Today I was walking my dog in the county park just down the road from my house. A .65 mile asphalt loop allows me to blow off steam when I’m between grading and keeps the dog from stressing out and flipping the garbage can.
The park also has a great playground, and it’s fairly common to see a few toddlers there with their mothers. Charcoal, an 80-pound Black Lab is super friendly and doesn’t lick, so I’m happy to let curious kids pet him if they like, providing their parents grant permission.
Today, a curly-haired little boy, about age three, came charging at Charcoal, shouting “I wanna pet the cute doggy!”
I pulled Charcoal back and forcefully said, “Hang on kid! You can’t just charge at a strange dog!”
The boy stopped, taken aback at my tone. I then softened my voice and crouched down to near eye level.
“It’s okay to pet him, but you need to ask permission first and then let him sniff your hand before you pet him.”
By this time his mother walked up. The mother extended her hand and so did the boy. Then I told Charcoal to sit and let the boy give him some hugs and a few pats on the head before moving on, bidding a good day to the mother.
That’s the first time I’ve instructed someone else’s kid since being a parent.
It felt weird at first, but by the time I finished my walk, I decided it was the right thing to do.
I’d want someone to say the same thing to my kid. I also don’t want another walker exposed to liability when a dog with less street smarts decides that a screeching 30-year-old running uncontrollably toward it is a threat. Curly-Hair needed to be corrected and in the moment of the action.
Speaking broadly (and mainly in regards to the middle class), Millennial parents were brought up in a comfortable nest of being special. This was unavoidable in some ways for the fact that Boomers didn’t fully replace themselves and much longer life expectancies than in previous generations. This meant that in addition to nuclear parents, children were subject to the love, affection, and presents of a vast array of aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
But if the phenomena of familial doting was unavoidable, its first cousin, the self-esteem movement further advanced the same perspective. It meant that students were entitled to feel good about themselves, no matter how they performed on exams. It meant that I was entitled to play at least one inning of baseball every game, no matter how poorly I played. (And believe me, I sucked at baseball).
We are survivors of this, and its time we take back a broader mindset of community investment.
We should cast aside the mindless aphorism of “judge not lest ye be judged” and again assert a broader stake in the community around us with the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child.”
When I see your child being reckless, I am going to firmly but politely correct him. I ask you to do the same with mine.
I'm a military spouse to my US Navy Lieutenant Commander, Lauren. We are proud parents of Wolf and Bear. When I'm not supporting her career and raising my two wild animals, I teach a law course at the University of Florida, run ultramarathons, and write. I'm the author of "Parenting as a Contact Sport" and currently in search of a publisher. Most stories I publish are proposed additions to a sequel titled "Daddy Hold My Milk: Famous Last Words of a Toddler. Twitter: parentingsport