Take Them to the Park

I find that I am always leery about going to the playground or the park with all three boys. I know, that kids are kids, and this is summer (will it ever end?), and that is what kids should do – play at the park. But honestly, it makes me anxious just thinking about it.

I am sure you’ve done this before – you get all revved up about going to the park, pack the fifty thousand things that you need to get there, spend the two hours getting everyone dressed and ready (probably not yourself, I mean, you don’t have time to actually shower), pack the juice boxes and the change of clothes, the snacks and the kites, and get in the van.

Now, you are driving to the park, going over with your kids the ‘expected behaviors’ that they should display while you are there, reminding them of their good social skills, how to wait for their turn on the swings, the need for them to stay with you, and that they have to stay out of the water, and away from the roads, and then there is of course the playground staple, “Use your words", which in kid speak translates to ‘don’t hit’. And during our drive, I also add for my semantic-loving kids “That goes the same for kicking, or yelling, or biting, or shoving, or pushing, or tripping, or touching anyone else – AT ALL.” Pretty much letting them know there will be no fun at the park. Period.

This is when it hits me: I am taking ALL THREE BOYS to the park alone. There will be PEOPLE there I don’t know (and don’t know my kids). And that means there will be JUDGEMENT.


I’ll be honest here, I don’t really care what other people think of me, or my kids, or my parenting – truthfully, I don’t. I have been around the block enough with these kids to know that the strategies I am using now aren’t perfect, but they are the best I’ve got (and I have a list of doctors, therapists, psychologists and counselors as long as my leg to prove I’ve tried MANY things). So, if the woman at the park wants to roll her eyes at me because I let all three of my boys act a fool climbing up the tunnel slide, running into each other while sliding down, then so be it.

But could she PLEASE do it somewhere I don’t have to see it?

Because having to supervise my three kids, Gabriel being borderline Manic these days, coupled with his intensely difficult bored-all-the-time need to pick at his brothers until there is a fight, Nick’s need to be ‘right’ constantly in the face of Gabriel’s flip outs, and Matthew’s inability to stay with me in any public place, let alone one with a lake and major road nearby, make concentrating on anything besides keeping my eye on them, IMPOSSIBLE.

Yet, there the woman is, distracting me with her not-so-subtle passive aggressive need to correct her children by using mine as an example.

“Tommy, you and your sister use the ladder; do not climb up the slide.”

“Tommy, the tunnel isn't to climb on top of, use the stairs.”

This my friends, is a helicopter parent. Not me, not the woman supervising her children with in arms reach, never sitting down, but instead surveying everything around her – at the ready to avoid a real potential disaster.

What is the difference between me supervising and helicoptering?

Here’s the difference:

Supervising: Watching my children so they are safe, those around them are safe, and not overreacting to every little issue (perceived by me or my kids) and solving it.

Helicoptering: Solving every issue her kids have as if it is the end of the world and they are too stupid to figure out the solution on their own.

See the difference? I may help facilitate a social interaction, but in essence this is the ‘real world’ practice they need – my boys don’t need more therapy (don’t get me wrong, we have plenty, and it is amazingly useful) to practice the new skills they are learning – nope. They need to be out with regular every day kids working things out on their own.  And the park is a great opportunity for that

So, to the woman at the park, please do not judge me. Please keep your helicopter-parenting away from me while I supervise my kids. And, just for the record (Nick isn’t the only one that likes to be right), allowing ANY child to walk up the slide is a great opportunity for large motor skill development and shows great creative out-of-the box thinking for any child to use something for a purpose other than what it was originally intended for. But, obviously, those are not skills you are attempting to nurture in your children, I on the other hand, am a big fan of my kids reaching developmental milestones and surprising me with their brilliant little minds, so, I am going to continue to let them climb up the slide while your little ones use the stairs. Even if you roll your eyes 100 times.

Deep breath. Exhale.

For families like mine, going to the park is hard because we have so much risk involved (not just the fear of being judged, but the real possibility there will be a HUGE transitional meltdown, or that our 9 year old may throw himself on the ground and literally bang his fists and feet in toddler-esque fashion because it isn’t his turn on the swings, or that my sweet-looking 4 year old may throw a fist full of bark at some unsuspecting child because he is annoyed she has used the steering wheel too long, or….you get the idea), but we also have a great possibility for reward.

Our kid could make a friend.
Our kid could successfully wait his turn for the slide.
Our kid could swing for an hour giving him (and us) hours of calm later in the day.
Our child could practice alternating feet down the stairs.
Our child could be happy.
Our child could practice new words.
Our child could strike up a conversation with another child voluntarily.

There are so many possibilities for children to grow and learn at the park especially those with any developmental delay. So, even if it isn’t summer for you any longer, don’t forget the value of play: The value of climbing the slide the wrong way, the value of sunlight on your face (or rain in your hair), the value of running through a field as far as you can and swinging for hours.

And ignore the eye-rolling helicopter parents that judge you. 



Nancy said...

Great clarification about helicopter parenting! It's such an easy term to use in judgment of people.

I like to think that while people may not express themselves well, what they're really saying when they criticize is "I'm fearful. Help me not to be scared." That awakens my compassion and quiets my defensiveness. Sometimes they actually learn something. If they get huffy I figure maybe they'll go home and stew and a little part of them will realize that maybe, just maybe, their ego got in the way of learning something, and then the new information sinks in.

Caitlin Wray said...


There are times when other people's kids are doing things that I know are not ok for my kids, and of course my kids say "they can do it why can't I" - and usually say it loud enough for the other parent to hear. I have cultivated the following statement for these situations:

"Every family tries to make choices that are right for them. That may be the right choice for them, but this is the right choice for us."


KDL said...

Seems like most of the time I run into the opposite problem of not being able to locate the other parent. As socially awkward as my kid is, she is not always the one in the wrong, and if I can't find the other parent I have a hard time figuring out how to best correct the other child or help my daughter learn good ways to respond...and although my other two kids are apparently fairly typical, they are young (2.5 years) so I also am constantly trying to keep track of them. God forbid I get distracted by one of them for a moment and my oldest strikes another child when she has tried using her words and the other child won't back off (which happened the other day). We apologized, went to a different area for lunch, talked about listening to other peoples' words (sometimes just as hard or harder than using your own), and asked her how she could be a good friend. Fortunately they reconnected in a more positive way over the merry-go-round...never did see the other mom. Hmm.

Gavin Bollard said...

One of the great things about being an aspie myself is that I don't pick up on these non-verbal behaviours.

Sometimes my wife will say to me afterwards... "did you see that woman at the park who was rolling her eyes..."

erm... no.

I'm at the park for my kids. They're having a great time. I'm enjoying watching them.

It doesn't occur to me to think that the other parents there are doing anything different.

Anonymous said...

I think that you just have to let them roll their eyes. They obviously have NO clue on what kind of parenting challenges we face and can't grasp our anxiety, fear, and trepidation on a simple trip to the park.

Not every moment needs to be a teachable moment. I find the best teachers are moments of organic discovery, which is having kids just be kids. :)

Jenn said...

I confess I tend more to the helicopter side; I'm working on it, but it's hard. I would never, NEVER judge or criticize another parent for their own parenting style; I just am blessed with this fertile imagination that tends toward "worst case scenario" ALL THE TIME. Completely irrational, but there it is. It's awful. I suspect I miss a lot of good things worrying about what MIGHT happen.

This is all really really good advice, and stuff I need to hear...

Heather B said...

I pratically wait for the parents to begin to roll their eyes at me as soon as my boys start to climb up the slides! I find it almost humerous when other children join them. The "helicopter parents" go INSANE over this! It's my own little piece of happy. The kids get such a great workout and nobody gets hurt:)

Anonymous said...

I loved your post! I actually took my three kids, my nephew to the park today PLUS two neighbor kids--that was a moment of weakness. The park is a busy place on a beautiful day. We brought a bunch of dump trucks, shovels, etc for all. My two year old has a digger that he loves and takes everywhere. This little boy kept trying to take it from him. The mom kept saying "Joey, that boy doesn't want to share" AND " He doesn't know how to share." It took everything within me not to throw the digger at her!! He is two. He doesn't have to share his truck if he doesn't want to. I directed little Joey to our other trucks and shovels. I don't think the other mom got the hint. It is hard enough to raise kids. Moms have to stop judging each other. We are all doing the best we can!! Of course I want my son to share. But I am not fighting the sharing battle at the park to please another mom!!

Hartley said...

Thank you all for your comments! I absoultely agree that ignoring them is best, and that we should really as women stop judging each other!!

My favorite sharing story, is when I was a nanny for a family who was having a 4th birthday party for their son -- one of the other moms was all uptight about how her daughter didnt' share, so I said, "I saw you got a new convertible, can I borrow this weekend?" She about crapped her pants, and said no. So I responded, "I just thought you might be better at sharing than your daughter." LOL

Thanks everyone!

Making Sense of the Senses said...

One of the many things my little SPD girl has taught me in her short 2yrs of life, "DON'T JUDGE". One not so good thing I have picked up; is thinking to myself “I wonder if the parents of that little boy/girl have ever heard of SPD?”

pamelama said...

Hi! New follower here. :)
I appreciate your definition of helicopter parenting - I thought maybe that's what I was doing, but now I definitely see it as simply supervising my children. I have dreaded going to the park, especially when my special needs son was younger. He'd do many of the things you listed! And I found that just ignoring the other moms at that point is what kept me sane. I didn't have to see those eye rolls. ;) I'm sure there were many!

But looking back I also see all the gains he's made and now how wonderfully he plays at the park (he's turning 10 next week)! Thanks for helping me take a look at how far we've come. We're definitely going to the park tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

I love this post. Can I carry it with me to the park?

I've learned to ignore the eye-rolling. What else can I do? I'm tired of staying in my house. And it's not fair to the rest of my family.

I've also learned not to judge. Because I'm sure the mom texting on her phone on the bench while her 4 yr old runs around with a stick shooting my kids wouldn't want me to judge her parenting style either... :-)


Caitlin Wray said...

Hartley, I'm stealing your convertible story. With a 1.5 year old, I'm going to need it pretty soon! How hilarious!

One of the things my son's autism has made me aware of, is that most of the things I helicopter about with my kids, are not really about my kids - they are about my fear of being judged. I used to religiously force my son to go "up the stairs down the slide" - not because I was worried about him or any one else getting hurt, but because I was worried about what kind of parent other parents would think I was, if I didn't enforce that rule. Similarly, when he was younger, I was always trying to enforce the sharing rule - much too young, since kids are not developmentally ready to share when they are 2. I knew I had plenty of years to teach him to share; what I was really worried about was other moms thinking I wasn't parenting him properly.

I think that is what you're saying about supervision vs helicoptering Hartley. Are we intervening because we're worried about the kids, or because we're worried about our own image? A sobering distinction.


Hartley said...

I wanted to say WELCOME to Pamelama -- Love to have new followers and even more so, new commenters. :)

Isn't it just an amazing gift to have these little kids to teach us not to judge? I am so much less judgemental because of who my kids are -- and I shudder to think of what kind of mom/person I would've been had I not had them.

Thanks again for all the comments!


Martianne said...

I sooooo love this post. I just pout it on my FB for other parents to benefit from - ALL parents (nannies, grandparents, etc.) I think should read it, pause, reflect, mm hmmm, laugh, bite their lip or wrinkle their nose in recognition, etc. Thank you for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Love this and the comments! I can't tell you how many tims we have not done something because I was nervous about how my son would act.
There was a particular Mom at daycare who would constantly eye roll or stare at my son or correct him herself. {At times when he was no where near her child} The temper tantrums bothered her, I don't know why.
One day I relly lost it and said "if your little girl is so perfect and sits still watching everyone instead of acting like this sometimes then there's something wrong with her not my child!!"
Well, not to long after that it turns out her daughter was diagnosed with many learning disabilities and is now in a special school getting great help.
I was judging her at the same time she was judging me and I felt horrible after saying that.

Love the convertible story, that's great!!

pamelama said...

Thanks Hartley! I'm so glad I found your blog. My son has autism as well as sensory issues and it's a relief to find others to relate to.

I cringed and yet nodded in agreement at Caitlin's comment. I also wanted to show the other moms that I was parenting well (esp. by enforcing the "slide rule"!). So much time and energy goes into caring about what other people think. Only now do I see how much I held back both of my sons' sense of adventure and self-confidence by doing so. :(

Patty O. said...


I totally and completely agree with you. I often let my kids climb up the slide as long as no one is right there waiting to go down. And when they climb on top of the tunnel, I just tell them to be careful. Hell, even my 18-month-old likes to climb up the slide. I swear it's like intuitive.

I hate parents like that. I mean, unless my kids are harming yours, quit with the judgement and eye-rolling.

stark. raving. mad. mommy. said...

I love letting my kids spazz out on the playground. Because then they're not spazzing out in my house. I am kind of a nut about those tunnels, though. I've seen too many kids get a face-full of feet at Chick-fil-A. And then there's a whole bunch of kids clogged up in there like so much cholesterol and then my Little Dude freaks out because he's trapped and people are *touching him*. Gahhhh!

mom2spiritedboy said...

I agree about not judging other parents and about ignoring what you can when you are judged. But I know for me I do teach my kids that when the park is busy you go up the stairs and down the slide. I have seen way too many kids getting hurt and I don't need my sensory seeker boys to feel guilty and to be ostracized because they accidentally collide with a little kid. I guess for me its finding a balance between meeting my kids needs and teaching them the rules (even unwritten ones) as best as I can.
Of course many of our parks are empty day after day so maybe I would feel different if they NEVER had a chance to climb UP the slide.