Wednesday, 24 July 2013

"Mom"ing other kids

There's a very fine line that has to be tread when dealing with other people's children. All parents have a different system of values, a different set of rules, a different way of doing things. Most parents are pretty sure their way is the right way. And all parents are very protective of their children.

As a mom, I find myself getting very defensive and protective and up-in-arms when I hear another mom address my kids to discipline them or give instructions - even if it's justified. It's instinctive. And it's very hard to turn off. But at times it's absolutely necessary.

Once kids are at the age for endless playdates, party invitations and a rotating roster of sports teams the parenting lines can become very blurred. Where once Mom was the supreme ruler of everything in her child's world - what he ate, what he wore, who he played with, how long he could watch tv or play video games, how far he could ride his bike from home - she has to relinquish some of that control when her kid is spending time in the care or supervision of other parents.

Maybe it's easier for those parents whose kids are in daycare - they've already had to adjust to placing their trust in another adult or group of adults to care for, watch over, teach and discipline their little ones. But for those moms who stay at home to parent their children during those early years it's a big transition to suddenly have to trust in another adult to take care of their angel, even for a few hours.

It's a matter of relinquishing control and going with your gut - do you trust this person? Do you have similar parenting values? Will you feel comfortable with this other mom being responsible for your kid? Whether it's an all-day babysitting engagement or a two-hour birthday party, that parent you're dropping you baby off with takes on your parenting role for that period of time, keeping your kid safe, making sure they behave, helping them to make good choices. Trusting her kids to the care of another person is a big thing for any mom to do.

On the flip side is the act of "parenting" other moms' kids. To discipline or not to discipline? When is it ok, and when is it not? When is it expected, and when is it offensive?

Those first couple of times you suddenly find yourself responsible for a kid who isn't yours it feels a little bit odd. It's one thing if you've been asked to babysit - you're being assigned the official role of caregiver. But when it's just a casual playdate it's very different. A kid you've met a couple of times at the playground, a mom you've idly chatted with in the schoolyard once or twice - and suddenly the kid is in your house and you're responsible for him.

Is it ok to discipline a kid you barely know? What if his rules at home are different from yours? What if his mom gets upset with you for it? What if he doesn't want to play with your kid anymore?

It's a fine line, and it takes a few experiences of "Mom"ing other kids before anyone really feels comfortable with it.

My rule of thumb is: if you're in my house, you follow my rules. If a kid uses language we don't allow, plays too rough, forgets his manners - I correct him in the same way I would my own boys. And I won't apologize for it if his mom disagrees - I'd expect the same thing if my son were at her house.

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