It was a hot and sticky Saturday afternoon, and the neighborhood pool teemed with activity. Groups of teenage girls walked around the water’s edge to try out newfound freedom and bikinis, and a handful of men in the lap lanes made fast kicks in the aquamarine water. Kids splashed and ran until stopped by the lifeguards’ whistles, and parents dragged around water-logged towels and soggy snacks. We lurked in the corner of the kiddie pool: hunched down, playing some complicated and ridiculous game of my 6 year old’s own creation. I fought to keep my eyes from rolling as he explained the rules for the umpteenth time – it was basically an elaborate version of aquatic hide and seek, and we had been playing for two hours. But his eyes shone with excitement and joy – the kind of joy that a first born with siblings shows when given rare parcels of undivided attention from mommy. So I acquiesced and followed the conflicting rules, just to hear his peals of laughter ring out, unbridled and free.
We left the water and made our way to our belongings, dabbing chlorine-reddened eyes with beach towels and chugging water warmed by the sunshine. We had about one hour or so until grandma was bring the youngest home, and I knew we should make the most of our time together. As we discussed plans to hit the playground, I thought back to the previous week: I thought to all of the time he spent at daycare, playing with his friends and taking field trips, without me. I thought of all the evenings at home when I told him to go play in his room or the back yard so I could finish dinner, or take a shower, or bathe his brother. It was a week full of independent play time during which he constructed elaborate portals out of Legos and made up two new games on the backyard playscape – all by himself. But he needed and deserved some mommy time today, so here we were.
As we walked towards the swings I spotted a family who had been sitting near us poolside, and I smiled at them. The mom had two kids with her and the girl was about my son’s age. They had been splashing around together.
“Hey we’re going to play too!” I called out to the mom. “I guess great minds think alike!”
I was shocked to a halt when I heard her hiss: “Great. Freaking helicopter mom is at the playground too.”
I looked around in confusion. Surely she wasn’t talking about me, right? My eyes met hers and she practically snarled as she spun on her heels and headed the other way to the slides, dragging her confused daughter by the hand.
I stood there in shock. What had just happened? Had I been just been bullied on the playground? For playing with my kid?
Before I could stew too long my son slid his hand into mine.
“Come on mommy, let’s play!”
We finished our park time and made it home for dinner with the baby. All in all it was a great day, and my son was content. But the encounter with that mean mom kept nagging at the corner of my mind and I have been trying to push it aside for a few days now. I was almost over it, until yesterday I opened my computer to read yet another lengthy and well-written article lamenting helicopter moms. The general idea of it was: “Ugh helicopter moms are the worst! They are ruining the fun for us cool moms and making their kids neurotic.”
I can practically see the group of
little girls moms on the benches at the playground making fun of those poor saps actually playing with their kids. Oh, the nerve of those overly-attentive mommies!
I am not exactly a helicopter mom. I call my parenting style ‘mommy goulash.’ There’s a little attachment, a dash of free range, a smidge of helicopter and a whole lot of going with my gut and trying to summon the force. But even if I am: SO WHAT? It seems like it’s gotten acceptable to bash helicopter moms recently and I’m not cool with it. Here’s where I get off the crazy train.
I have a novel idea: let’s stop it. Let’s all take care of our own kids and stop bashing each other. If I’m on the bench watching my kids play, it’s not a statement on your parenting – I’m just watching my children. If I’m on the slide with my son, it’s not a reflection on my parenting approach as a whole; it’s just what we’re doing that day. You don’t know what our week was like, so please don’t judge me by the one time you see me. As a matter of fact, let’s all stop judging each other so harshly. It’s hard enough to take care of our families without the sniping and mocking. And for the love of God: stop making fun of other moms – it’s mean spirited and no better than the behavior of school-yard bullies.
So no matter your parenting style, you do you momma. Seriously, I’ll cheer you on. Let’s all encourage each other. After all, we’re all in this together – no matter where we happen to be on the playground.