I don’t know if you were the child’s father; you could have been his step-father, uncle, or nanny. But I’m going with the most likely thing.
You were pushing your toddler son on the swing when we came in. You saw a mum and her two preschoolers. My daughter got on the only remaining empty swing and my son, a toddler too, started to fuss. Normal sibling behaviour. I’m so used to their fights and wasn’t the least bit concerned, but I saw you look at us and immediately you said those brave and inflammatory words to your toddler. I shudder even now when I think of the horror that comes with that phrase.
“How about you give someone else a turn now?”
Predictably, your toddler said NO! NO! NO! You then tried to explain why he should give someone a turn, but the NO’s got louder. So you took him out of the swing and tried to distract him on another piece of playground equipment but he was having a minor tantrum by then. (I say minor because my son has been having tantrums that are worthy of an Oscar, and your son’s tantrum was definitely minor in comparison). My daughter had agreed to give her brother a turn, and had run off somewhere else, and I tried to tell you to put your son back on the swing. But you marched off with him, and we heard the whining and complaining get softer and fade away as you disappeared around the corner.
I wanted to say thank you for doing what you did for us today. You didn’t have to – you could have pretended you hadnt noticed we were there, or that a sibling fight was breaking out. There are no playground rules, just an honour system. But you chose to risk a toddler tantrum. You chose to break the relative peace of your day because you clearly wanted to teach your child to share, to take turns, to be mindful of others. It’s something that nobody tells you about – the anxiety of playgrounds. A parent pushing their child on a swing – what could seem more carefree than that? Yet behind this apparently blissful facade is the nervousness about needing to teach an underlying set of values. Sharing. Not being violent with other children (I was the nervous mum when my son got off the swing, as he started playing near another toddler and I was hoping he wouldn’t push or shove the other little boy).
Empathy for others. Being unselfish. Having boundaries. Patience. I was all ready to teach my son yet another lesson in patience, and then my daughter a lesson in sharing with that swing. But I didn’t need to.
I saw your face as you left. You looked worried, cross, irritated. Maybe you were tired of the umpteenth tantrum that day. Maybe you were worried that your son was never going to be able to share. (He will. Trust me). Maybe you were worried about being judged for having a selfish toddler (which is an oxymoron – all toddlers are incredibly selfish. And no I wasn’t judging you.) Maybe you had other things that were on your mind too (don’t we all?) But I really want to say thank you, for being a dad with principles, for not being afraid of the wrath of your toddler. For teaching your toddler playground etiquette. I know there are so many dads and mums like you, all trying so hard to do the right thing, all risking a tantrum so you can teach your children how to get along with others. All carrying that playground anxiety. Thank you. I wish I could have empathised with you about toddlers and their behaviour. I wish I could have reassured you that it does pass, it’s just a phase, and that I understand. I wish I could have conveyed to you that we were going to work it out between the three of us, but you were too worried about your son’s behaviour.
And that makes you a really, really good dad. I hope you know that.