Can Parents Shake Off Their Responsibility Of Actual Good Parenting Like This?

While travelling in a metro, a toddler opened my bag to take out things, but his parents, sitting nearby, didn't intervene. Shouldn't teaching boundaries to our kids begin early?

I was on the metro, trying to read on my Kindle, when I felt someone tug at my hem. I looked down. It was a toddler. Normally, I don’t like people pulling at my clothes, but since his parents were aware of what was going on and making no attempt to stop him, I decided not to create a scene. A minute later, I felt my handbag jerk, and saw that the child had pulled out a bottle of sanitiser from an outside pocket and was brandishing it in triumph. This was just not acceptable, and I made eye contact with the parents, to implore them to do something about it. They glared back with such fury that I was made to feel guilty about wanting to take back MY sanitiser from their poor innocent child who was so happy with it.

My station arrived, and I got down, throwing one last incredulous look at the parents of the child. Was this New Age parenting, I wondered. And I quickly dashed off a tweet:

On the metro, a toddler kept pulling my dress. The parents were both around but didn\’t even attempt to stop the child. Then he put his hand in my bag, took out my sanitiser and refused to give it back. Parents were still silent

Question for parents of toddlers. What would you do?

The responses were, well, “interesting”!

The intention behind the question was not to “crib on Social Media”. I was genuinely astounded that the parents made no attempt to even apologise for their child taking something out of my bag, and I needed reassurance that I was not wrong in expecting the parents to intervene. The question was specifically directed to parents of toddlers, because it has been so long since my kids outgrew that phase that I needed to find out if parenting had changed so drastically in the intervening years.

The various kinds of responses I got, told me a lot about people and their parenting styles.

A lack of boundary setting by parents?

Most of the responses reassured me that I was not wrong in expecting the parents to do something. These were parents who said that they would gently admonish the child and return the bottle of sanitiser with an apology. A majority of them even said that they would not have let it progress to that point, and that boundaries would have been established when the child started tugging at my dress itself. That was exactly how I remembered it with my children too- we had established boundaries when they were much younger, and would reinforce them when needed. Yes, both my children had a lot of pent-up energy, but neither would have touched strangers much less taken something out of their bag.

It is tempting for parents to get into the “bacche hain. Bade hoke seekh jayenge”/ “they are kids. they will learn when they grow up” mindset. However, what parents don’t realise is that once habits are set, it is hard to break them. By indulging their children, parents are inadvertently setting the scene for the creation of entitled people who struggle to understand consent or personal space.

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I am not without any empathy for parents of toddlers, but…

Some of people responding mentioned that I should not make an issue of it, because I had no idea what the parents were going through. I have been a parent of toddlers myself, and I know exactly how harrying the experience could be. There have been times, especially on long flights as solo parent, when I have literally given up trying to maintain order.

While, in this case, both parents were present, it is possible they were too preoccupied to notice what the child was doing. However, is it fair to expect a total stranger to give the parents the benefit of doubt, when they don’t even want to acknowledge their child took something that belonged to someone else?

I considered the possibility of neurodivergence in the child, but…

A few others pointed out, and rightly, that the child may be neurodivergent and that snatching something away from them could trigger a reaction. That was the precise reason why I didn’t say anything to the child directly, and instead looked to the parents to do the right thing.

Each child is different, and the last thing anyone wants is for a stranger to provoke an attack or even a tantrum. Many said that I should have diverted the attention of the child by giving him something else, and got the sanitiser back. My response to them would be that each child is different, and it is best left to the parent to parent them. Also, giving them something else in lieu of getting the sanitiser bottle back is tantamount to encouraging the child continue taking things from the bags of strangers.

There were others with similar stories as mine

Some people shared stories of how they were victims of intrusive behaviour which the parents made no attempt to curb.

One mentioned that a child was peeping at her when she was in a changing room, and despite being aware of it, the mother made no attempt to stop the child.

Many spoke of how children kicked the back of their seats for the entire duration of a flight without being reprimanded even once. As parents, we have all been in a position where our children kicked the seat on flights- what seemed to be missing in these examples was the slightest attempt to get the children to stop.

There were many instances of children misbehaving in restaurants and parents ignoring them- this, in my opinion, is unacceptable- people go to restaurants for the experience of dining out and people should not foist their children on others in this situation. All these stories only underlined the fact that many parents seem to believe that they are entitled to expecting others to tolerate their kids.

What about the ‘village’ needed to raise any child? Well…

A few people with golden hearts said that had they been in my place, they would have played finger games with the child, taught them a few rhymes, and generally entertained them. They believe that it doesn’t just take a village to raise a child, the entire city should participate in the process.

While on the face of it, it sounds wonderful, this scares me no end. It is estimated that anything between 30% to 50% of the population are/ were victims of child sexual abuse, and that in the majority of these cases, the perpetrator is someone known to the child’s family. It is important that we teach our children to protect themselves from potential perpetrators, and it is hard to drive the message in if we simultaneously encourage our children to make friends with random strangers. Interactions with adults should be under parental supervision, or at least with full parental consent, so while it is good on the part of strangers to entertain children, it is also potentially leaves the child vulnerable to a less scrupulous stranger.

And then there were the violent suggestions

The responses which shocked me the most were the ones that said that I should have slapped the child or thrown the kid out of the window. Quite aside from the fact that none of us has the right to hit someone else’s child, harming the child would have served no purpose and would have, instead, done a lot of harm.

Violence is punitive, it is not the way to deliver justice. In this case, the child was not at fault, it was a case of inconsistent parenting, and punishing the child would not have achieved anything. A few even said that they would have pinched the child, because it is possible to pinch hard without anyone knowing about it. This shows a very sadistic side, because it is clear that the person knows they shouldn’t be harming the child, and do so all the same- if the incident was in public view, why should the punitive action be hidden?

One even went as far as saying that I should have doused the child in sanitiser and set flame to it! That anyone could make a statement like this points to a deep seated malevolence that we are unaware of. Have we sunk so low as a society that our first response to any issue is to commit an act violence?

Taken together, these responses paint a fairly accurate picture of society

Most parents struggle with parenting, but are willing to take the responsibilities that go with it. They take accountability for the behaviour of their children and though they may appear to fail at times, they try. However, there are a few that feel they are entitled to expecting the entire world to parent their children. These parents are the ones who are likely to land up with entitled brats who do not respect boundaries and violate consent. Then there are the angels- the men and women who go that extra mile to help a frazzled parent- none of us would have survived the toddler ages without these wonderful people. It is these angels who make up for the ones who react adversely every time a child misbehaves.

Yes, it takes a village to rear a child. But the primary responsibility of parenting remains with the parents.

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

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