Wishing for the Right Words: Dead End Conflicts with Dangerous Drivers and Unruly Kids

(Editor’s note:  This post was written a week ago)

You know that frustrating feeling of facing a conflict situation on the spot, then wishing you could go back and say or do something completely different?  I hate that feeling of regret, some self-loathing, feeling tongue-tied, replaying the situation over in my head, wishing I was wittier, or cleverer, or more assertive, or less aggressive, or less oblivious. Eventually I get over it, and as I get older, I’ve developed more forgiveness towards myself, but I still have those times where I just wish I could be cooler in a conflict.

Today I had more than one of those moments.  One in the car and one in a restaurant play place.

Coming back from a play date at a local open gym, I stopped at a four way stop, waited for the only car to turn left, then proceeded to move into the intersection where my daughter and I were almost t-boned by a texting driver who blew down the street, through the stop sign without a pause, at a speed definitely higher than the 25 mile an hour speed limit.  Incensed, I thought about getting the driver’s license number and calling the police.  Stuck behind the jerk for another half mile until he pulled over to continue his conversation, I seriously contemplated pulling over on the well populated street to confront him about his dangerous driving behavior.  I even had my turn signal on to do so. Then, considering the safety risk, the presence of my daughter, and the probable futility of such a conversation, I flicked my turn signal back off and kept driving to the next parking lot, where I called my husband, fuming while he empathically commiserated.  Part of me so wished, sooo wished, I could have confronted the individual.  In my head, I imagined myself calling attention to his behavior, making him aware that he endangered a small child and her mother, and teaching him the error of his ways…a likely scenario, right.  Still, my relative helplessness in the situation rankles.

The next situation surfaced during dinner at our local Chik-Fil-A in the children’s play area, a place notorious for negligent parents and out of control kids.  I hate going in there, but my daughter loves it, so I try to deal.  This evening’s incidents were over the top though.  The culprits in the situation were one girl about six years old, and two boys around 9 years old.  Their mothers were seated behind the glass plating separating the dining area from the play area.  During the hour and a half or so we were in the restaurant, neither mother arose from her seat to check on the status of things in the play area.  I understand giving kids some space, and also the need to have adult conversation.  I’m not going to get into generalizations about the kids or the mothers’ parenting styles, because I’ve only seen a snapshot and who knows what factors were in play.  But here is what I observed:  the little girl chattering non-stop to any adult that came into the play area, constantly seeking adult attention, while climbing on the edge of the play structure in an unsafe way;  one of the boys saying something obnoxious about the gaze of my two year old daughter “Why are you staring at me?  Do you like me, like love me?  Ugh, that’s disgusting.”; the other boy making nasty noises in my daughter’s face and saying something about scaring her (my husband caught  this one and intervened gently in this situation); the boys beating on each other and pushing their way in front of other kids and climbing up the bottom of the slide while other kids were trying to come down.  Meanwhile, the moms continued chatting outside, leaving the two sets of parents in the structure to contend with the continual issues.

Finally, the situation that tugged on my heart strings the most was what one of the boys and the girl said to another girl, about 12 years old, who was hanging out with her dad and little brother in the play structure area:  “Are you a girl? You don’t look like one.  Your hair cut makes you look like a boy.”  Subsequently, the little girl climbed into a hidden area of the play structure, asking “When are going, Daddy?  Can we go now?”  Her embarrassment was palpable and heartwrenching.  The little girl was at the awkward age, but still cute with her short, sassy cut, that looked something like what Demi Moore’s daughter, Rumer, would sport.  It took her a little while to emerge from the play structure; she surfaced when her brother was ready to leave, and I finally said something I didn’t regret: “I like your hair cut.  Those little kids don’t know anything about fashion.”  She gave me a sweet little smile then asked about my daughter, commenting on how cute she was.  The dad (who I’m guessing was either at a loss for how to help out his daughter in the situation or planning to talk with her in private) said goodbye to my husband and I when they left.  I know I couldn’t take away the words that were said, but hopefully, they’ll take away some of the sting and self-doubt she was feeling.

I know self-doubt.  I was an awkward pre-teen and teenager.  I still have many awkward moments.  Even tonight, I think of what I might have said to the child who made an age appropriate, but mean comment to my daughter.  I could have said, “That is not very nice.”  I could have said, “She’s two and she’s just looking around because she’s interested in what you are doing.”  I was just too emotionally flooded to think clearly. I don’t think my daughter understood the dynamic, but it angers me to see young boys putting girls down on the basis of their gender.  It frustrates me when boys disrespect girls from a young age or when I see young boys putting down girls or each other to try to appear tough or masculine. It frustrates me when girls join the bullying to try to compete with the boys. It says something to me about the messages these children are receiving and ones they may not be receiving.  I wonder about my role in being a voice that contradicts that, but I think would be self-righteous and presumptuous of me to assume that teaching role with other people’s children.  But if their parents don’t hear, don’t intervene, where will they learn differently?  I remind myself I’m not the parent of other kids.  The problem comes when I see kids hurting other children in front of me or when my own daughter is involved when she is still too young to advocate for herself with older children.  I wonder what she learns when I am silent, what she thinks about saying that she doesn’t yet have words to express?

In another dimension, I would sit down with those moms, and say, “I thought you’d want to know what your kids said in there, so you could address it the way you see fit.”  In my head, I can play out this scenario with everyone being open and appreciative and kind to each other.  I can hear the moms having quality follow up conversations with their kids.  I can feel something shifting in the direction of kindness over cruelty.  But I know that my imagination is not reality, and I’m bound to offend them if I open my mouth.  So I keep my observations to myself.  I wish I could find a way to handle the play area experience differently, one that would allow everyone to keep their dignity, one that would take away hurt, one that would teach those kids to be a little kinder, and remind the parents to tune in occasionally.  I know I may be perceived as self-righteous, but I might be a little right, too.  Tonight, I have to take refuge in my writing, unburdening myself and shedding a sense of helplessness as I find voice on paper for the words I am unable to grasp when I need them.


Linking up with Things I Can’t Say for


17 responses to “Wishing for the Right Words: Dead End Conflicts with Dangerous Drivers and Unruly Kids

  • Kristin @ What She Said

    Honestly? If I’d been there I probably would have said something to the kids’ moms. Nothing rude, just a simple and courteous, “Hi, I’ve been hanging out in the play area with my toddler and wanted to make you aware that your kids are being a little disruptive.” Whether they were “open and appreciative” to my intervening would have been the least of my worries. If so, I would have thanked them for their attention to the matter and gone about my business. And if not? Well, I can give as good as I get when it comes to attitude.

    It’s easy to sit behind a computer screen and say, “I would’ve given those kids and their mothers a piece of my mind!” That’s not what I’m doing and since you know me personally, you probably know that already. I don’t like conflict and never want to make a scene. At the same time, though, I have no problem speaking my mind when the situation warrants it, even if it means making myself and/or others uncomfortable.

    I’m certainly not judging you for not saying something to them and completely understand why you didn’t. But if I’d been in that situation, offending the oblivious mothers of three disruptive and hurtful children would have been the least of my concerns.

    • Pamela

      I can see you responding in that way; you are probably more comfortable with that sort of conflict. I certainly have never been successful at “giving back” attitude when it is given to me, though I have confronted folks professionally and personally over many serious issues. It is always a judgment call, and I have said things in the past to kids or parents when I have felt comfortable. In this situation, as I said, I was a bit flabbergasted at the first child’s comment to V, and ultimately decided to let it pass after I got my bearings, then later second guessed that choice. Since the other father was present, I felt he was responsible for handling the situation with his daughter, as M did with ours. Offending them wasn’t as much a concern as feeling it would ultimately be a futile effort; from what I observed, I think the kids’ behavior and the parents’ mode of operating might be a longer term issue. The longer term issue being teaching kids respect which is a process rather than a response to an isolated incident. You have to be both physically and emotionally present to do that and unfortunately, it isn’t my job or within my power to convince another mother to step up to the plate in that arena. Thanks for your take on the situation; I knew it would get your blood boiling as it did my own!

  • canadianmommytime

    I would have done the same thing as you. I am horrible with conflict although I would feel more comfortable with my husband there because if it turned ugly I would know he’d know EXACTLY what to say.
    It is so sad that our little ones have to go out into the cruel world without us one day. I pray they will know what to say or like themselves enough to allow it to roll off them and especially that they will not become that little bully in the play area. Oh, so challenging.

    • Pamela

      I totally hear you. It was breaking my heart thinking of all the times V would be in those situations alone. I just hope I can teach her to be kind and confident in herself so that she won’t take that sort of bullying behavior to heart. Thanks for sharing and understanding!

  • MEL

    Hey, I’m improving; I didn’t yell at the kid this time!

    Funny how quickly we ran into this situation after my mini-rant about the ‘helicopter-parent’ article in the most recent “Parenting” magazine though, eh? (Hint: I’m involved b/c of other kids’ parents, not b/c our daughter can’t handle herself).

    I think you did fine. We both gave plenty of disapproving looks to the gaggle. 🙂

  • Teresa

    I think you did a great job. Who knows? That crazy driver could have been violent and by keeping quiet, you saved yourself some scary confrontation. That has happened to me before. Before I became a mom, I didn’t hesitate to throw my middle finger up at crazy drivers, but now I pick my battles. At the playplace, little boys and girls can be bullies and not even know. Probably because their parents don’t give them any positive attention, they now get it by other means…
    It was so nice of you to compliment that girl. I remember being hurt by snide comments made by my peers. You may have changed her life.

    • Pamela

      Thank you Teresa for reading and commenting. I feel the same way about drivers now; there are too many crazies out there. Thanks for the validation; the one thing I feel good about was what I said to her; because she was adorable and my heart broke for her. Thanks for reading.

  • Shell

    It’s hard to find a balance between when we should speak up and when we should let things go.

  • jesterqueen

    Your response in Chik-Fila was SO much cooler than what I would have managed. I’d have definitely been on those kids cases, and by the time they got to the rude remarks to the 12 year old, I’d have been in their mom’s faces. I have no problem being presumptuous when kids are being cruel. I think it probably comes from being bullied as a kid, but I stick up for the little guy, sometimes to their detriment. Your way actually probably did more to help the 12 year old than mine would have.

    • Pamela

      Well, thank you! I’m having an “aw, shucks” moment over here! As I look back with a bit of distance, I’m feeling a little better about the situation. We can’t always control other people’s kids, or certainly other mothers, but we can choose to be kind or step in when our own children are involved. And I know about being bullied…unfortunately. I’m sorry to hear you went through that. Thanks for stopping in and reading!

  • Juliana

    I LOVE your comment to the little girl, did the others hear you? I hope so! It’s so hard to know when to say something and when not to in these situations.

  • Sara

    These play situations are so tricky and frustrating! BUT.. also great opportunities to teach our children and hopefully other children the right things to do 🙂 I know I don’t always comment, but I’m enjoying reading your posts!!!! Your topics always hit so close to home 🙂

  • Kristin Barton Cuthriell

    I could really relate to your struggle. Some adults are emotionally mature enough to realize that insults from others are not personal, but about the one doing the insulting. Children do not understand this and words really hurt. (Words can hurt adults too, especially if your child is being hurt.)

    • Pamela

      Thanks for reading, Kristin! It’s hard lessons our children learn, isn’t it? On one hand, they need to learn how to negotiate that kind of conflict; on the other, it’s so painful for them and for us watching them, right? Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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