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.