If you want to see a real cross section of parents, look no further than your local park. Since moving up to the Bay Area (the land of beautiful weather and impressive playgrounds), I have taken my daughter to the park almost every weekend, and I have seen a wide array of parenting styles. I always say that there is more than one way to be a good parent, and that you have to find a parenting style that works for you, yada yada yada. That said, at almost every park, I have encountered three types of parents whom I actively seek to avoid, whenever possible, because they affect my ability to safely play with my daughter (plus they’re annoying). They are:
The Neglectful Parent
The neglectful parent is probably the worst of all the parents that you’ll see at the park. Why? Because they aren’t even there. Forget about different parenting styles--their style is to not parent at all. That means that their children play freely in the park, without supervision, and without consequences. You can spot the children of neglectful parents by the way they run screaming through the park, terrorizing small children and vandalizing playground equipment. Not to say that only neglectful parents have this kind of children (you also see this behavior from the offspring of “not my little angel” parents), but only neglectful parents can allow this behavior to continue for extended periods of time without eventually being forced to address it. Why? Because they aren't there, and they have no idea it’s happening. They are off talking on their phones, or gabbing with other parents (see The Chatty Cathy Parent below), or barbecuing on the other side of the park. They are anywhere other than at the playground, watching their children.
The problem with these parents is that they put the rest of us in an awkward position: either we discipline their children so that our children can play safely, or we leave the playground. I usually go with the second approach, and end up feeling bitter and resentful that I was forced to cut my child’s play short, because someone else can’t bother to be a responsible parent. But yesterday, I decided to try something different. Two elementary school-aged boys were coloring with chalk all over the slide in the toddler area of the playground. Kids that age aren’t even supposed to be in there, let alone vandalizing the slide, and I decided that enough was enough. All of the other parents were just staring at those children, hoping that they would stop, or that their parents would come put an end to the behavior. I am no longer that naive, and so I opened my mouth and spoke.
“Hey!” I said, trying to hide the trembling in my voice. “You need to stop that right now.”
“Huh?” the older brother said, clearly unaccustomed to anyone telling him he needs to do anything.
I tried again, determined. “That slide is for little kids to play on, not for you to color on!” I said more forcefully, with what I hoped was an authoritative tone. I waited, nervous that their parents would suddenly show up and prove themselves to be “not my little angel” parents, in addition to being neglectful. Happily, the kids actually got off of the slide, their parents never showed up, and I earned a look of admiration from my daughter. That felt good, but I still felt annoyed that I was put in that position in the first place. In my humble opinion, if you aren’t going to watch over your children (let alone play with them), don’t bring them to the park and make the other parents do your dirty work.
The “Not My Little Angel” Parent
We all know at least one “not my little angel” parent. My local parks are abounding with them! As with the neglectful parent, you can usually spot the offspring of a “not my little angel” parent by their wild, screaming, bullying behavior. The difference is, “not my little angel” parents--who are frequently helicopter parents, as well--are usually present when this behavior is occurring. In fact, they will stand by and watch their children vandalize the slide, and will pretend nothing is happening, until you call them out on it. And then you will see denial so deep, it would be astounding, if it wasn’t so common. Take, for example, this conversation that I had with a “not my little angel” parent at the park a few weeks ago.
Me: “Hi, I’m sorry, but your son is screaming in my daughter’s face. Would you mind asking him to stop?”
Them: “What? Are you trying to say that my little boy is screaming at your daughter?”
Me: “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Your son is screaming at my daughter, and it’s upsetting her. Please tell him to stop.”
Them: “Ohh, she’s a very sensitive child, isn’t she? My son used to be like that, but then he went to preschool and got socialized.”
Gagh! A “not my little angel” parent will never take responsibility for their children’s behavior, if they even admit that the behavior is occurring in the first place. They allow their children to get away with murder, all the while looking the other way, so that they don’t have to admit that their kids are anything less than perfect. Meanwhile, people like me are left with no recourse but to relocate to another part of the park. You’ll never get through to a “not my little angel” parent, as they will never, ever admit that their children did anything wrong.
The Chatty Cathy Parent
The Chatty Cathy parent may not be the most irresponsible of the parents listed here, but they are by far the most annoying. The Chatty Cathy parent is on a mission to be your fifteen-minute friend. Much like those people on the airplane who want to talk your ear off the whole flight, Chatty Cathy parents want to be your best friend for those few minutes when your kids are playing near each other.
I have to admit that I don’t really enjoy talking to strangers, in general. I am shy, and I’m an introvert, and I often find conversations with people I don’t know to be exhausting. That said, I am more than happy to chit chat a little with other parents at the park, especially when our children are playing together. But Chatty Cathy parents don’t want to chit chat a little--they want to tell you their life stories, including every detail of their children's development, and they want you to tell them yours. I’m sure these people mean no harm, but to be frank, I take my daughter to the park so she and I can play together, and it’s a lot more difficult to do that when I’m trying to hold a conversation with someone who I will likely never see again.
I had a funny situation with a Chatty Cathy dad a few weeks ago. I was at the park with my daughter, and this guy with a daughter the same age as mine started talking to me. I was friendly, but he kept going on and on, and I started to wonder if he was hitting on me. I wasn’t interested, so I kept trying to end the conversation, but he wasn’t giving up. I eventually got a good look at his left hand and noticed his ring, and that is when it became clear to me that he was just a Chatty Cathy--a nice guy with a compulsive need to incessantly gab to anyone around him.
There are worse things than a Chatty Cathy, of course, but whenever possible, as soon as I realize I am talking to one, I hightail it out of there.
Leading by Example
The park can be a veritable land mine of parents to avoid, but I don’t let that stop us from going on a regular basis. My daughter loves to play at the park--it’s one of her favorite things to do--and I thoroughly enjoy our time there, no matter what. I make a point of keeping my cool when I interact with other parents, no matter how angry or annoyed I am, because I know that it is up to me to lead by example. It is my responsibility to show my daughter that a mature person can get along with almost anyone, with a little effort. Or with a lot of effort. Or something like that.