I'm not really sure what happened to the notion of "it takes a village" to raise a child because, as I see it, parents aren't taking responsibility for parenting their own children let alone looking out for anyone else's. I hear older adults tell fond stories about growing up respecting authority figures such as their own or other parents, teachers, neighbors, etc. because fear was a common denominator. Bad behavior just wasn't tolerated.
Nowadays it's all I can do to get a kid to even look me in the eye when he's speaking to me. I have to bite my lip more than I care to admit when I observe kids' behavior. I have to sit on my hands sometimes to keep from clutching some unfamiliar boy's wrist in a restaurant and saying, "you are not an animal in a barn. Chew your food with your mouth closed, sit up and start acting like a human being." I have to close my eyes when I see a cunning little girl cutting in line like she is a princess entitled to royal treatment. What I really want to say to the little delinquent is, "taking shortcuts in life will only hurt your chances of ever succeeding at anything worthwhile." Not that she will have any idea what I'm talking about, but I am convinced it would make me feel better. Many times I keep my mouth shut. But, sometimes I don't.
Christopher and I recently went to an end-of-summer fair on "Mom and Tot" day during which all kids under five can ride unlimited rides for $5. The bargain of the century! Christopher was enamored with the toddler train and rode it several times. He decided after awhile that he wanted to act like the conductor and ride in the front car. I explained to him that he would have to wait for a full round and let all the kids get on the train before him so he would be first in line for the next train and get his first choice of seats. He agreed and waited patiently. As the train came to a stop, Christopher waited, again very patiently, for the attendant to open the gate and he then made his way to the front car. Only, the boy sitting in the front car didn't move.
"Didn't you just ride the train?" I asked. No answer. No eye contact.
"Excuse me" I persisted, "didn't you just ride this train?" Again, no eye contact. He wasn't budging.
I looked around for his parents but couldn't locate anyone to whom he might belong. I asked the boy again to move and finally a woman approached from the other side of the fence.
"Does he belong to you?" I asked.
She nodded and I proceeded to tell her that her boy just rode the train but hasn't gotten off yet. It was time for him to depart so other kids, who have been waiting patiently, could ride the train. She stared at me blankly and shrugged her shoulders. The boy didn't move.
Infuriated, I picked Christopher up and heaved him over the seat right next to the line cheater. Christopher didn't seem to mind that the seat was cramped, he was just thrilled to be in the first car. I would have preferred he bask in his conductor's glory alone, but the line cheater obviously had no intention of moving. What more could I do short of yanking the boy up by his collar, pulling him off the train kicking and screaming and risking assault charges? His parents obviously didn't care that he was breaking the rules.
My husband says I shouldn't bother saying anything at all, but I cannot tolerate rule-breakers. I also cannot tolerate the inattentive mother who won't discipline her kid.
We attended a pool play date this summer during which an older boy was tormenting the younger kids by knocking them over the head with a flotation noodle. He hit the kids several times. The mother was sitting right there and didn't make a peep. Not a peep! I asked the boy to stop hitting with the noodle but I received no reply and no eye contact (surprise). The boy's mother remained silent and I assumed that on her planet, hitting with flotation noodles must be a sign of camaraderie. On my planet, it's just plain rude. The final straw came when the tormentor pushed Christopher under the water. I pulled the boy over to the side of the pool and tried to calm my sobbing, anxious-under-the-water, 4-year-old.
"Keep your hands to yourself," I screeched at the boy. And to his mother I shouted, "I think it's about time he got out of the water. He is obviously not playing well with others."
She didn't heed my advice as is her right as a parent. But, she did move him to another part of the pool. They left shortly after that and the other mothers who were part of our play date shared their concerns and thanked me for saying something. But, I questioned their silence. Why didn't anyone else say anything? If they were so thankful why didn't anyone back me up?
I still believe it takes a village. But the villagers need to speak up. I still need help from my friends and neighbors and school personnel to make sure my kids are using their manners, respecting authority and staying out of trouble. If my kid is disrespectful, I give you permission to correct him because I will correct yours.
Parents ,we are all in this together.