Close Encounters of the Restrictive Kind

Yesterday I had a doctor appointment. We arrived about forty minutes early. Much better than the twenty minutes late we normally arrive.

We sat in the full waiting room. There were five other pregnant moms, a couple dads and two little kids about the same age as our girls. Ella and Agatha promptly went over to say “Hi.” Ella introduced herself, I suggested she ask the girl’s name, but Ella declared, “But, Mommy I’m too shy to ask her name.” Ryan and I couldn’t help but laugh. Without taking a breath Ella turned to the girl and invited her to play. They stacked (mini, plastic) stools, but the other children’s parents seemed concerned about the space. So we suggested Ella show them her explorer. She did. The other parents seemed concerned. They told their children to play with their own games. Ella climbed into a chair and the other children climbed up to join her, the parents told them to find their own chairs and play with their own toys. I smiled and told the parents, “If our girls need space they’ll tell your children, right now they want to share and they want to play. We’re happy with that.” The parents still fretted every few minutes or so, but seemed slightly appeased.

Soon it was their turn. The girls waved goodbye and began stacking the stools and climbing again. Another little girl, a bit bigger, a bit older, soon arrived and they began playing. Her mother smiled and sat back happy to let them play. Ella climbed on the stools and the other girl followed suit. Her mother told her to climb down, she might get hurt. The stools were less than a foot tall. They didn’t even reach the girl’s knees.

The girls jumped around. The mother told her daughter to stop. We pointed out to Ella that there were a lot of pregnant women in the room and bumping one of them could hurt a baby. We suggested she find something else to do that kept her out of the walkway. The girls began creating with the stools again. The other mom sat back and smiled – until Ella and the other girl had a bit of a disagreement about how and where to position the stools.

They didn’t raise their voices, they didn’t push, each stated her piece. To me it looked as though they were trying to work something out. We were sitting beside them, helping the girls talk through the problem. We weren’t dictating, just helping prevent confusion.

The other mom snapped. She told her daughter to stop, she told her daughter to let Ella have her way with the stools. She grabbed her daughter by the arm and hauled her out of the office. The girl tried to pull away, tried to sit down, and sobbed, “I just want to play with her.” The mother responded by threatening to call the girl’s father. I had no idea what to do, what to say. Ella came over and said she could hear the girl crying in the hall way. So could I.

The girls, Ella in particular, seemed upset, but continued playing. After a while the girl and her mother returned. The girl had to sit still and be quiet. We started singing “Sleeping bunnies”

See the sleeping Bunnies, sleeping till past noon
Come help me wake them with a merry tune
oh so still, could the bunnies be ill?
I don’t think so
Hop, hop, hop, hop, hop little bunnies
hop, hop, hop, hop, hop little bunnies
hopping ’till you stop
And Drop

The other girl asked her mother if she could join in. The mother snapped at her and said, “You have to show me you can listen. You aren’t listening. When you can prove you can listen, then you can play.” At that point she was called for her turn to get her weight and blood pressure checked.

We could hear the nurse talking to her. The nurse said, “You’re doing a great job keeping your daughter in line.”

I stopped listening. I fumed. So far the only one we’d seen misbehaving was the mother, not the daughter. The mother certainly didn’t need someone praising her treatment of her daughter.

However as they came back to the waiting area, the mom smiled again and graciously allowed her daughter to join our girls laughing, singing, and dancing. The mother refused to sing, she didn’t know the words. Ryan and I took turns singing and laughing with the three girls. When we got to the part where they stop and drop, Ella would laugh and keep hopping. We’d then pretend to get upset and insist she drop and go to sleep ‘This instant’ Ella laughed and laughed. The other girl stopped and stared at first, unsure whether to follow Agatha’s lead and lie back down, or to follow Ella’s lead and keep bouncing. She eventually followed Ella’s lead.

After we’d sang the song a few times the other mother told her daughter she’d had enough and had to stop doing the song. I’m not sure why. The mother wasn’t the one singing, and the girls were all happy, out of everyone’s way. But we stopped. Ella promptly pulled the stools out. The other mother told her daughter she was only allowed to play with them if there were no disagreements.

I didn’t know what to do. I don’t know many people who can start using an item and instantly agree on how to use it, yet a four and five year old were expected to do just that.

The girls put the stools in a line and pretended to be caterpillars on a branch. Ella crawled a couple times, but soon stood up to walk across. The other girl stood as well. Her mother told her to climb down. It was too dangerous, she might fall.

At first Ryan started to tell Ella she had to stop as well. But by then I was furious. Why should Ella be punished because another mother can’t let her child be a child? Why should Ella be told she can’t do something she’s been capable of doing since she was 18 months old? The stools were wider than other items she balances across, and much lower to the ground.

I felt bad that Ella was allowed to do something the other girl couldn’t, but I know my children and I know sitting still, doing nothing, results in miserable little girls and therefore miserable parents. They weren’t hurting anyone, they were out of the way. They were safe.

Ella did fall off the stools, but she jumped up again and said, “I’m okay. I lost my balance, but I can get it this time.” She did become a bit rambunctious and almost fell into a pregnant woman. We talked to her about the dangers and gave her a couple choices. All of which allowed her to continue playing, and keep everyone else safe as well.

I left the appointment upset. The first set of parents didn’t seem to want any interaction between children at all. They discouraged their children from using the toys the girls freely offered to share. I didn’t understand it.

The second mom restricted. There didn’t even seem to be a ‘real’ reason for most of the restrictions. The other mother wouldn’t allow her daughter to have a disagreement, wouldn’t allow her to try to find a solution. She tried to force a solution, that neither girl wanted to accept, and when her suggestion wasn’t taken, she hauled her daughter away.

I know we parent differently than most. However, I don’t see how a parent can react so strongly. I can’t understand how a parent, in my mind, can actually prevent their children from growing and learning new things, from interacting with new people in a positive manner. I really can’t understand one parent using the other parent as a threat. I’d hate to be either parent in that relationship.

Can you put a positive spin on the other parents’ approaches?

Is there something you’d have said or done in a similar situation?

Would you make your child stop doing something when the other parent told her child to stop? Or would you allow your children to continue?

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2 Comments

Filed under Parenting

2 responses to “Close Encounters of the Restrictive Kind

  1. I find these situations very uncomfortable. I have found myself sometimes asking my kids to stop doing something so we don’t make the other kids feel bad. But I always feel bad after the fact if I do that. I think some of my most successful (by my own standards: my kids being happiest, me feeling good about the result) strategies for dealing with this kind have been to re-direct with silliness (as you did with the song above), or to reassure the other parent that it’s ok, they are just playing. I have to remind myself A LOT, that probably I will never see these moms again so I need to make sure I look out for my relationship with my kids first. It’s hard though, because I have a history of caring way too much what other people think about me. Ugh.

  2. I’m with you on this one. Our boys would have done exactly the same sorts of things as your girls, and are often more capable socially and physically than those around them. I might have asked them to tone down what they were doing, but I don’t think I would have asked them to stop altogether. Sadly, you can do nothing about other people – we all carry our own ‘stuff’ from the past and while you and I might do our best to find our own way forward and not dump our baggage on our children, not everyone is capable of doing so. Hope the appointment went well.

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