When my son was younger, you would often find me at the playground, narrating most of his actions and our environment. “Look at the sun—it’s so bright!… You’re playing with the sand… Wee! This swing is so fun!” and so forth.
I would also climb up the playground equipment with him. He seemed so small, I figured; and so, with my hands spotting his every action, I climbed up, protecting him.
To others around, I probably looked like the typical helicopter mom, hovering over her kid and maybe hoping that all this narrating is turning her son into a child genius. Or perhaps they saw me as the parent unwilling to let my child explore on his own.
To an extent, some of this helicopter parenting was for good reason. During that age, my son had a slight speech delay. At 15 months, he still wasn’t saying any coherent words, and we had learned that one of the best ways to encourage language was to speak to him. And so I made it a mission to talk to him more often, even if I looked like an over-obsessive mom.
As far as staying no farther than a foot away from him, the playground equipment had no rails. And while I’m sure he wouldn’t have fallen, to a first-time-mom, anything five feet high with no rails screams immediate danger of falling.
I had my reasons, and I stuck to them.
The unfortunate thing was that I started judging others different from me.
I judged the mom who sat on the bench while her son played—gasp!—over 50 feet away from her. “Seems lazy,” I would think. “She’s completely ignoring her son and not engaging him whatsoever.” I judged the other mom who talked on the phone while her kids played in the sand. “What kind of example is she setting?” I would tsk tsk.
It’s embarrassing to admit all this, especially now that I realize the importance of independent play and can often be found not only sitting on the playground bench, but fiddling with my phone at the same time. I now know that allowing kids plenty of time to play independently helps build their focus, teaches them self-sufficiency when they master something all on their own, and offers a reprieve from being under a watchful eye as kids often are.
Looking back at how easily I concocted assumptions about other moms, I concede that I had a case of “I’m better than you.” And for all I know, maybe they were the worst moms in the world, but more than likely, that mom wasn’t being lazy—maybe she wanted her son to learn how to play on his own, to make friends with the other kids and to explore his surroundings in ways he couldn’t if his mom was constantly hovering over his shoulder.
I also now know that parents need to focus on themselves too. Perhaps the mom on the phone runs her own business, and this is one of the few chances she has to catch up with her phone calls and emails while still managing to be with her kids during that day. And that she’s even fortunate to be able to work and take care of her children at the same time, even if it means being on the phone while the kids play. Or maybe she needed a break as all moms do.
Because just as I had my reasons to narrate and hover, I’m pretty sure these moms had their own reasons for parenting the way they do.
Ironically, I started to value hands-off parenting, doing the very things I so quickly judged earlier in my parenting journey. And the biggest lesson for me? Don’t judge. Most parents have a reason for everything, and what works for one family may not work for another. Some may still be figuring out this whole parenting business, while others flat-out know that this is how they’d rather parent.
Because for all we know, we may just find ourselves on the other side, sitting on the park bench checking our email.
Have you found yourself judging other parenting methods? Have you ironically started doing the very things you once used to judge?