Don’t poke your nose in

“How do you like it, hey?” I heard from the car.
Standing at the boot, I looked through the rear window to see the woman poking my seven-year-old in the face.
She wasn’t doing it aggressively, but it wasn’t affectionate either.
Master Seven had been poking Li’l Fatty in the face only moments before and this woman clearly thought it her place to teach him a lesson.
I hesitated, taking a half step forward.
But then she stopped, and resumed installing the car seat, a humbled Master Seven sitting on the back seat next to her, red-faced and unsure where to look.
I didn’t know how to feel.
It wasn’t a question of whether her tactic – doing to Master Seven what he had been doing to Li’l Fatty – was the right way to teach him.
It was a question of her being the teacher.
I didn’t even know this woman three minutes ago.
I’d come across nosy parkers before.
Even among my own friends and family.
Most of them stopped sharing their parenting tips the moment they actually became parents and realised how hard it can be.
Like the one who couldn’t believe I’d let my child have a toy at the dinner table.
And then, when she had her own, had to make a dance out of every mouthful to get hers to eat.
Then the one who protectively shielded her baby from the other kids, only to have him burst out and become the playground bully.
And we all have friends who’ll frown, sometimes even growl, at our children in order to protect their own.
My Master Seven has always been a gentle child so I’ve usually been taken aback if a friend tells him off.
Is that just me being a protective mum?
I’m not usually.
I’m ashamed to say I’m actually one of those weak parents who instantly apologises and then quietly warns poor Master Seven to back off anyway.
Then, when my friend’s child gets aggressive, I’ll not only fail to berate their child, I’ll make it seem like a good thing.
“That’s ok, I’m sure Miss Six didn’t mean it,” I’ll blurt out. “Master Seven could use a bit of toughening up anyway.”
At which point he’ll pick himself up from the ground and stare at me open-mouthed.
“But Mum, I didn’t do anything,” he’ll say on the way home. “She whacked me around the head.”
“I know honey,” I’ll reply, reminding myself to set a better example next time.
We’ve all seen or read The Slap by now.
I’m not sure I’d take a man to court for slapping my child (a swift kick in the balls and a slap around his own face ought to do it) but it brought up an unspoken question.
Are there any circumstances where a stranger can discipline your child?
How about an acquaintance?
A teacher?
A friend?
A relative?
The grandparents are allowed full reign on our boys.
In fact I don’t think they discipline them enough.
But maybe that’s why it’s never been a problem.
And as far as teachers are concerned, what happens at school stays at school.
We have to trust them on that one.
I won’t be prosecuting the woman who poked Master Seven in the face.
He did kind of deserve it.
But I just might install my own car seat next time.

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Masters and Apprentices

I’ve always considered myself a fantastic parent.
But, since employing Learner Dad as my Master Seven apprentice, I’m fast realising I’m actually just a very soft one.
Initially it was probably my way of compensating for the fact Master Seven didn’t have a father.
And, more recently, compensation for the fact he suddenly did have one – and a brother – two people to compete with for his Mummy’s attention.
The truth dawned on me the other night, when Master Seven wrote Learner Dad a letter.
He tried to surreptitiously slip it into the lounge room before heading off to bed.
In it he expressed profound sorrow, in childish scrawl, for not ‘shouting the door’ when told.
Now, first of all, I’ve never been given such a letter.
And secondly, if I had, I probably would have told him how proud I was, lifted any imposed sanctions, and given him a cuddle and several Kit Kats.
What he got from Learner Dad was a nod of appreciation, a hug, and then the news that his ‘Tech-No’ was still active.
(A ‘Tech-No’ is a method of punishment devised by Learner Dad and I that simply means a ban on all technology for a certain period of time. Extremely effective when enforced.)
Learner Dad has quickly gained the confidence to take the harder line with his stepson.
While I’ve always tried to cuddle away the tired tears, Learner Dad takes them straight to bed.
I treat a tiny cut with 60 kisses and almost as many bandaids, while Learner Dad scoffs and tells him to at least make it bleed next time.
When Master Seven butts in on an adult conversation, my explanation of what his Dad and I are discussing is quickly cut off with a ‘mind your own business’.
And Master Seven is responding.
Suddenly Learner Dad is the one he wants to impress, the one he doesn’t want to let down.
His respectful letter of apology said it all.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of molly-coddling from Mummy.
So long as it’s balanced with a bit of tough love.
In our case, with Li’l Fatty entering the realm that is childhood, perhaps the Master will become the Apprentice.
I can still teach Learner Dad the ins and outs of bottles, Bonjela and bottom butter.
But when it comes to discipline, maybe it’s time I wore the ‘L’ plates for a while.