One Sunday afternoon, I took my 6-year-old son to a local theater production of The Pirates of Penzance. He sat next to me on my right side and did very well for a child his age.
During the second half of the show he got a little squirmy. I switched seats with him so that he was now sitting in an aisle seat. He noticed the light, bent over to look at it and his water bottle went rolling down the aisle. He got up to get the bottle and immediately sat back down. The next thing I know this old lady who goes to our church, got up from her seat across the way, grabbed his arm and said to him in a stern voice, “Young man you stay in your seat or else I am taking you outside.” She then sat down. I was in shock and my son was boiling mad! He was not disruptive until this one incident. I, as his mother told him to sit back down, and he obeyed me. My question is, do I say anything to her? What right does she have to do this? (I am not one of those parents that ignore naughty behavior in a public setting, believe me. I would have had him outside if I thought he was being THAT disruptive, which he was not.) What would you do? Thanks Rene!
Karen in California
Thanks so much for checking in with Good Enough Mother. When I read your letter my first reaction was, Wow, who does this lady think she is?
Honestly if this were someone you were never going to see again, I would have handled it right then and there with a swift and strong “Excuse me ma’am my son was retrieving his water bottle. Thanks you for your concern but he only has one mother, me. I’ll handle reprimanding him. Thanks.” But this is different in that you probably see this woman every weekend; this requires a delicate touch rather than the Good Enough Mother bulldozer.
My own mother is fond of saying “kill them with kindness” and it’s something I try to when I can. There’s a crotchety, old rent-a-cop who mans the train station in our town. During rush hour, it’s a zoo, with cars going in every direction and tempers flaring. I used to pick up Buff by zipping to the front of the station and while idling in the middle of the parking lot, waving like a mad woman and screaming ‘ GET IN! GET IN! GET IN! (Sheesh, it’s bad enough this poor guy has to deal with the chaos of Manhattan; he doesn’t even get a break getting off the train!).
Anyway, one day this rent-a-cop puts his flashlight on the hood of my car, preventing me from driving away. “You cannot stop here, in the middle of the road. You block all the traffic behind you.” (Never mind that there was never any traffic behind me because Buff was in the car with his seatbelt on in about three seconds). I was slightly embarrassed, a little pissed but I sheepishly said OK. Well, I saw the guy the next day and, honestly as sort of a joke, I waved wildly at him with a big grin on my face. He waved back and smiled. That was six months ago. He now waves at me every time I see him and the last time we actually had a nice little conversation.
I guess what I’m saying is a little kindness goes a long way and you’re going to give her much more than she gave your son. I would start by talking to her in the hallway at church, real generic type stuff, about the sermon, the weather, whatever. Then when the time is right, maybe a few weeks later, I would ask her if you could chat. Take her outside and explain that you try to expose your son to the arts early on and you were quite pleased with his behavior overall. I would tell her she hurt his feelings and yours and that while you appreciate her concern, you alone will mete out any punishment in the event that it was warranted, which it was not in this case. Hopefully, being that she just got out of church, the spirit will move her to apologize. It may not. But I do think you will feel better having gotten that off your chest. And no matter the outcome, I would continue to be cordial to her because you are the bigger person.
Giving unsolicited parenting advice is always a tricky thing and one I don’t recommend. Perhaps because of her advanced age, she felt she had the right to talk to your son that way. In a nice way you will let her know, she does not. Here’s hoping she takes it to heart and bites her tongue the next time she is tempted to threaten to punish someone else’s kid.
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