Have you ever been in a situation where a stranger took it upon herself to scold your child in front of you? It’s uncomfortable and complicated indeed — on so many levels. First, if your ego doesn’t conquer you and send you on a mission to give that person a piece of your mind, you may just feel inadequate as a parent. (“Why didn’t I address that issue with my kid, first?”) Secondly, probably that person is a friend, co-worker, acquaintance or another parent and has something valuable to offer — something you hadn’t thought of yourself. Finally, how is this total disregard for your parental status interpreted by your observing child?Clearly, when one disciplines your kid in your absence that’s one thing; when it is done in your presence — thereby crossing personal boundaries — that’s another story.
In your absence. Granted, if neither parent is available, the supervising adult has the right to “gracefully” reprimand depending upon the circumstances. It’s best to have this “who’s in charge” thing all spelled out ahead of time. When I send my kids to friends’ homes, I tell the parent or caregiving adult to “feel free” to reproach my kid as they see fit. Now, that doesn’t mean that person could mentally abuse or take full advantage of my child and send her into 30 minute time-outs. To avoid this, before I send my kid anywhere, I establish enough of a rapport with the person and am relatively confident that they have enough discretion to avoid overstepping boundaries. Yet in the end, I am really vulnerable and at the mercy of many unknowns.
In your presence: Now this is a biggie. Certainly many of you can relate to incidents with nosy neighbors, moody cashiers, stressed-out servers and self-righteous repairmen who are all more than willing to butt-in and snarl at your kid if he acts out in public. Some people are sincere and believe they are helping by actually teaching something. Others are…well, let’s be honest, busybodies or are more concerned about being sued over your “happy boy with the new running shoes” slipping and falling on their property. Personally, this is the one that makes my blood boil — especially when this obvious intention is poorly masked as genuine interest in your kid’s well-being.
Depending on from whom it comes and the particular situation, I try to act accordingly and with grace. I’m not omnipotent; with five kids under my care, I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes I’m remiss about addressing an important issue on the spot. I simply haven’t enough eyes, ears, or energy to catch it all. If the person seems authentic and kind in her approach, I will thank her for her concern and address the problem again, with my kid in my personal parenting vernacular — the one my kids understand best. If the person is melodramatic and panics, or is outright nasty and scares my child, I will politely, yet firmly, state that it is my responsibility, as his parent, to dole out the life lessons. For example, sometimes it’s necessary to instruct the meddling outsider to let the kids work it out. “They are just learning some good negotiation skills that will serve them well later in life — when they become litigation attorneys,” I often jest, indirectly affirming my free-range-ish position about two bickering kids.
Most importantly, I strive to consistently address whatever it was that happened with my children. I would rather them err on the side of always respecting adults and authority figures. When an exception arises, and an unscrupulous person outright bashes my kid disproportionately, I’ll backtrack and explain to the kids why the aforementioned “golden rule” must be totally negated in that particular case.
How do you handle it when an outsider interferes and admonishes your kid in your presence? Do you thank them for bringing an issue to your attention or, do you get so offended you cannot even respond rationally? Do tell!