“You’re such a sore loser and a cry baby. You always cry. See that guys? She’s crying.”
I could feel my blood boiling beneath the water’s surface. I could feel my heart racing, pounding inside my chest. Sure, I had just finished swimming 6 or 7 laps, but it was an anxious rapping — a fight or flight response — and I was gearing up for a fight, a fight with a 10-year-old boy. (Before the hate mail rolls in, it should made be clear: I wasn’t about to go fist-to-cuffs with a child, but I was going to say something. I was going to parent someone else’s child.)
Billy was looking around, garnering chuckles from his friends and seeking validation when I said it. I said it without hesitation and without apology: “No, what I see is a bully.”
His friends stopped laughing, and Billy rolled his eyes and swam away. I didn’t say much, but I didn’t have to because he didn’t say another word while I was there, at least not in regards to the young girl standing outside of the pool. The young girl whose face I never saw (her back was turned toward Billy and all of us) but whose shoulders slouched forward and head hung heavy.
We all encounter these moments: the ones where we see something we know is wrong but don’t know what to do. Should you say something? Should you shut up? Is it our job as adults to educate children, or should we just let kids be kids and leave parenting up to each child’s individual parent?
In that moment, I didn’t hesitate to know what was right. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I saw a bit of myself in that young girl — the girl who lives in my condominium complex and whose name I don’t even know. Maybe it was because this child’s parents weren’t there, and I was the only adult at the pool (aside from an 18 or 19-year-old lifeguard). Maybe it is because I am a mom now and I would want another mother to do the same if they saw my daughter being a bitch. But I knew I had to stand up and say something; I knew I had to let him know that what he was saying, what he was doing, was wrong.
I knew I had to stop him from hurting another human being.
I know if his parents were there, they probably would have been livid with my intervention. I probably would have heard an earful of “don’t tell my son how to act,” which translates — loosely — into “don’t tell me how to raise my son.” I mean, I get that, too; as a mom, the last thing I want to hear is that I am somehow a “bad mom.”
But if we stop and think about it, we realize we are not all that different, you and I. If we stop and think about it, we realize we are both on the same side and want what is best for our children and every child. (Even though I don’t know you, I am willing to bet you love your son and want the world for him.) So while you can be upset at me for being a busybody and all, just consider how you would feel if you found your child being hurt or bullied. What would you want someone to do? What would you do?
So here it is, my semi-unpopular opinion: we, as parents, get too touchy and take things too personally when other parents step in, when others attempt to parent in our absence.
Do I think we should intervene in every situation? Hell no. But when someone is being hurt, especially someone young and innocent or without a strong voice, we should speak up. We should talk to other parents without fear, we should address children directly (when needed), and we should not shy away from offering support or unsolicited advice — at least not when potentially abusive behaviors are happening.
It is OUR JOB as adults to smack some figurative sense into our children. It is our job as adults to give children the tools they “need to succeed” and to be their barometers of right and wrong. It is our job to be a part of that proverbial village which will raise a child.
It is our job.