What Happened When Another Parent Disciplined My Child

another parent disciplines child another parent disciplines child

I was enjoying a conversation with a few friends at a party while several of our kids were rough-housing and playing in another room of the house. A few moments later, I heard my son’s name being called sternly in the next room. That’s right, there was another mom giving my kid a good talking to about his behavior — when I was only a few steps away.

This was a friend I’d known for years, but, to me, she’d crossed a line where she never had before. I was shocked that she thought it was her place to talk to my kid like that, instead of simply asking me to step in. She knew I was in the next room. Why did she think it was her job to take over for me?

As all eyes in the group turned to me, I was horrified and a little pissed off. Who does she think she is? I thought. That’s my kid. Out of freaking bounds. To be honest, at that point I had a go-it-alone, borderline territorial mindset about parenting. I had the first and last word on what my kids could or could not do. I was the only one who could decide if their behavior was out of line or not. And I was definitely the only one that could take that stern tone with them.

I immediately went into the room where the kids were and tried to get a grasp on what had happened. Not only did I have to deal with the embarrassment of my kid misbehaving, but also the shame of having another mom take over my role as disciplinarian. Why hadn’t she just come in and told me what he was doing? (What he was doing, it turns out, was driving a Little Tikes toy car a bit too enthusiastically with toddlers inside).

“I hope you don’t mind me talking to him,” my friend said, perhaps sensing my unease. “I was just here and didn’t want to bother you. I hope we can all do the same for each other.”

When we both returned to our friend group she repeated the sentiment. You guys can always tell off my kids if you see them doing something. The group toasted to that, even me, though I still felt uneasy about the whole ordeal. It’s easy to say someone else can discipline your kid when it’s not your kid getting told off, when all eyes aren’t on you because you missed the moment your kid was misbehaving.

By the end of the party, though, that mom’s youngest had been talked to by another mom, and I noticed that instead of feeling frustration, my friend looked relieved. I guess she had really meant what she had said. She had broken an unspoken rule, yes, but now she was offering to rewrite the rule altogether. Instead of each of us going it alone, we could parent together. Whoever was there in the moment could take on the mom role. It was a burden we could share to lessen our individual loads.

Over time, slowly but surely, things shifted in our friend group. We’ve been getting more comfortable loosening the boundaries of “my kid is my responsibility.” I have carried my friend’s tantruming toddler like a football across the house. My own kids have been put on little time outs at birthday parties. There is always someone watching, and in the end, for me, that’s been more cause for relief than anxiety.

Honestly, I look back at that moment with my friend and feel infinitely grateful that she took that leap of faith and decided to discipline my kid. Because I really now understand that she wasn’t trying to take over my role. She also wasn’t judging me for being a bad mom. She was giving me the gift of space. The gift of not constantly having to check on my kid. The gift of having my back as a fellow mom.

And it’s not just a gift to me, it’s a gift to my children as well. Now that we’re all more comfortable with these new terms of communal parenting, my kids know that all the adults in any given situation are watching out for them. There are other grown ups who care about the way they behave. Other adults who care enough to show up for them. It’s a way of telling them that they are loved.

Parenting is too hard to do alone. There’s a reason that raising and disciplining kids was a group endeavor for centuries. There’s power in numbers, especially when it comes to caregivers. And I am so glad that one of my friends had the good sense to figure that out, because now I wouldn’t have it any other way. The sound of my kid getting scolded in the next room is something I relish, because it tells me that I’m not alone in this parenting thing.

I think all of our kids behave a little better now, knowing that all of us moms are something of a team. Perhaps we command more respect as a group than we did on our own. And I think all us moms feel more at ease, not constantly needing to check in on our kids, knowing that we have a see-something, say-something policy in place. We can breathe a little easier. Enjoy the conversation a little longer. Knowing that we’re in this together.

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Gemma Hartley is a freelance journalist and author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward. She lives in Reno, Nevada with her husband and three young children.