Monday, June 25, 2007

Living in the village

When I was about six or seven years old--old enough to know better, but young enough to have to actively ponder the question--I spotted a can of Pepsi on the ground. I picked it up and put it to my lips. The can, I should mention, was partially in the ground, actually: it was half buried. And it was rusty. Do you remember the old, steel soda cans? With the stamped seam down the side? Rusty.

So to recap: when I was six or seven years old, I dug up a half-buried, rusty and decomposing can of Pepsi, and held it up to my mouth. I stuck my tongue out to meet the lip of the can. An ant crawled from the can. It tasted coppery. I stood there realizing my mistake, but unsure what to do.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING! Put that down! Dirty! Yuck! Go in the house and have a glass of water! Don't let me catch you doing that again!"

This was not my mother, but our next door neighbour, and old woman whose children had long left home. She was often crabby. She was a yeller. But her words snapped me from my reverie. Down went the can. I wiped my palms hard against my pants--even my hands felt gross now that the light of reason had shone down from the neighbouring porch--and I went in the house to rinse my mouth out. The ant lived to see another day, and I am still in no position to tell you what rusty-Pepsi-dirt tastes like.

It never occurred to me that she had no right to tell me what to do; it never occurred to her that this was a problem to refer to my mother, or a problem that was no business of hers to intervene in at all. She was a neighbour and I was a little kid, doing something demonstrably stupid and in need of a good hollering. This was the 70s: no one was talking about how we needed villages to raise children. People seemed to just do it, at least in my small town (pop 11,000) where everyone knew everyone else, and by extension, everyone else's kids.

I remembered this incident a couple of weeks ago as one of my friends was recounting an incident from the playground. She's been having a lot of trouble with her 5 year old daughter, her husband's child from a previous marriage, recently adopted into Canada. She was at the playground of her co-op, hanging out with the mommies while the children played. She called her daughter over to ask her something, and as her daughter rolled her eyes, one of the other mothers sitting with my friend chastised her roundly: "Don't you roll your eyes when your mother is talking to you! Bold, bold! Don't let me catch you doing that again!"

My friend was a little startled, and then a little grateful, as the mother suggested that perhaps she saw the influence of another of the children in this particular behaviour, and offered a strategy to combat it. As my friend says, "Hell, I don't mind if other people help me out! I need it, and my daughter is from [West African country] and she expects grownups to tell her what to do. It's part of the culture."

I suggest to you that in North America, it is most emphatically not part of the culture to discipline other people's children, or to accept this disciplining of our own children.

What about you? Do you live in the village? Would you ever say something to someone else's child--to keep the ants out of their mouths, or the sass out of their eyes? Would you let someone else talk this way to your child?

I don't know. I'm thinking about it.


Christine said...

Tough one for sure.

There are certain friends of mine whose kids I have scolded without hesitation, mostly because we discussed it and agreed that it was ok. And friends have scolded my kids, too. So far I have never been offended by it.

But I do think I might say something to unknown kids who were being really horrible or doing something dangerous or mean. Actually, come to think of it, i once yelled at some boys on my street harassing a poor duck. I screamed bloody murder at them for trying to swing it by its neck!

In the end, I think we have to speak up and not be so afraid. If the parents are right there, it is their job to discipline, but in their absence SOMEONE has to step in. If my kid was swinging a duck around or being cruel or terrible naughty somehow, I would want someone to put them straight.

Agin, tough, but interesting, question.

kittenpie said...

I scold people's children at the library all the time - but I am careful about how I go about it, and sometimes will address the parent and request that they address a behaviour instead.

In terms of non-professional contexts, though, it would have to be someone that I am comfortable with or else the child would have to be about to do something really dumb. REALLY dumb. Because usually, I can freeze them with a look and not have to open my mouth. It's a skill. (That would go the same for others talking to Pumpkinpie, too, the same criteria.)

Omaha Mama said...

Of the neighbors we know well, we sort of try to keep track of all the kids. Tonight I heard a neighbor's husband say "Hey!" I think before he realized it wasn't his son inching towards the street. Then said the child's name and "Get back on the sidewalk!" It worked. It's comfortable. Maybe no yelling, but definitely helping.

With my nieces and nephews, at family stuff, we all help out with each others'. At the park, only niceties prevail. One must definitely tread lightly, since you never know. But I like the idea. Kids listen much better to an objective third party than their own parents who have said it to them 50 times. What they hear from us is blah, blah, blah.

I think it does take a village. Which is why I'm so glad my own neighborhood is finally banding together and becoming familiar. :0)

bubandpie said...

Not only do we not discipline other people's children, but we tend to apply adult standards of politeness to them - if they ask for our chips, we feel obliged to share, if they talk we feel obliged to listen (even when they're interrupting our own conversations). It takes some practice to realize that it's perfectly okay to say, "No I'm eating that hot dog" or "You need to wait until I'm finished talking."

Jenifer said...

I think I am having trouble with the idea that it is full-blown disciple.

In our group of friends we have openly said to each other any of us (grown-ups) can help or set straight any of the children. That might mean getting a drink for a child or telling them to stop jumping on the sofa. Not long lectures just basic supervision and care. I am grateful when we are all together that if I am not in the same room as my girls there is always a watchful eye looking out for them.

I do agree it is difficult with strangers. I have said things to strangers in public places if the child is doing something that is putting my girls in harms way. I have also gently said to a parent something like, "I think he/she needs you they are swinging from the rails" or something like that.

What I really find frustrating is that in our neighbourhood kids are out alone all the time completely unsupervised. As young as 4 years old they play on the street for hours. With the exception of my neighbour we are the only parents outside.

By default my house/driveway becomes the hang-out for kids craving adult company. They play with our toys, ask for drinks and snacks and I basically end up supervising and in some cases discipling them (taking turns, letting little kids get a turn, etc.) If Hubby is home you will find him playing catch or basketball or frisbee with any number of little boys.

It is sad and frustrating, but also completely normal in their country. My neighbour has told me time and again that in India all the kids play outside with the assumption that the whole village as you say is watching over them.

Last summer while playing outside with my girls I heard crying. It didn't stop and something told me it was serious. It was coming from a house about 3 doors down that has 3 little girls. When I walked over to her backyard (it faces the street in our complex) she was hysterically crying and knocking on her back door. She does not speak English and was so scared.

Before I approached I asked her if she needed help and she nodded. She was outside in the heat of mid-day in underwear only. I pounded and pounded and no one answered. I went around to the front of the house and rang the doorbell. Finally, one of the sisters answered and I demanded to see an adult, they balked (I assume they were alone) and asked if they new where there little sister had been.

I told them wash her off with a cool cloth and give her a drink and keep a better eye on her. I still have no idea if their grandmother was home or not and still think perhaps I should have called someone.

What if I hadn't found her? I shudder to think of what could have happened to her.

This is extreme obviously, but I am glad I could help.

In the end if it is a matter of safely I will always hope someone will step in.

Beck said...

Are you kidding? I actually do live in a literal village. And everybody hovers over my kids - from little old ladies snapping at the Boy to "use a civil tone with your mother, young man!" to my friends who shriek at my kids "I'm telling your mom what I see you doing, buddy!". It's an added societal saftey net and it is GOOD for my children to know that they do not live in an anonymous city where they can get away with stuff because nobody cares.
Having said that, I'm the one raising my kids, not my figurative or literal village - they're backing me up, but at the end of the day, it's me who is teaching my kids to be civil, me who has to sit down with my misbehaving child and actually do the hard work of civilizing another human being.

Oh, The Joys said...

I would and I do, but I have a HUGE MOUTH.

nomotherearth said...

I have said things when I don't see another parent intervening, and they have obviously done something wrong. And sometimes I say things without realizing that perhaps it is not my place.

I don't actually know how I'd feel if the tables were turned (I'm usually there to intervene when the Boy misbehaves), but I'd like to think that I would appreciate the assistance.

Karen said...

oh, this post is ringing all kind of bells for me. I wish I lived in the village -where the shared standards and the trust exist. I find I am in suburban anonymity, where I'm never sure if people agree that kids shouldn't sass their moms or run to the street - I know my friend want that and give it in return - in my neck of the I am looking for a fellow more villagers to trust, to share this burden with.

NotSoSage said...

Very interesting topic and interesting comment thread, too.

I think that Jen put it well: supervision and care? Acceptable. Discipline? Leave that to me, thanks.

If a child is in danger or is likely to hurt someone else, I would say something. But if the parent was around or returning soon, I would stop whatever was happening and leave the discipline up to the parents.

I am walking into a situation for a couple of weeks in August which is a hive of parents and children and I have seen the way some of those parents discipline their kids and I would not use the same methods. I appreciate the help, but I really want to have a say in dealing with less-than-immediate issues.

Bon said...

i've been thinking about this post since yesterday...and reading the comments, considering. because really, it hasn't come up, and i've been wondering why. my child is young enough that i suppose the circumstances haven't arisen...and in our neighbourhood, which is mixed-age low-rent urban and relatively, erm, skiddy, i don't actually see too many other kids. the patrons of the liquor store across the street, though? them i'd sometimes like to tell what to do. :)

but when it does, i think the real deciding line in terms of my reaction will be two-fold - the other person's apparent intent, and the issue of shared values. i have a loud, bossy older lady who lives next door who tells me to weed my garden, already. i fully expect she'll put O well in his place if his behaviour crosses her boundaries, and none too gently either. i don't mind that - she's brusque but not bad people. and i feel like i have a pretty good read on her values...not really mine, but certainly those of my own line of descent. however, if she randomly spanked him or swatted him for anything less than serious damage/aggression/nasty disobedience, i'd be livid.

and if someone my own age spoke to him the way i imagine she may someday, i'd be cranky too.

if i lived in a bigger city, with broader cultural horizons, i think i'd also be perhaps more clannish about who corrected or disciplined my child. but the Maritimes is still more centred on people being "in your business" and it's one of the goods and evils of living here, depending on how it manifests in a given way.

ewe are here said...

Yep. Discipliner of other people's children here. I figure if they're not going to do it, something I've seen all too often I'm afraid, and it's directly affecting me or my child (bullying, grabbing, pushing, hair pulling, being verbally mean, etc.), I'm going to step in and say/do something. I've gotten a couple of nasty looks (from parents whose children were literally pounding on a smaller child as they stood by and did nothing!), but most parents not only don't mind, they thank me.

Poppy said...

Here via Bub and Pie...great post and responses~

I've raised my children and am now a grandmother. I've lived long enough to see a change in this very thing.

Years ago I thought nothing of correcting a friend or relatives child, even neighborhood children. If you saw a child behaving badly or doing something that could be dangerous you just spoke up and no one had an issue with it. I was never bothered by someone else speaking up if they saw one of my children misbehaving. I liked the fact that my kids knew that there were other adults keeping an eye on them.

One of the other posters mentioned living in a village. I also live in a village (less than 8,000) and everyone knows everyone it seems and we all look out for one anothers kids. There is a sense of family here and the kids around here know if they are seen misbehaving and their folks aren't around...they'll know all about their behavior before they get home. Consequently we have a small town of well behaved children/teens who are respectful to others around them. My son (father of my granddaughter) says he'll never leave. He loved the sense of safety and family growing up here and wants the same for his children.

These days however many people tend to parent in a far more permissive fashion and they do not like anyone saying anything to their "precious". I've stood by and watched many parents ignore the misbehavior of their children. Sigh and throw up their hands in defeat without ever uttering a word to said misbehaver. Even smile indulgently as if their young terror was performing a great service.These parents would never, ever take kindly to another adult intervening.

There's a lot to be said of the "good ol days". Back to the days when children respected their parents and their elders, were well behaved and understood that there were rules and consequences to misbehavior. I often find myself wishing we could all go back. I'm not real fond of a lot of the parenting methods of today and the children they raise.

Omaha Mama said...

Hey Mimi - I've tagged you for a meme over at my blog. I hope you can play! :-)

cinnamon gurl said...


Mad Hatter said...

First off, hi. I'm back.

Secondly, I am all for the "village model" of parenting. What I notice more and more these days, though, is its dangerous off-shoot: the passive-agressive playground parenting stance that I absolutely hate. Here is an example. Last summer, Miss M liked to climb up the slide in the park (while I spotted her behind, of course). Because she is such a physically timid child, I encouraged her UNLESS another kid was trying to go down the slide. Then I would take her out of the way and explain that the other kid wanted a turn. One day another mother tired to stop her little boy (who was no more than 2--Mis M was 18 months at the time) from climbing up the slide next to the one Miss M was climbing. She loudly stated, no doubt for my benefit and not her son's, "other people have their rules. We have ours. We, most definitely DO NOT climb slides." Erg. Stuff a sock in it, woman. This is a community playground. Live by your rules and I will live by mine.

Little Things said...

I treat every child equally, and always have. Only once has it caused me grief, and the parents of that particular child are INsane. But I'm all for the village, and have always told children, whether mine or others', to behave!