, a look, body language, a comment and children recognize you acknowledging their parent's failure. You are telling a child that their parent isn't "good enough." Even if you think you are simply acknowledging that that child deserves more, the child doesn't know how to process that. They only have the family they have. Why make them feel bad about it? Don't be that parent.

I challenge others to assume every parent is doing their best, treat their failures as a possible sign they might need help, if you do jump in to help, do it with positivity and kindness, not with judgement.

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