I’ve come to the conclusion that you can tell a lot from the way a person parents by watching them at the playground. Once I started taking Nate to the park, I quickly realized that there are specific ‘types’ of Playground Parents out there. I became quite interested in watching the dynamics that go on between certain types of parents and their children. Over the summer I’ve been making mental notes about the vastly different ways in which moms and dads react to their kids at the park. We have a park directly across the street from our house but in an attempt to keep this ‘study’-if you’d like to call it that-legit, I’ve branched out by taking Nate to over parks throughout our hometown to watch other parents not from our area as well. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far…
First, you have the ‘Typical Parent’ (or grandparent) who just wants to get their kid(s) out of the house for a while. Usually, you’ll find them sitting on the bench looking as if they’ve just gone through some sort of battle. Rarely, do they get up and interact with their kid(s) on the jungle gym. Probably because it’s taking everything they have in them not to fall asleep right there on the spot. They usually stay the longest. They’re probably there from the moment you enter to the moment you leave the park. Sitting and silently praying that all this fresh air will tire out their rambunctious brood. Bless them because let’s be honest, it probably won’t help.
Next, you’ve got the ‘Distracted Parent’. You know the one. The one parent at the park who is ALWAYS on their phone. They have their phone permanently glued to their ear or their fingers and rarely do you see them even acknowledge their children. By all means, no judgement here. There’s been more than one time where I myself, ended the day thinking I spent more time online than actually playing with Nate. It happens to the best of us but these are the parents who you just know spend every waking moment checking their Facebook feeds, scrolling through Instagram, or YouTubing videos of cats. It’s completely fine -and normal- to want to take some time for yourself and enjoy the air outside while your kids play but when I say ‘distracted’ parents, I literally mean I will hear “Mommy, Mommy look at me! See what I’m doing?!” and 99% of the time the distracted parent won’t even glance up at their kid but you’ll always hear “Wow! Good job buddy/sweetie” or “Cool….” and more often than not if you look over at said child(ren) he/she will look a little sad and stop whatever they’re doing for a moment before shaking it off and playing again. Like I said, no judgement from me it’s just something I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion.
Then we get to what is known as the ‘Helicopter Mom’. I say mom because usually it is the mother that’s encircling her child like a hawk while he/she climbs the jungle gym but given that there are more stay-at-home dads out there these days we should actually say ‘Helicopter Parent’. These are the parents who cannot allow their child(ren) one ounce of freedom at the playground. They literally hover over not only theirs but your child too. They live in constant fear that one misstep and their kid is going to end up hurt. They often will forbid their smaller kids from going on the larger and more “dangerous” playground equipment. Usually, you’ll find them trying to convince their small two year that the “swings are just as fun as the big slide”. Sure, they might prevent injuries on a minute by minute basis but at some point you’ve gotta let go of the reins a little bit and allow your child to learn how their bodies work. They need to learn how to take care of themselves. Now, I’m not saying go let your little toddler try to slide down the fireman pole but maybe instead of telling them “No, honey. That jungle gym is for the big kids. You could get seriously hurt on there” go up with them. Follow behind your little ball of energy and watch from a safe distance back. Most kids are smart and will learn quickly what they are and are not capable of. You’ll also hear them constantly asking children who aren’t theirs if they “need help” getting up the rocks steps or saying quite loudly to their ‘Helicopter Parent’ friend “Oh, this little boy/girl is making me so nervous. I wonder where his/her Mommy/Daddy is?” Then you’ll see them helplessly looking around for this poor child’s “neglectful” parent not realizing that this kid has been playing at this exact park for probably his/her whole life.
*Side note* I won’t ever forget the time I took Nate to the park a few streets over from us and I was allowing him to walk around the larger of the two jungle gyms. He was 19 months at the time and I would stay a little ways behind him just making sure he didn’t decide to be extra brave. There was another mother there with her two little kids (a son around three and a daughter around Nate’s age, maybe a little older). Her son was having a great time on the jungle gym but she was refusing to allow her daughter to even walk up the stairs. She kept saying things like “No sweetie, this is for the big kids only.”. “No baby only Jonah can go up there”. At this time, I had Nate on the big slide, we went down together side by side holding hands then climbed back up. I had just gotten a text and was responding to it while I watched Nate. The little girl I guess realized that Nate was around her age and kept pointing to him on the bridge and the mom literally said as I was standing RIGHT THERE “No, sweetie. I told you, you can’t go up there. This playground is too big for you. You could get hurt and that would make Mommy so sad. It’s not safe for you. Just because his Mommy doesn’t care, doesn’t mean I don’t.” YES. YOU READ THAT EXACTLY RIGHT. She literally said that as if I couldn’t hear her. Given my tendencies not to bite my tongue I decided it was best for us just to pack up and go. I didn’t feel like I needed to be judged on my parenting style any further. But just as I was leaving I did tell Nate “Buddy, I’m so proud of you! You’re so big and brave! You can do anything the big kids can do!” and made it a point to say it loud enough that she could hear. Once I got Nate into his stroller and looked back, she was doing exactly what ‘Helicopter Parents’ do, pushing her daughter on the “safe” baby swings.
Rant over. Moving on!
And this is the type of parent I feel for. I affectionately call them the ‘Overeager Parent’. This is the parent who is more excited to be at the playground than their kids. Most of the time, they have “older” kids, usually the age where they want to stay indoors and play video games. You’ll watch the mom/dad trying to pump their kids up by asking what they want to try first. Typically they’re met with grunts and shrugs but as you watch, you’ll start to see smiles forming on their kids faces. They’ll start chatting and making friends with every possible parent at the park. Asking about your children, you, your life. They just genuinely seem thrilled to there. They can make small talk until the cows come home. You often leave the park knowing much more about this person’s life than you ever wanted to. But it’s hard to hate on them because they’re at least trying.
And lastly, we have the ‘Involved-But Not Overly Involved-Parent’. This is the type of parent I see most often and it’s the type that I hope I am. This parent specifically goes to the playground with their kid(s) to not only play but also relax. They might spend some time chasing their little one around playing tag or Grounders but you’ll also find them sitting on the bench, looking through their phone or chatting with another parent at the park. They know what their kids are doing at all times but unless it’s something mind-blowingly dangerous, they tend to just watch things unfold. They might push their youngest a few times on the swings or take them down the big slides but for the most part they just let their kids be kids. They’ll show legitimate interest when they hear “Mommy/Daddy! Look what I can do!” and they’re not afraid to let their kids try the more challenging equipment. You’ll hear them warn their kids they could get hurt if they continue to do whatever it is their doing and then you’ll hear “See, I told you that would happen”. There’s never any panic or mad hysteria if someone gets a small cut or bump on the head and you rarely (if ever) hear them trying to parent another person’s child.
There you have it folks! The list of Playground Parents I’ve collected over the past four months. Like I said, there’s no judgement here. Each person parents differently and the way I might see a parent at the playground isn’t actually how they are at home. This is just a generalized list of what I’ve observed and experiencing with Nate this summer.