I had a kind of uncomfortable experience today that I wanted some feedback on. I know that people have a right to raise their children as they see fit (fortunately or unfortunately
), but I am wondering about when/where parental responsibility becomes an etiquette issue when you bring your children into a public space.
I walked to my local bus stop today. There was a woman sitting on the bench, with her daughter standing next to her in the shelter. Now the mother was sitting in the middle of the bench and was taking up the rest of the bench space with her bags. A bit grumpy-making for me. Now I could have asked "is this seat taken?" or something like that but as far as I was concerned she was being SS by taking up about 3 spaces on the bench. So I walked to the bench and stood over the space, my way of silently saying "another person trumps your bag". I don't think I was threatening to sit on it or anything, and she didn't have any special right to the space on the bench at least not as a bag rest. I think this issue was actually covered in the main site when a girl wrote about moving her backpack on the bus. Anyway: the lady moves her bag without any apparent problem. I say thanks and sit. Then her daughter (who looked about 8-10 yrs old but she could have just been big for her age - and as you'll see she acted much younger) says "Where am I going to sit mom?" Now I am not exactly mortified, but in Softly's Headspace one of the personal rules is "defer to children and elders/infirm when appropriate." I'll take a seat from an inanimate object but not a kid! So I say "Oh, is this your seat?", and I would have been happy to let her sit there. Now here is the weird thing...
At the same time, both
the mom and
the daughter say "No."
Um. Oooookaaaaayyyy then.
But the daughter (who is apparently not having a good day/missed her nap/low blood sugar/deity only knows what's up with her) then
proceeds to have a whiney meltdown directed at her mother. "Mom just scoot over. Mom, my legs hurt. Move over, Mom. Mom! Mooooooom. Mommy move over. Move!" Granted this is only what I heard between songs because at that point I had put my iPod back on to block out the shrillness.
And her mother? Ignored her. I didn't understand why. Given the size of the three of us, if the mom had moved toward me a few inches and put her other bag on the ground, her daughter would have been able to fit on the bench. I was certainly in favor of this solution if it meant getting peace and quiet! But for whatever reason mom would (literally) not be moved.
So I sat uncomfortably for several minutes until (thank the angels) the bus arrived. The mom gets on without a backward glance, the daughter dawdles in that pouty way that kids are so good at. At this point I am seated on the bus and see Mom pay the fair and get to her seat, then gesture angrily through the window at daughter who is still outside the bus.
Daughter sticks out her tongue, but gets on. I can only imagine what would have happened if the bus had driven off without her! Daughter then picks a seat farther back and away from Mom, and lays down on the seat. They stayed that way the whole time I was on the bus. I'm not positive but I think the daughter fell asleep after exhausting herself with the tantrum - she used her backpack as a makeshift pillow, was sucking her thumb and didn't move as the bus began to fill and more people went past her. I got off before them so I don't know how (or if) the drama played out with those two.
So here is my question: I feel like the mom was a little rude to not reign in her daughters behavior given that they were in public. I understand the parenting theory of ignoring behavior when kids are trying to challenge/get a rise out of you, but it seems like the wrong time and place to use that kind of method. When the daughter was begging for a spot on the bench (I have no idea why she wasn't sitting when I came, maybe she was being stubborn or her mom was punishing her), I expected her mom to leverage a teaching moment i.e. "If you ask nicely and sit quietly you can sit here next to me" or at least explain why she wasn't getting a seat i.e. "You can stand there and wait because *insert naughty behavior here*". At a bare minimum I expected to hear her say "Hush up" at least once during the 3-5 minutes it took for the bus to come - all 3-5 minutes being full of her daughter's crying and carrying on.
I thought most parents are usually mortified by public tantrums and are motivated to use threats, bribery, etc. to get the kid to calm down - failing that, they usually take them out of the space if possible (i.e. leave the restaurant or movie theater). This mom clearly couldn't play the "behave or we're leaving" card, but I feel like she did others (especially me
) a disservice by letting her daughter carry on. I also think mom should have made daughter sit next to her on the bus, since it got very full and the daughter was taking up two seats. IMHO, until they are old enough to be more autonomous and responsible, kids' etiquette needs to come from the parents - both taught and enforced.
I felt bad for the kid since she clearly wasn't having a good day, but I also kind of resented having to bear witness to her misery. I tried to mind my own business, but the ear-piercing crying made that a little difficult.
P.S: Reading this over I feel like this makes me sound like a bit of a grouch or busybody - I swear I'm not and I actually love kids...
I try to live and let live...until other people's behavior affects me. Then I need an etiquette ruling!