Forget what you think you know about playgrounds.
Some people look at a playground and see nothing more than jungle gyms, slides and swings. Those people are probably not parents. For parents, the playground is much more. It's the hottest club in town, a boardroom where deals are made, a local vacation spot, a coffee shop and the water cooler for the latest in neighborhood gossip. Oh, and kids play there too.
As a parent of two kids (ages 5 and 2), I am well-versed in dealing with the many unique characters who come to the playground for anything other than a chance to bond with their children. It's weird, but I like hanging out with my kids. Call me crazy.
Which is why I am constantly amazed to meet these nine worst playground offenders -- the parents who would rather do anything but play with their kids. If you don't want to spend time with the little ones while they play, why not just get a babysitter?
Playground Parent #1: The Gossip
The Gossip is the kind of person who comes to the playground for the same reason that college kids go to parties -- to see and be seen. And like college kids, they'll ditch the person they came with in no time, if it means they can hang with the cool crowd. In this case, however, the ones being ditched are the hyperactive toddlers who have been waiting all day to play at their local playground. Once the Gossip arrives, he or she lets go of the leash, allowing the kids to run free so mom or dad can catch up on the latest dirt.
The Gossip is neither friend nor foe. She or he is a neutral party whose goal is merely to know everyone else's business. One minute they're happy as heck to see you and a moment later they're off because, "Oh look, there's Barbara... I heard her husband is cheating on her with the nanny." The worst part about the Gossips is they're really not too concerned about their child's happiness -- just as long as the kid plays by himself and doesn't interrupt their "me time."
Playground Parent #2: The CEO
"OK baby, you go play. Daddy has to make some calls." And by make some calls, the Playground CEO means they will use the remainder of their time making deals, answering email and ignoring their child altogether. You'll often hear this exchange:
Child: "Daddy, Daddy, can you push me?"
Playground CEO: "I'm on the phone now! Go play."
Sometimes, the Playground CEO does double duty as the Gossip. You'd be surprised how many parents use the playground as a way to get closer to fellow parents who wield a certain level of influence in their field. It's like a networking event without the drinks, food or décor.
Playground Parent #3: Mr./Mrs. "Can You Watch My Kid For A Quick Second?"
In what world would you ever ask a stranger to watch your kid for a "quick second"? For starters, it's never a quick second. It's always more like 10 minutes, if you're lucky. And once you do the crappy parent a solid by babysitting, you're now their go-to person whenever they need an out. Trust me, it's not a one-time gig.
Secondly, that kid you've been asked to watch is not a sweetheart. That kid is usually the real-life version of Chucky who has been sucking down Pixy Stix since 7 a.m. and is determined to break at least one bone before lunchtime. Just don't make much eye contact with other parents and try to look busy so you don't fall into the "quick second" trap.
Playground Parent #4: The Parent Who Ignores Their Maniac Kid
It's a bird, it's a plane... no, it's your maniac kid doing a flying elbow off the top of the slide and onto a pack of other kids. Hands down, the worst playground parents are the ones who let their kids run full speed over others with reckless abandon. It doesn't matter what time of day you go to the playground, there will always be one child there who pushes kids around and does whatever they please. Inevitably, off in the distance, you'll see their parent talking on the phone, texting and doing anything but watching their kid run amok.
Playground Parent #5: The Parent With The Always Innocent Child
This parent is a close cousin to Playground Parent #4. Neither of these parents will ever admit that their kids are the inspiration for "Children of the Corn." The parent of the kid who is always innocent knows very well what their child is doing, but is too much of a coward (or too lazy) to stop the insanity.
This parent will watch as their kid kicks others, pushes younger tots down the slide, runs over anything in his path, throws dirt on people -- then smile while saying something like "Oh, you know... boys will be boys..." Or, "They're just playing...."
Really? I don't think holding down another kid while dumping dirt on their face constitutes playing. I call that being a bully, and the parent is an enabler.
Newsflash: Your kid is not innocent; your kid is a jerk! The playground may not be the ideal place to discipline your kid, but that does not mean you let all things fly because you're outside in public. Pull the kid aside and tell them what's appropriate play and what's not. If the kid doesn't listen, make it a teachable moment and leave the playground.
Playground Parent #6: The Greedy Parent
"IT'S MINE! ALL MINE! MWAH-AHH-AHH!" As adults, we'll never understand how much kids enjoy the playground. It's their Shangri-La. It's the equivalent of a free vacation at some exotic resort, sans kids, topped with an open bar.
However, the playground is not your own personal getaway. When you arrive at the playground, you will have to share and take turns, just like the children. This may include telling your euphoric child that he or she has to get off the swing now so someone else can have a turn.
At every playground you'll find one parent who refuses to follow this basic rule of civility. They don't care about the line of kids waiting to use the swing. They'll turn to you and say something irrelevant like, "I'm sorry, but she really likes this swing." Well that's great... so does every single other child on the playground. But unless this parent has an extra 35 swings in their car for the entire playground population, they will have to remove their child and share. Yes, the kid will probably have a temper tantrum, but such is life. Look at this as a great way to teach your child that they're not the only person on the planet.
Playground Parent #7: The Shouter
The Shouter is the kind of person who shoots from the hip regardless of the situation. Even in their personal life, they probably yell more than talk constructively. But on the playground, their instability reaches an apex. "DON'T TOUCH THAT!" "DON'T RUN!" "GET DOWN FROM THERE!" The Shouter thinks that yelling is the only way to take care of business or multitask. They'll have one eye on the younger child while the older one runs wild. At this point, the Shouter will yell across the playground, causing mass hysteria and accomplishing nothing.
Playground Parent #8: The Boss
The Boss loves nothing more than to pay other people to parent their child. This is the person (or people) who bring a third party to the playground to occupy their kids so they can socialize and watch judgmentally from a distance. It's not like these people have multiple kids; they just can't be bothered. They'll watch as someone else helps their kid up a slide, then down the slide, or on the swing, while they mingle with the rest of the gang.
This high maintenance, over-entitled mess of a person is a combination of the Gossip and the Playground CEO. Their life is sooooo busy that they need to watch their kids from afar while someone else does the dirty work. "These shoes were not meant for the sandbox!" Occasionally, the Boss will perk up for a moment to show they are still "present," then dictate orders back to whatever lackey they're paying to amuse their child. Sadly, the Boss tends to breed future bosses who also view quality parenting as paying someone else to do it.
Playground Parent #9: The Adventurer
As someone who has a background in professional wrestling, I like to think I have a taste for adventure. So when I see a parent encouraging their children to push themselves to new challenges, like reaching for another bar on the monkey bars, or getting over their fear of heights to go down the "big kid" slide, I totally understand. However, not all kids are hardwired with the thrill gene. And the playground should not be the testing ground for tomorrow's great Hollywood stuntman/woman.
Adventurers do not understand that. They're the ones yelling at little Jimmy to "man up" and just try the big trick. "Come on, it's so easy! Just jump off the top of the slide, do a backflip in midair, and then catch the monkey bars with your feet. Stop being such a sissy!" Sadly, this parent is likely the same one who yells at their 9-year-old's Little League games as if it's the MLB.
As always, if you have another manners question, follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT and check out my book, Reply All... And Other Ways to Tank Your Career for great tips and advice on job success. It's available now in print, ebook and audio format!