As you all know, I am a mother of three very active and young children, one of whom has special needs. Going to public spaces with all three of them can be challenging and it's not something I take lightly or even assign to others very often. Only babysitters who know my children well and are competent, have the "privilege" of taking my children to the park.
There is a playground, close to our apartment building that we go to several times a week. Although it is pretty big so that I cannot always see all the kids simultaneously, it is enclosed so I know they cannot escape.
Going to the playground with my children goes something like this. Open the gate. Wheel the stroller into the enclosed park. Open buckles for those children are strapped in and then turn around to find that all three children have taken off in three different direction. My kids are very familiar with the park so I mainly supervise them, checking to see what area they are playing in. I try to stay close to M, who is the youngest and most prone to injury or trouble. This system usually works pretty well and really, short of handcuffing them, there is no way for me to have all three children play in the same area all the time, and that would really inhibit their ability to play.
This afternoon, we took advantage of the beautiful weather and headed off to the park. All was proceeding well, and after about 45 minutes, it was time to round up the troops. M was near the stroller as was Y, so I went to find A. As I was looking for her, I saw Y and M head off to the monkey bars together, further away from the exit. I figured I would go get them in another minute. Having found A, we went to get the boys from the monkey bars. On the way, I ran into a woman I didn't know, who breathlessly told me that my baby was hysterically crying and lying on the ground. I rushed over to see Y and M coming towards me. M was indeed crying, although he did not seem quite hysterical to me. He was happy to see me and calmed down pretty quickly. A friend of mine informed me that M was crying because Y had pushed him. Not unheard of in our household.
On our way out of the park I saw the woman, who had told me about M crying, again. She looked at me critically and said, "You know he was crying. He was all alone and scared." I thanked her again for her help and told her that he was really fine now. She looked at M again and at me scathingly, and tried to impress upon me the tremendous trauma I had just inflicted on my child by leaving him unattended. At which point I politely told her to mind her own business and headed home, quite upset. M, meanwhile, far from being traumatized, was laughing at his sibling's shenanigans as we were walking.
In an ideal world, I would be able to always be with my children all the time in the park. But I can't and I don't think the answer is to therefor hire full time help I cannot afford or, alternately, to never leave the house. These outings to the park teach my children independence and that I trust them to play safely. I think this mother read the situation wrong. M was not all alone and scared. He was playing with his older brother who was being a bit rough with him. Do I wish I could have been there to stop Y right away? Yes. Do I think it is a big tragedy that I wasn't? No.
I guess what was so upsetting was that I felt this woman was judging me without knowing anything about me, my children or the situation at hand. Unfortunately, judging other people's parenting has become very common. Everyone is a self-proclaimed expert and knows what everyone else is doing wrong. Ellen's post today at Love That Max shows just how far these judgements can go.
Maybe instead of being so critical, we can all give each other a break and not assume the worst when we see each other's children crying or misbehaving or even (gasp) unattended for a minute at the park. After all, us mothers are all in this together. Let's not make mothering any harder than it is already.