The Overprotective Mom in the Park.
By turning a simple playground challenge into a traumatic situation requiring medical attention, she was disabling him.
With different sets of kids and grandkids visiting throughout the summer, I have spent a lot of time at parks. This has given me multiple opportunities to observe the behavior of many parents (not my children; I wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole!).
I see the parenting styles (the screamers, the patient, the adherents to the latest iteration of the Faber-Mazlish “When you say that I hear…”), the roles of fathers, the roles of nannies. And of course, there are the helicopter parents versus the “free-range kids”, parents versus the moderation where they keep an eye on their children (even those ones in the backs of our heads) but don’t get involved in every interaction or situation.
Yesterday we went to a park I happen to like – it has a sandy area for toddlers and one for slightly older children. It has lots of grass for games of baseball and football and shade trees where we could rest and observe.
One of the play opportunities at this park are plastic chairs that kids can sit in and twirl around and around and around and around. They are easy to start and harder to stop and some kids need a little help slowing the seat down and getting off. But most can do it with very little fuss. Until one boy, around 6 or 7, just started screaming and wouldn’t stop. In emergency mode, his mother rushed to the chair and grabbed him off. She cradled him in her arms, shushing and reassuring him. She felt his head, she put an ice pack on his back, she held him on the grass long after he had calmed down, just making sure he was really okay.
Of course he was okay! He was on an innocent park toy and all he wanted to do was get off. Once that mission was accomplished, he would have been fine. But not his mother. She turned it into a serious situation requiring all her expertise and intervention. Lest you think I exaggerate, my husband and daughters were also watching slack-jawed. No one could quite believe the intensity of her reaction.
Why should I care? It’s true that there are different parenting styles and our teacher, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, once told us that it doesn’t really matter whether you choose the more permissive style or the more authoritarian style as long as you are consistent. Easier said than done but I accepted his wisdom and advice.
But this was another level altogether. I believe that this mother was not helping her child; I believe she was hurting him. In making him feel like he couldn’t cope, in turning a simple playground challenge into a traumatic situation requiring medical attention, she wasn’t enabling him, she was disabling him. She was crippling him, making him think that every time he was in the slightest amount of discomfort, not only couldn’t he deal with it himself but it was serious business and needed serious attention.
Most children would have been helped off the chair and then gone running through the rest of the park, which is exactly what I saw other kids in the same position do. But this child was being taught that he couldn’t do it alone, that an innocent plastic chair was a potential source of serious harm and that it required a serious response.
I think chances are this will harm him later in life. In our world, it’s all too frequent that it’s not the children crying wolf but the mothers. If this is her reaction to such a mild situation, what will she do if, God forbid, something serious happens? How will she cope? How will he?
Life is full of minor challenges and, yes, of major ones too. Not only do we need to give our children the tools to handle them but we also need to teach them the difference. How many of us have noticed that when young children fall they often look around to see how the adults around them react before deciding whether to cry or not? If the verdict is no, they pick themselves off, dust themselves off and move on. Towards maturity and adulthood.
And if the verdict is yes, they remain stuck in childhood. I assume that mother felt that she was being a good mom. Maybe she felt happy with how she soothed and held him. But maybe she didn’t notice that none of the other kids his age with sitting on their mothers’ laps but were running around screaming and yelling, heading towards the future. And presumably she didn’t notice how she was holding him back.