phtooeyWhat are the rules for parenting other children or giving parenting advice or just plain parenting interference? And what is the appropriate response?

I imagine it differs by country and culture, by personality and preference. I’ve been scolded in both Mexico — and now, in Laos — about not dressing my children “warmly” enough during the “cool” season: (Here, what is considered “cold” to the locals is perfect and refreshing for us to enjoy, say, in jeans and a t-shirt without wrapping ourselves in sweaters and down jackets like everyone else around us.) With an understanding nod and smile, I always reply with a cheerful yet emphatic, “To us, this isn’t cold. It’s perfect!”

For all the concern in other countries about my children being cold, there is a surprising lack of concern for their over-consumption of sweets. One time while waiting to board our plane, a troupe of Korean men and women each gave my kids a piece of candy, repeatedly. After one or two, I asked my kids to politely say, “Thank you.” After the fourth, fifth, sixth piece, I made them do the same while I motion a polite, “Thank you, but please, no more.” Then, when they cojoled my kids to take even more, I resorted to a stern-faced, “NO thank you,” and prohibited my kids from escaping my firm grasp. Enough is enough no matter how kind the gesture.

(Another candy incident that elicited an immediate “No” from me without even a “Thank you” was returning to our hotel in Vietnam late at night with two obviously over-tired kids and having the doorman hand them a bowl (yes, a bowl!) full of candy to grab!)

So cold weather and candy, both unsolicited parenting advice and interference, albeit rooted in concern and kindness, is one thing. For me though, the bigger issue has been about child discipline and reversing the role for me as the one to interfere and insert myself in situations I feel are necessary.

Surprisingly, it has occurred between me and other American moms where there is no cultural gap, only different parenting styles.

At playgrounds I have watched nervously from afar as my young toddlers (at the time) learned to navigate older kids’ dominance. It broke my heart to see their blank stares trying to process the bossy-ness of an older playmate. At first, I didn’t know how to respond, nor did I want to so that my kids can develop their own street smarts. On top of that, I was nervous about how the other  parents would react to my interference.

Still, over time — when lines crossed over to bigger kids being mean to mine — felt in my gut that I had to say things like, “Please be nice to my son or get off the slide,” or “Please don’t block the tunnel so the other kids can get through,” and I was willing to face other parents with my own confident reasoning for my interference. One time, a mother got upset with me because I asked her to remove her obstinate son from the bottom of the slide so other kids who were fighting precariously with impatience at the top could come down. She snatched him up with a huff and snapped, “I’VE been up since 5am!” to which I calmly replied, “I”m sorry for you, but so have we,” as I looked at all the other mothers standing around waiting for the slide situation to be resolved.

For the most part, those incidences have occurred among strangers; I can easily wipe them from my mind with slight annoyance. Recently, though, I have been faced with much more personal incidents regarding my friend’s children, which leave me doubting my previous resolve. At this point, friendships now become vulnerable, but I must remain resolute that sometimes, I need to intervene.

My kids are three-years old now and pushing their limits every chance they get. They gauge fairness and consistency with a keen eye, and when I falter, they take great joy in squeezing through that gap with unabashed misbehavior. So when a friend’s child came to our house and immediately sat on the coffee table with her feet up I immediately scolded, “Olivia, please get off the coffee table because we are not allowed to do that in our house!” In that moment, everyone froze: my friends who are her parents don’t know what to say to her since that is not their rule, or what to say to me since they are stunned that I said something, the child is stunned that someone else other than her parents was parenting her, my kids are stunned because they could not follow suit and get away with climbing on the coffee table.

Another time at a restaurant, the same friend’s child picked up her empty drinking glass and begins to bang another glass as if they were plastic against one another. I wanted to say something immediately since my daughter was sitting very close to potentially shattering glasses should they break, but I didn’t say anything thinking that this was surely something my friend would discipline. Yet nothing, as if it wasn’t happening. And still nothing when her child motioned that glass like an airplane towards my daughter’s head before I scolded, “Olivia, please put that glass down. It is not a toy.” Again, followed by brief awkward silence.

So now I am left wondering about our friendship and about what right I had to interfere and parent her child. Obviously, I prioritized preserving my child discipline standards over her feelings or considerations.

What is your opinion and experience with other people interfering with your parenting?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our mother of twins writer, Dee Harlow in Vientiane, Laos. You can always find her writing on her blog, Wanderlustress.

Photo credit attributed to phthooey. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.

Dee Harlow (Laos)

One of Dee’s earliest memories was flying on a trans-Pacific flight from her birthplace in Bangkok, Thailand, to the United States when she was six years old. Ever since then, it has always felt natural for her to criss-cross the globe. So after growing up in the northeast of the US, her life, her work and her curiosity have taken her to over 32 countries. And it was in the 30th country while serving in the Peace Corps in Uzbekistan that she met her husband. Together they embarked on a career in international humanitarian aid working in refugee camps in Darfur, Sudan, and the tsunami torn coast of Aceh, Indonesia. Dee is now a full-time mother of three-year old twins and continues to criss-cross the globe every two years with her husband who is in the US Foreign Service. They currently live in Vientiane, Laos, and are loving it! You can read about their adventures at Wanderlustress.

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