I don’t generally judge other mothers parenting skills. I know all children are different and what works for my kids wouldn’t necessarily work for everyone. So, I tend to do my own thing and assume most mothers are just like me: doing our best, making mistakes and learning more everyday.
But sometimes I run into a fellow mother and I stand appalled at her parenting style. Usually this is in response to a mother who is berating or yelling at her child in public. But this week the moment came in a very quiet interaction that made me want to shake this mother and say, “Are you kidding me? Be a parent!”
Here’s what happened: We took our kids on a pirate cruise down the Potomac River. The kids on the boat were all hopped up on eyepatches and mermaid tattoos. To add to the mayhem, there were only nine water cannons on the sides of the boat and at least 15 children who wanted to shoot them when they turned on.
I told my children to just wait patiently and the other children would share. Right? Surely these other kids would share the cannons or at least their parents would do the math and realize other children were waiting for a turn.
Not so. Kids guarded their cannons like hawks, and their parents turned a blind eye. In front of us, a boy about 7 or 8 years old refused to relinquish his death grip on his water cannon. His mother finally came up and said quietly, “It’s time to give this little girl a turn” (pointing to my daughter.) Her son ignored her. She tried again, and this time the boy simply looked at us and then at his mom and said, “Why?”
The mother looked away from us and walked away as her son continued to shoot his cannon.
I couldn’t believe it. The boy didn’t say, “I don’t want to” or “I had it first.” He said, “Why?” He simply had no idea why in the world he would ever share with another child. How can a parent just walk away and let her child do whatever he wants? How can a mother turn her back when it is clear that her son has zero concept of common courtesy?
Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she didn’t have the energy for a scene with her son. Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less about my kids firing water cannons, but I felt sorry for that mother. Yes, she avoided a scene, but one day the stakes are going to be much higher and that boy is going to continue to do whatever he wants. Will she continue to avert her eyes and walk away, then? She may wish she had actually parented him when the only thing in jeopardy was 10 more seconds on a water cannon.
In case you’re wondering, my kids did get a turn on the water cannon thanks to a dad who pried his crying son off the handles while the dad told him he had to take turns. It wasn’t pretty. It was parenting.