We’ve all been there at one time or another. You see a parent doing something, saying something, or allowing something that, please insert heavy southern accent here, “Why, I would just never!” Well, I had one of those moments this summer. It was completely out of the blue for me. For years now I have been practicing non-judgment. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way blameless of being judgmental, but I decided several years ago to just stop and let live.
So back to this summer, I had this moment that really tested me. I’ll tell you what happened, but first let me ask you the same question I had to google after “said event.” My search read: “At what age is your child old enough to ride bikes through the neighborhood?” Now keep in mind that whatever answer you come up with, if it’s not the same as someone else’s answer, who is right and who is wrong?
It was a beautiful summer day, before this humidity had really taken force, and the kids and I went out into the front yard to wash the car. Along came some neighborhood children riding on their little motorized scooters. They saw my kids out front so naturally they decided to come play in my yard, which was completely fine with me. We moved to our neighborhood in October, but we live on a dead end street, so we haven’t met many other neighbors. This felt like a nice opportunity for my kids to meet some of the other kids.
As my children and these other two children were playing, I started to pay attention to how short they were. I mean, they seemed really, really short for elementary-aged children. So I casually asked them what grades they were in. One child, who was the smaller of the two, said he didn’t go to school yet. The other boy said he was in kindergarten. SO, of course I ask their ages, and they tell me they are four and five. I ask where they live, and they tell me it’s just down the next street.
And then it happened, my judgey alarms started ringing big time! Now I must first say that I tried to give the parents the benefit of the doubt. The street they live on actually isn’t that far from my house, and I should add that their house in in a cul-de-sac, so there isn’t as much traffic going though. But still, you can’t actually see their house from my house. I’m not gonna lie, I was floored that a four-year-old and a five-year-old rode their little scooters onto my street and played in my yard and no one came for them. My kids are eight, six, and three, and I still haven’t let them roam around like that on their own. Heck, we were just letting them go into the front yard on their own as long as they stay out of the street.
So a week later the kids show up on my porch asking if my kids could come out and play. I say yes and ask them to go ask their parents if they could play in our sprinkler. Ten minutes later they come back saying yes they could. I set everything up in the front yard. Then, along comes another small child riding his tricycle. He sees all the other kids playing in the yard, so he decides to join in. I asked him several times to go ask his parents if it was okay for him to be playing in our sprinkler, but he declined and just kept right on playing. So, I sat on the front porch and just watched everyone playing.
Thirty minutes later, the boy’s mother shows up. We chat for a few minutes, and I learn that he is four-years-old too. I also learn that they don’t live in the neighborhood; they are just here visiting her mother. She is surprised. however, that she has never seen my kids around. And then we have that awkward moment. The moment where you realize your parenting styles are severely different than someone else’s. She says, “I guess you don’t allow your kids to go play down the street?” All I could say with scrunched up lips, hoping that I don’t sound too holier than thou was, “No, we haven’t started that yet.” Then silence takes over the conversation, and we have nothing else to say. An evident stiffness clouds our discussion.
These two incidents prompt me to search the question I asked above. Was I crazy? Didn’t this seem insane that a four-year-old would just come riding up on his tricycle and no one came to find him for a whole thirty minutes? At least the other two boys were together as a team. But still how easily would it be for someone to just ride up, see these little boys, and scoop them up. Those are the thoughts that plague me as a parent. Fear. Fear keeps my children close by. My search revealed how vast everyone’s answers were, and it got me thinking about how quickly I judged the mothers and fathers of these boys. It’s obvious the parents were raised differently than me but did that mean my way was somehow better than their way? Perhaps they had a deal with another neighbor to help keep a watchful window eye when their kids were outside. Perhaps they didn’t. Either way, couldn’t I be that watchful eye? Isn’t that how things used to be anyway? Neighbors watching out for each other and their kids.
It made me think about a time I was leaving the Aldi parking lot. I put my kids in the car, strapped them up, and with my keys still in hand walked the shopping cart back up. As I walked back to my car this older man was staring at me and then looked at my car and then back at me again. It scared me. Had I done something wrong by leaving them in the car for the whole 75 seconds it took me to walk there and back? Since that day, I don’t leave them in the car anymore, now too scared that someone might call the police on me like you hear about online. What happened to good decent people just watching out for each other? Instead we’re all so quick to judge and call the police before anyone is even in any real danger. I’m not going to lie for a moment and say I didn’t contemplate on what to do with these little boys. Do I call the police? Do I call CPS? What if something happened to them and I did nothing?
Ultimately, I decided to let the judginess go and just let others live. I want to let others be free to live out their lives as they see fit even, if I completely disagree with it. Instead, I’ve decided to be the neighbor who will watch your children from my window and only give you the eye or call the police if and when I see something truly suspicious. I hope I’m making the right choice and I hope you are too, but then again, who’s asking?