|Sometimes your kids just pick their noses and ruin the best shot.|
I was eating lunch today at Chick-fil-A with some friends while our kids played when a woman approached our table and asked, "Is one of your sons the boy with the blue shirt, with the turtle on the back?"
She was describing the t-shirt Graham got at our family reunion last year, so I answered, "Yes, he's mine."
"He's bullying everyone on the playground."
Next to her stood a boy, probably seven or eight years old, in a green shirt. The boy Graham had tearfully described and pointed out five minutes earlier as the one who had kicked him when he tried to enter the same helicopter play pod as the boy. Then Graham had hit him back, then the boy hit him again, then Graham hit him back, then the boy hit Graham, then Graham left, then the boy followed and hit him again ... all this was recounted to me in between little sobs. There's something about my little four year old: he's too young to consistently control his emotions or his need to enforce his own vigilante brand of justice, but he's also too young to lie about his role in heated events when he's upset. I knew he was telling (his version of) the truth. I told him to stop hitting and to avoid the older boy. Tears forgotten, he ran back to play. Apparently it didn't end there, though.
|This is Graham's gremlin face.|
When the woman at Chick-fil-A declared Graham a bully, I had a few reactions. First, I was embarrassed because I was with two friends. Next, I resisted the minor urge to correct her usage of the word "bullying" (bullying is not the same as being a stinker! Bullying involves abusive power imbalances and/or persistent and aggressive harassment). I also wanted to bring up her son's behavior, but that's really not my style. Finally, I just stood up, went to the play place, and told Graham to knock it off. Then I returned to my frosted lemonade.
Maybe the other mother wanted me to do something more drastic. Maybe my friends thought I was too lenient. Maybe I was wrong to not haul Graham out for a time out. I'll be honest: half of why I went in there was as a token offering to a society that demands a reaction to every reported injustice. I fully believe Graham was playing a part in a playground conflict. I also know my kid, and know he never independently instigates malicious trouble. The other half of why I went in there is because I genuinely want my kids to be well-behaved and considerate of others. A part of me does appreciate another parent letting me know if my kid is acting out. I would certainly welcome such information from a teacher or friend. Perhaps I was irked because she was neither.
I'm probably 50% libertarian, so I believe more in governing yourself than in governing others. When Graham comes and tells me that some kid did xyz, I almost always tell him to play somewhere else or just ask the other kid to stop. In fact, I can't think of a single instance where I've voluntarily gotten involved in a playground dispute (though I can imagine scenarios where I would, of course). In most cases, kids will resolve the conflict themselves (great practice for adulthood!!), forgive, forget, and move on. I don't like denying my kids those important opportunities to practice social skills. Even in this altercation, Graham eventually happily announced to me that the other boy apologized--with no hovering moms in sight! That's a victory!
I don't like tattling. I wish we spent more time and social energy on teaching self-control than on policing and calling each other out.
A while ago, Nathan was spending some time with a group of people that included an older, long-married couple. The husband is notoriously mean to his wife. During their time together, something happened that made him launch into a protracted episode of criticizing his wife. He wouldn't let it go. Nathan finally said something about how he was surprised they were still talking about the issue fifteen minutes after the fact, but he didn't really say anything to condemn the man's words towards his wife, something he later told me he regretted.
Should he have publicly corrected this older man? Would that be interfering with the sovereignty of a marital relationship? Would it have just made it worse for her later on? Is it anyone's business but theirs? When should you say something? Do you have to wait for him to start hitting her? These are real questions.
I've been thinking about this for a while. When is it okay to demand a change of behavior from others? Only when physical injury is imminent? What about emotional? I'm torn between my belief that you should develop emotional grit to deal with other people's lameness and my belief that other people shouldn't be lame. Maybe it's a delicate balance?
What are your thoughts? When do you call other people out? Other parents? Other people's kids? Older people? Friends? Strangers? Experiences?