It should be one the most important words in parenting, and yet it often goes ignored.
The other day I took the kids to the park. It’s a beautiful park complete with an enclosed tot lot for the little ones and an open park for the older kids just a few feet away. We are very lucky to live just five minutes from this park, and we spend a lot of time there.
On this particular Monday, it was much busier than usual. Apparently, most of the world had Monday off for New Year’s Day, so it was packed. When my kids ran off in different directions, it was far more stress-inducing than an average day at the park would be.
As per usual, I concentrated on my three-year-old son and checked in with my five-year-old daughter regularly. Although she can certainly handle all of the play equipment at the tot lot with ease, I like to make sure that she’s engaged and making good choices.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a little boy (no more than 3 years old) taking sand from the sandbox and dumping it on the ground near the play equipment. His mother was glued to her Blackberry. On any other day, I would be the mom who provides the gentle redirect to raise awareness that sand all over concrete is slippery, but on this particular day, I was stretched too thin.
I made a mental note to remind my son to walk carefully in that area.
Before I had a chance to provide that reminder, I noticed a girl telling my daughter that it’s ok to climb up the slide. While this is the preferred method of slide play for our kids in our own backyard, they know that they need to go up the ladder and down the slide at the park. With that many kids around, someone is likely to get hurt with kids climbing up and sliding down at the same time. And it’s simply not fair to the kids waiting patiently at the top of the slide. I walked over to her to remind her to climb up the ladder and praised her for following directions.
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But in that moment (no more than 30 seconds), my son took off running and slid through the sand. The screams echoed through the park as his mouth slammed into a metal step that leads up to his favorite fire truck. Blood was pouring from his mouth, all over his sweatshirt, all of his hands, all over the two of us.
And the mom on the Blackberry? She looked up only long enough to ensure that it wasn’t her son crying.
I raced through the tot lot and called to my daughter while providing words of comfort to my son. We ran across a field that usually feels small but felt impossibly large in that moment. We made it to the bathroom, where I applied dampened paper towels and assessed the damage: A sizeable bite through the inside of his lip, a small cut just underneath the outside of his lip, a wrist scraped bloody and raw, and a very scared little boy. Slowly, we made our way back home, my daughter on her plasma car, my son on one side of me and his plasma car on the other. It was the longest walk I’ve taken in quite some time.
All of this because a little boy who isn’t old enough to know better created a safety hazard at the park. All of this because his mother was disengaged.
We all need a break sometimes. We all want to socialize with other adults when we get the chance. We all want to catch up on the never-ending to-do list.
But we all have to be responsible for our children.
We have to teach them right from wrong.
We have to teach them the rules and make sure that they understand them.
We have to be engaged and aware of what’s happening at any given moment.
We have to take responsibility.
As I walked back to the tot lot to gather our things, several parents stared. The same ones that looked on in horror as I ran to that bathroom with my son screaming in my arms and my daughter holding onto my hand for dear life (fortunately she’s a pretty fast runner). Not a single one of them offered as much as a tissue. They all stared, but none of them helped. Not a word of comfort or a sympathetic glance.
And that…brings us back to The Mom Code.
Step up, watch your kids, be responsible parents, and for the love of parenting…help each other out. You never do know when you will be that mom running for safety.
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She has a five year old daughter, three year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog, Practical Parenting, and can also be found on Twitter.