Judge Not the Anxious Mommy at the Playground

Once again, I find myself disagreeing with my colleague Theodore. He asks us not to judge the "anxious mommy in the playground" or any of the other parents who refuse to let their children fall or fail. But parenting without judging seems to me nearly impossible.

Sure, we'd all like to be high-minded. The world probably would be a better place if I, like Jason Avant over at DadCentric, announced that I Don't Have Any More Parenting Opinions. But I do. I can't help it. Look past Jessica Lahey's post and go straight to the study she cites (.pdf). Yes, it seems only slightly more scientific than a collection of school counselor gossip—I heard a parent once sent a note to her child's classmate to solve a dispute the kids were having—but they have culled some very judgement-worthy highlights.

One example: Respondents highlighted the following as a common practice among parents they see (part of the "demandingness" that goes hand-in-hand with not letting children just be children):

[Parents give] constant instructions to children in public places—often from afar, rather than up close and ensuring child cooperation e.g. Don't touch that, sit down, move away from that lady, don't touch that (again and again).

Who doesn't want to judge that? It's so prevalent on playgrounds in uptight neighborhoods like mine as to be almost invisible: a nonstop barrage of instructions to children designed to cajole and badger them into more adult behavior. Take five minutes next time you're at a playground and just watch. You'll see it, too. It's maddening. It's the slightly older analog of being the parent who chases his toddler around the rubberized playground to make sure they don't fall once. Both behaviors seem intimately linked to all the cheating and lying and covering for a failing child that Lahey cites in parents of older children. If you don't let them fall on the playground, you won't let them fail in school. Both are a grave disservice to parent and child.

Here's the thing, though: I don't actually care about other parents or other children. I don't worry for their souls. I worry for my own. Because when I see parents of younger children and their reflexive badgering and cajoling, I remember that I used to be just like that when my kids were younger. I had these babies who seemed in turns too fragile and too unruly. As infants, they would cry in public and I would try to shush them (mostly by saying "shush", which is useless). As toddlers, they would toddle down crowded sidewalks and I would swoop in to pick them up and carry them. Now that my kids are school-age, I try to be a good parent, with just enough give and just enough pull. But just as I was guilty of excesses through all the other ages—without even knowing it at the time—I'm pretty sure that I am repeating whatever bad parenting behaviors are in vogue among us all right now.

And so: I have seen the bad parent, and judged him, only because I know that the bad parent is me.

–Nathan Thornburgh

Presented by

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, & Nathan Thornburgh

Matt Gross, Theodore Ross, and Nathan Thornburgh write for the website DadWagon. Theodore Ross is the author of Am I a Jew?

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus


How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.


Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.


The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.


Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.


Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses


Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in The Sexes

Just In