Why I hate public playgrounds

Let’s have a chat about public playgrounds shall we?

A year or so ago Paducah FINALLY got one of those awesome indoor playgrounds in our mall. Lined with comfy seats and filled with padded playground equipment it is perfect for a rainy day when the kids need to jump and play and Mommy needs to sit and drink her latte.

When they first started building it, I couldn’t WAIT for it to open and we would go a couple of times a month – more in the winter months when outside play really isn’t an option. I absolutely loved it. Despite the hand sanitizer stations (which I loathe), the playground is well-designed for me to sit and read while keeping an eye on the boys.

However, recently I’ve come to dread going to the playground.

It all started a couple of months ago. I saw Amos and a little girl about his age wagging their fingers in each other’s faces. She seemed to be giving as good as she got so I didn’t worry too much about it. Next thing I know the little girl’s father is standing over me.

“If you can’t control him, you really should leave the playground!”

“Excuse me?” I replied, shocked.

I told him I’d seen them arguing but she seemed to be ok. He told me Amos had pushed his daughter to the ground.

To which I responded – after apologizing of course, “Well, he is two.”

“So is she!” he spat.

I was stunned. I couldn’t believe I was being shamed for having a toddler who pushed. I thought pushing was a prerequisite to being a toddler. It’s not that it’s not behavior I don’t correct. Amos has spent so much time in time out for pushing and hitting he could have written Moby Dick by now.

But here’s the difference – I try to TEACH my children not to push. I don’t try to STOP them from ever pushing.

And that’s what wears me out about the playground. There seems to be two camps – parents who hover over their children the entire time desperately trying to prevent every fall or bad decision. Or they eagle eye the kids the entire time and yell and nag and generally over-instruct every minute of play.

The other camp let’s their children run and jump and yell and go the wrong way up the slide and get into it with other kids – only stepping in when a child is in danger or needs a time out.

Guess which camp I’m in?

I’ve written before that I am a mother – not an aviator. I’m not a helicopter parent and I don’t hover. If I constantly scoop Amos up every time he tries something the slightest bit dangerous, how will he ever learn to push himself? How will he ever learn how far is too far? If I constantly stop Griffin before he says or does something that might upset another child, how will he learn to be an empathetic person much less a good friend?

I won't say it's always easy, especially when my child is on the receiving end of a push or bullying statement. However, I remind myself that kids are just kids and I rarely blame the parent. Because to me the alternative is so much worse. 

What I hate about the playground is I feel bullied into hovering like helicopter. I feel the judgment when I settle into one of the benches with a good book. I feel the sideways glances when Griffin or Amos do what kids sometimes do which is not act like adults every second of every minute of every hour.

It’s exhausting, which is why I sometimes act like a thirsty man in the desert when another mom from my camp arrives. The other day Griffin knocked a little boy down for yelling at Amos. I could feel my stomach knotting up as I looked to the little boy’s mother with my most apologetic face and said I was SO sorry.

She laughed. “He’s got big brothers of his own. He can defend himself. They’ll work it out.”

I almost kissed her.

After all, I come to the playground to let my kids be kids and have a few seconds when I’m not constantly caregiving or cooking or cleaning up.

If I can’t find that at a public playground, where can I go?

What are your thoughts on public playground etiquette? Should I be hovering a little more? 

There's a great discussion happening on my Facebook post if you want to check it out!