Are Other People’s Kids Your Problem?

Near me in the café, a little boy of about three sits in a push-chair while his mother fiddles with her iPhone. He’s wide awake, he’s quiet, yet there’s a dummy parked in his mouth. The boy asks for something, removing the plastic thing from his mouth to speak. When the brief conversation is over, Mother puts the dummy back.

FreeImages.com/T. Rolf

I feel like telling her that a dummy is a pacifier, and, as such, is only for pacifying babies.  This boy isn’t a baby, nor does he need pacifying. But I’m not sure she’d appreciate a lecture on dummies and speech development, especially now that she’s returned to her phone.

Besides, it’s not my child. It’s not my business.

In the supermarket a little later, I’m distracted by yelling from the next aisle. A woman is dragging her child by the arm, calling him, among other colourful things, a proper little stinker. I hadn’t actually noticed a pong from the child (but then we are at the cheese counter). Several shoppers stop, visibly shocked. Whether it’s the woman’s rough handling, or the fact that she’s hurling abuse at her child in Waitrose, of all places, I’m not sure. But neither I nor anyone else has words with her.

After all, not our child. Not our business.

FreeImages.com/Gokhan Okur

It must have looked pretty bad on the day, many years ago, that I smacked my twins outside the school gates. I say ‘gates’, but that school had no gates, simply a path that led to a busy street. I didn’t just tap each of my sons on the bottom – I actually slipped one of my shoes off to do it. The reason? Aged four, they’d run out into the road in front of a passing taxi which, fortunately, screeched to a halt. I figured a sharp shock would be a better deterrent than the standard telling off.

But the shoe and I didn’t look good, I admit, especially as none of the other parents had seen the incident. The mothers glared. Some tutted or shook their heads, probably wondering how a family doctor (who also writes extensively on child-rearing) could possibly behave in this way. Yet not one of them opened their mouths. Perhaps they feared that, for two pins, I’d have smacked them with my shoe too. Or maybe they just reasoned those weren’t their children, and it wasn’t their business.

Just the other day on London transport, a woman with long flowing locks boarded the train, two schoolboys in tow. It was about 4 pm and, after a day at school, the boys still looked clean and tidy in their uniforms. Yet the mother, when she wasn’t preening and flicking her hair, was shouting at one of the boys. “You’re disgusting,” she howled as he flinched. “Really disgusting.”

Whatever it was that he had done, it was surely his behaviour that was despicable, not the boy himself.  But I said nothing. Eventually it was their stop, and the woman, still tossing her hair about dramatically, dragged them off as she continued to berate the one who was allegedly so disgusting.

What would you have done?

***

For those of you outside the UK, Waitrose is the most genteel of supermarkets. There are things you can expect to hear there, and things you really don’t.

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4 thoughts on “Are Other People’s Kids Your Problem?

  1. I agree – it is a shame people don’t butt in as they would have done in the “old days”! But now, if you do interfere, even in what you think is a helpful way, you usually get a mouthful from the parent!
    eg. 1. I have shepherded a toddler out of an automatic sliding door thinking the sensor might not pick him up, but his mother who was 20 metres in front turned round and told me not to interfere in an aggressive way.
    2. On another occasion, two lads were tearing round a reception area forcing others to take evasive action, while their mother was busy at reception. When I asked the lads to stop racing around, I was attacked by the mother and told to mind my own business.
    If parents are being really negligent, you are even more likely to get abuse in return for your efforts! The idea that “it takes a village to bring up a child” has been lost, so parents take offence if you try to help or advise.
    What to do?! I am tempted to turn a blind eye – oh dear.

  2. In public I find myself counting to ten frequently but I once saw a mother (on her phone) push her buggy off the pavement when a car was coming. I said “look out” and got an earful for my trouble.
    I felt more empowered to protest in my own consulting room to stop children jumping on my scales, pick up expensive instruments, bash toys or keys on my nice desk etc, but always after waiting a nanosecond to see if the parent would intervene first.

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