Playground Parenting

I heaved a sigh as I wandered through our ransacked house, arms full of an odd assortment of toys and trash.  No thieves, no earthquakes, no cabin fever.  Just kid-sized messes piled upon kid-sized messes in every single room and I knew.  Cleaning suddenly seemed to require monumental patience and effort on my part.  I dug down deep and… I couldn’t find it in me.

So we went to the park instead.

I pushed the boys in the stroller and the girls rode their scooters, sans helmets.  (I’m still not used to U.S. laws about those blasted helmets.)  We rolled up to the playground and I let the kids run wild and free.  Scooters were abandoned, shoes were tossed into the stroller, and my minions barreled  off to climb, run, swing, and slide to their hearts’ content.  I chose a prime viewing spot and promptly stuck my nose in a book.

Of course, it’s not relaxing to read at the park.  Every 30 seconds I glanced around and took a head count.

1, 2, 3, 4.


1, 2, 3, 4.


I shoved my sometimes-helicopter tendencies way down deep, though, and chose not to interfere.  My kids need time away from me for a few minutes each day.  I need peace for those same minutes.  While I was present, I kept my distance.

Suddenly, I got that vague sense of being watched.  I glanced up. 1, 2, 3………(there he is) 4.  Number 4, otherwise known as Zeke, was climbing up the slide while a little girl tried to slide down.  Her mom, with another baby strapped into a Baby Bjorn, was attempting to mediate the situation.  All the while, she was glancing at me with something akin to disbelief.  I debated my options and decided that she had her hands full with two almost-babies and stepped in to redirect Zeke.

After the “problem” was resolved, I went back to my perch and glanced around again.  This time I noticed something odd.  In a nearly-enclosed playground, there were 17 children and… 18 adults.  The adults were following their children around, helping them climb things and keeping them from harm.  I was the only parent sitting down.

My need to conform kicked in and I rose to my feet.  I am a good parent, but it probably doesn’t look like it.  These people think I’ a bonbon-eating, children-ignoring, absent mom.  We certainly can’t have that, now can we?

I noticed then that the older three had taken over the tire swing and I called Zeke over.  It’s his very favorite thing after all and I didn’t want him to miss out on the sibling fun.  He happily joined in and I snapped a picture.


It was through the lens of my phone camera that I noticed the legs of another boy.  Darn it.  He’s waiting.  Now what?  Do I ask the kids to get off and let him have a turn?  Do I let them work it out themselves?  I split the difference and told them they could swing for a couple more minutes and then they had to give the other boy a turn.

But then the boy said, “Oh, it’s okay.  I don’t mind waiting.”  Wow.  I thanked him and headed back to my bad-mom perch.

As I sat down with my book, I turned around and to what did my wondering eyes appear?

The boy was pushing my kids on the swing.  And they were loving it!


“See what happens when you don’t interfere?”  I muttered to myself.

Feeling quite self-righteous, I turned to watch the other parents at the playground.  Zeroing in on Mom-with-the-Bjorn, I tried to figure out what made her playground parenting so different than mine.  And then I saw it.  Dress shirt, slacks, high heels.  This woman didn’t come to the park to get a break from her kids.  She came to enjoy it with them.  Compassion hit me like a ton of brick.  I remember those days.  The days of working until I nearly dropped from exhaustion, then rushing home to squeeze every last drop of together time with my daughters.  I also vaguely remember watching those parents who sat back and let their kids run wild at the playground.  I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t play with their kids.

I get it now.

I stand by my playground parenting.  There’s nothing wrong with the way I do it.  But to that mom and every other one who needs every precious minute of togetherness, I stand by you too.


This is post 3 of my 7 Posts in 7 Days.

Or #7×7 as I like to call it.

To visit more bloggers doing the same, hop on over to Jen @ Conversion Diary


  1. Love this!!! I just….you….said so perfectly what I hadn’t taken the time to even think about (usually I just register a sense of conflict at the park and have never taken the time to flesh it out!)
    Maia recently posted…The Dump of the DiapersMy Profile

  2. Great post! Thanks! This not only illustrates the difference between parents from different families, but even the difference between my husband and me at the playground. I playground parent like you, but when my husband is there it’s his fun time with the kids. I always have to remind myself that he’s there to be WITH them, not to get a break (which is the reason I go to the playground)! PS – I’m severely jealous of people with playground weather right now. We’re in the single digits 🙁 and like you, our house is a mess, but we can’t escape. Ahhh!
    Thanks again for a great post. -Theresa

  3. This is the year I will have to figure out my own playground philosophy. If it ever warms up that is.
    Madeline recently posted…WWRW: The Cuckoo’s Calling and WonderMy Profile

  4. Wow. I don’t even know what else to say. The whole time I was reading this, I was thinking to myself, “Oh man, those helicopter parents! Why do they DO that? Let the darn kids play in peace!” and then your assessment.

    I would be horribly embarrassed by this, considering I just wrote a whole piece about being gracious about people’s motivations behind their actions, but instead I’m so, so grateful for your insight. Thanks for making me feel happy and happily corrected! Winning.
    Cari recently posted…Cari’s Tips for Homeschooling With Toddlers Underfoot, Ostensibly Without Losing Your MindMy Profile

  5. Wonderful insights; thank you!!
    Joy recently posted…100 Days SmarterMy Profile

  6. This is such a great insight. It takes a creative and compassionate parent to be able to watch someone else parenting differently than we do and to give her the benefit of the doubt instead of just using the difference to reinforce what we like about our own parenting. I’m so glad you shared this experience with the rest of us.
    Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings recently posted…I got smacked in the face by a word.My Profile

  7. What great perspective! I think most parents are doing it right – maybe just a little differently than the people next door.
    Beth (A Mom’s Life) recently posted…OB update.My Profile

  8. I used to be one of those obsessive parents who never left my little ones’ sides at the park, and I balked at the moms who seemed unaware of what was happening on the playground. After #3, I became the one everyone balked at, because I wanted the boys to be free to play. I just needed to look up from my book every so often and tell them how awesome they were when they took a hard fall, so that they would get up and do it again. Good for you for ditching the piles and heading for the park. I’m quite fond of ditching!! 🙂
    Susan recently posted…Homemade Bread: “Bake” Your Heart Happy!My Profile

  9. Great insights…it’s so hard to figure out the right amount of distance, at least for me! I’m sure I fall towards the helicopter side :/
    Jenny recently posted…The Great Purse Purge of ’14My Profile

  10. Love this thoughtful piece! My husband is a teacher, and he knows from experience that there are helicopter parents who get TOO involved in every little details of their kids’ lives, and they sometimes wear him out with their hovering, which is why we call them “hover moms.” However, I’m really glad you shared this experience, and your insight! I’ve often found that when I’ve made judgements on a situation, I make the wrong one and find out later when I get more information. Yet another reason to just stop judging all together!
    Jenn @ Vita Carminis recently posted…A Year and a DayMy Profile

  11. Wonderful insight!

    With my oldets, I was total helicopter. I followed her around everywhere at the playground. And, it wasn’t really that I wanted to play with her or spent itme with her, for some reason I had this fear that if I let her out of my sight for even 1 second, she would disappear. Kidnapped or something. Paraoid…yep!

    By the time I had my second, I was totally on the bench.

    Today, I was the mom who sat in the car (in my defense, I had a good view, the playground was practically empty, it was in the 40’s and I was freezing).

    But, I love your insight about how others moms go to play or spend time with their kids.
    Amelia @ One Catholic Mama recently posted…Happy 6th Birthday John (and a naming story)My Profile

  12. Perfect. A few months back there was an article/post going around about why a mother sat on the bench and let her child do the playground for herself in order to let the child experience that she couldn’t do everything yet and had to work up to say, crossing the monkey bars. I always thought that approach left out the adults who wanted to play with the children. There are opportunities for both. Sometimes it is okay to let a child explore on his/her own and make his/her own fun at the playground, but sometimes it is fun to have the adults get in the mix a bit. I really like your empathetic perspective on this.

    • I totally agree. I did read that article, I think. To be completely honest, I don’t totally ignore my kids. Their favorite game at this park is “missions,” where I send them all over the playground doing obstacle-course-like activities. But in between I get to read. 😉

  13. Thanks for the explanation of parenting styles. There are big differences between parents and grandparents.
    I take only one grandchild for the purpose of enriching their life. We do things that their parents would not take them to do. The my granddaughter who is 2.5 and I have tried on clothes at Nordstrom’s. So our outings are not always at the park.
    I take lots of photographs of my grandchildren at the park. This meets my need and their need.
    Watching children and reading a book would have been impossible for me as a parent!

    • Parents and grandparents come in all different types, and thank God for that. How boring would the world be if we were all the same?! And I do think grandparents have a different roe than parents in most families. I’m so grateful for Larry and Marie, as you know. They’re so great with our kids.

  14. Amazing how you wrote this: you drew me in and I was thinking just like you and then — bam! Wow, you helped me to feel in a similar manner that you did and I was better able to empathize. Thank you.

    • Thank you, Kate. I am often guilty of flash judgments, so I’m glad to share when I’ve been given some insight into why people do the things they do.