The playground. Ah, yes, that magical place where you bring your kid so they can play with reckless abandon and learn to interact with other kids. Yet, it’s also the place where you are constantly telling them to slow down, while you avoid learning how to meet and talk to other parents. It’s a wonderful and contradictory place.
OK, sure, I’ve met other “normal” parents watching kids at the playground. I’m even still friends with some of them, but man, is it a crapshoot! My kid is older now, but when he was between the ages of 18 months to 9 years, the nearest playground was a refuge, not just for him, but for me as well. I could get out of the house and avoid the endless wait for my agents to call (they rarely did) while Peppa Pig played on a loop in the background. For a brief time, I could stop contemplating all the ways that I had failed in my career, thus putting myself in this stay-at-home-parenting position.
But even with its promise of fun in the sun and distraction from your everyday reality, the playground will always and forever be a minefield-there will be awkward conversations and, if you’re unlucky enough, confrontations that could lead to fisticuffs.
To help you avoid such situations, I’m going to tell you about certain types of parents you might encounter at the playground. This account will also feature a few specific characters I’ve encountered at my local swings-and-slide joint. I know, I know, we teach our kids not to perpetuate stereotypes or judge those we know nothing about, but come on, sometimes the shoe just fits.
1. Helicopter parent
No playground is complete without the helicopter parent. The adult who hovers over their child, watching their every move, anticipating every misstep, and constantly making a noise with their mouth that sounds like “be careful.” I know this parent well as I was one (still am? I mean, can one ever really kick the habit?).
Let’s face it, toddlers on the playground are a nightmare. They don’t know how to behave in public yet. They need help. They don’t look where they’re going, they push and shove, and they throw sand in other kids’ faces. In short, they’re a damn mess.
I know I wasn’t a fun hang among the other dads at the park, but in my defense, I was a terrified young parent who had never taken care of anything larger than a cat in his entire life. Also, I tried to change my ‘coptering ways when my kid was 5. I decided to give him some space, and he rewarded me by breaking his arm.
That’s right. After I stopped him from going down a ladder the wrong way, I realized I’d been micromanaging him in front of slightly older kids. I thought, “You know what? He’s fine, stop nagging at him.” Only minutes later, I watched him run, get to the ladder, correct himself to the way I’d just told him to do it, and then fall 6 feet to the ground. When I picked him up, he cried in my ear, “Why weren’t you there to catch me?!” So, yeah, hover all you want. I won’t judge you anymore.
2. Snowplow parent
Not to sound overly dramatic here, but snowplow parents are the absolute worst. These are parents who “plow” any obstacles out of their child’s way to spare them even an iota of effort or inconvenience during playtime. Be it sticks, rocks, or other children, this parent will just push them aside to make life a breeze for their kid.
These parents don’t seem to go so far as to chew their children’s food for them like a momma bird, but I’d venture a guess that a small percentage of them do it behind closed doors. The difference between them and their avian counterparts is that the bird only does this for a short time before kicking its kid out of the nest to hopefully fly and live on its own. The snowplow parent, however, will just give their own home to the child and move in an apartment down the street, close enough to tackle any solicitors that even think about ringing their kid’s doorbell. Avoid.
3. The parent too hot for you to have a playdate with
Some parents you see at the park are just smoking hot. This is the type that immediately makes you think, “I hope my spouse doesn’t see me talking to this person.”
My son constantly wanted to play with the kid who had the hottest mom. It’s not that he assessed all the mothers in the park and picked wisely. He just obliviously happened to have great taste, thus putting me in this awkward position.
Whenever we struck up a conversation, she’d be all normal, just going about her day as any hot person would, not thinking anything of the encounter. I, on the other hand, would be sweating, feeling tongue-tied, and constantly looking over my shoulder, hoping that my wife wouldn’t decide to drop by the park on her lunch break.
Sometimes, dangerously hot parents will innocently say something like, “Hey, our kids get along great. Can I give you my number for a playdate?”
This is a nightmare. These people should be avoided at all costs. Nothing good comes from talking to a hot parent in the park. It will only lead to self-loathing and potential marital strife.
4. The parent who has no one else to talk to
Another type I frequently ran into during my playground days is the parent having a tough time and whose spouse is either not around much or they just aren’t “good listeners.” Another possibility is that their spouse is also the root cause of their issues. Whatever the reason, this parent will talk your ear off, telling you about their problems, how exhausted they are every single day, and how they never have time for themselves.
I actually enjoy this type of parent for a couple of reasons:
- I don’t have to talk a lot. Sometimes, not at all. Other than an occasional, “Oh, wow” or “that’s not cool,” I could just watch my kid and nod along, almost like listening to a live podcast.
- This person clearly needs to vent, so in a way, I feel like I’m doing some community service and filling up my karma tank.
- Inevitably, this parent sees you as a cool dude and will lavish you with praise at the end of your time together. This, in turn, will lead to much self-patting on the back and an overblown sense of self-worth for at least as long as it takes to walk home.
5. The aggressor
Then you have the aggressive parent who instills an “it’s a dog-eat-dog world” mentality in their child right before your eyes. These parents are hard to avoid because they often come off as nice people. Maybe because I always give other parents the benefit of the doubt on account of parenting being hard or maybe because they are good at camouflage, but I always have difficulty spotting this type of parent in a crowded playground. They usually rear their ugly head quite unexpectedly.
For example, one day I was talking to a really cool mom while our kids were taking turns on the slide with a bunch of other children. When most of the other kids went to complain to their parents about not getting to slide, all the adults told them to just be patient and wait their turn, as playground etiquette dictates. But when this seemingly lovely mom’s kid complained, she replied, “Get in there and TAKE your turn!”
The kid was lying-I’d watched him jump the line many times, causing the other children to revolt and make him wait his turn. Despite his lie, the solution his mom offered was definitely too aggressive. The kid took the order to heart, pushing aside several children to get to the front of the line. This caused a fracas among the parents, during which I decided to announce it was “lunch time” for me and my son, and we got the hell out of Dodge.
6. The hands-off parent
There’s always one parent who thinks they don’t need to pay attention to their kid since they are at the park with other parents. This type could be considered the opposite of the helicopter parent. Maybe we should call them the submarine parent seeing as they’re nowhere to be found?
I’ve had full-on conversations with “submarine” parents while their kids jump off the top of a jungle gym and injure themselves and others, yet these parents don’t break stride. They keep sitting there and talking, doing nothing. OK, fine, if it’s just their kid getting hurt, then whatever, but when these under-surveilled children start hurting other kids on the playground, it’s time to get up (surface, if you will) and deal with the problem.
7. The oblivious one
These playground parents are different from the hands-off variety, but the two types overlap in a Venn diagram. They have no idea how much of a terror their kid is. While you watch yours and other children run wild on the playground, the oblivious one’s offspring is bucking all the trends and doing all the things that most of us tell our kids not to do.
Moreover, when you point out to them that their child just pushed a kid off the swing, they look at you with an expression that says, “How dare you!” Once, I watched a kid bite another one on the arm while their oblivious parent uttered the words, “My son has never hurt another child, ever.”
8. The day drinker
Oh, yes, this happens. Sometimes the moms at the park have rosé in their refillable water bottles. Sometimes the dads have a splash or two of bourbon in their soda cans. All right, sometimes the dads have rosé, too, but the point is that these parents usually appear to be drinking water or soda pop, and no one is the wiser.
Occasionally, you might get a parent who starts imbibing on an empty stomach, and their behavior changes a bit, in which case a spouse may need to be informed. For the most part, though, they hide it very well.
As irresponsible as it seems, in my experience, these day-drinkers are awesome. They are just after some “me time” in the middle of the day. They aren’t monsters; they are simply looking for a bit of normal, loose, slightly buzzed conversation with other parents about how much their kids drive them crazy. Am I making an excuse for them because I’ve been one of their kind in the past? Maybe. Not often, mind you.
With me, day-drinking leads to a desire to go back to bed, and since I can’t do it, the rest of my day ends up being a living hell considering all of the energy I need to play Legos and make dinner. But I will say this: God bless these furtive partakers, these defiant souls, these rosé rebels for they live in the moment and, most importantly, they provide great conversation. I highly recommend this type.
Benefits of playground interaction
I hope this helps you on your quest for pleasant afternoons. As much as I like to make snide fun of it, the playground is truly an amazing place. To us, it’s just a bunch of plastic structures that get too hot in the sun and never deliver the kind of entertainment we assume our kids would want. But to our young ones, it’s a wonderland full of dragons and pirates and princesses. Most importantly, it is a place where they learn how to play, which is more than an important step in their growth-it’s the most crucial part of their early childhood development.
The playground is also a place for us as parents to grow, to get out of our comfort zones and meet other parents. Most of them are just like you and me. They have hopes and fears, they are tired and annoyed, and they have no idea what they’re doing. So, go and talk to them. This is a crucial part of your parental development.
And if you run into one of those annoying stereotypes, remember-there’s probably another park close by where you can take your kid tomorrow.